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How to Unlock the Incredible Benefits of Studying Shakespeare

How to Unlock the Incredible Benefits of Studying Shakespeare

Why Study Shakespeare?

(Want to a podcast version of this topic? Check out Why Study Shakespeare on LifeSkills101 Podcast.)

This is a question your children may ask when they are faced with a play written in English, they struggle to understand. Yes, it will require effort to read  Shakespeare’s plays – and poetry – but it is a very rewarding experience.

Shakespeare was a master storyteller, and that alone is a good reason to read his plays. This is why there are so many modern retellings of his stories.

He also covers universal themes that touch everyone’s lives – love and jealousy, hunger for power, loyalty, guilt, etc. Although the plays were written 400 years ago, these are topics teens can identify with.

So many books and movies draw their inspiration from Shakespeare, and knowing the original plays helps us enjoy a richer experience as we read books influenced by him.

Your children may never know how many common phrases originate from Shakespeare! “All the glitters isn’t gold” (Merchant of Venice), “green-eyed monster (Othello), “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet), and “you’ve got to be cruel to be kind” (Hamlet) are just a few. You can find more here.

If you are now convinced you should be adding Shakespeare to what your teens are reading, here are 7 tips on how to enjoy Shakespeare with your teen and unlock those benefits.

Provide context for the time Shakespeare lived

To understand Shakespeare’s plays, students need to understand the time Shakespeare lived, how the theatre was performed then (only male actors, for instance), and who went to the theater.

A fun way to do this would be to read a book like The Shakespeare Stealer (aimed at middle school students so it will be a quick read for high schoolers) or watch a movie or documentary (we watched and enjoyed In Search of Shakespeare)

You could also challenge your child to do the research and then create a poster, video or infographic, or slideshow to explain what they have learned.

Provide context for the specific play you will study

Be sure your students understand the type of play it is: tragedy, history, or comedy.

Study the setting and, if relevant, the history that is depicted in the play. If your children understand the background of what they are reading, it will help them understand what is happening in the play.

You can easily find help if you do a quick internet search on whatever you are studying.

Choose a good version of the play

The versions that I think are most helpful have the play on the right-hand side, with notes on the left.  You don’t want ones that have the full play in modern English on the left, as students will just be lazy and read modern English instead of the original.

And I find it is easier to just look to the left when you are reading and don’t understand something than to look at the footnotes below.

So, if possible, go into a bookstore and look at the different options.

Read the play aloud

Remember, Shakespeare’s plays were written to be watched and heard. If you have a few children studying Shakespeare together, it is fun to take different parts, but even if it is just two of you, reading it aloud together will help to make sense of the words.

Watch the play performed

If you can select a play that is being performed near you, that would work really well. But if you can’t catch a live performance, at least find the best film version to watch. All the ones with Kenneth Brannagh in them are great!

Be sure you have already read the play BEFORE you watch it. Knowing the basic storyline will mean you and your children can focus on things you may have missed. And, of course, watching the action as well as reading the words will add an extra layer of meaning to the play.

In addition, you could watch a modernized version of the play (eg “West Side Story” when you study Romeo and Juliet) and discuss the differences between the original and the adaptation.

Discuss the themes of the play

There is plenty to discuss in any Shakespeare play. Once you are sure your teen has understood the content of the play, it is time to go a little deeper. I highly recommend Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart if you are studying any of the 6 plays he analyzes. This book also contains discussion questions.

It would be great to have discussions with a few teens at a time, but even if it is just you and your teen, it will be valuable.

After you have explored various themes together, your high schooler should be ready to tackle a short paper on a theme of their choosing that you didn’t cover in detail.

Play Shakespeare games!

Playing games always helps make learning fun, and there are plenty of options to choose from.  Brainbox – Shakespeare will get your children learning quotations from Shakespeare, The Play’s the Thing will get students more familiar with 3 of his plays, and Top Trumps Shakespeare’s Plays introduce students to many characters in the plays.

Or you can buy playing cards with Shakespearean quotes or insults on them!

I hope these 7 tips will help make Shakespeare more accessible to your teen and you will have fun studying some of his works.

Contributed by Meryl van der Merwe. She homeschooled her 4 children and during that time started teaching at the local homeschool co-op. She still teaches there – as well as online at FundaFunda Academy. In addition, she coaches homeschool Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl teams. She believes education should be engaging, relevant and challenging. Meryl hosts the Homeschooling with Technology podcast where she shares tips on how to integrate tech in your homeschool. In her spare time, she loves reading and traveling. Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram,

Discover Shakespeare at True North Homeschool Academy

Yes! Your Child Can Learn a Foreign Language

Yes! Your Child Can Learn a Foreign Language

Can your child really learn a foreign language? The short answer is, Yes! Get started with Foreign Language Exploration, the perfect class for your foreign language journey. 

Let’s address common objections.

Can your child really learn a foreign language? The short answer is, Yes! Get started with Foreign Language Exploration, the perfect class for your foreign language journey.

“But I’m just not a foreign language person!”

How many times have I heard that? As a teacher–too many to count! However, a foreign language is more accessible than one might think. After all, we all learn our first language as babbling toddlers. The human brain is wired for language acquisition. As we get older, we give ourselves messages of why we cannot do something instead of why we can excel. Unfortunately, this is a message for students with learning differences and special needs that they can receive and internalize often.

Let’s break the stereotype. Learning foreign languages is accessible, as are the many benefits of foreign language acquisition–global understanding, cross-cultural competencies, brain development benefits, and empathy development, to name a few. Through working with NiHao Chinese, I have seen many students thrive and grow through foreign language study, and the benefits to their self-esteem alone have been inspiring.

Here are FOUR myths that sometimes prevent students, especially students with special needs, from accessing foreign languages.

Myth #1 – I’m just not wired that way.

Dr. Howard Gardner popularized the theory of multiple intelligences, saying that individuals may have natural aptitudes in certain fields of study and skills. However, these types of intelligence are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be good at math, art, basketball, and Chinese. Humans are social creatures and are all “wired” to learn and acquire language skills. The human brain learns foreign languages differently than other academic subjects. Have patience with your brain and give yourself time to develop language learning capacities.

Myth #2 – I struggle with English enough as it is.

For students with learning disabilities like dyslexia, there is no doubt that language learning can be a challenge. However, you must remember that it is not always the content itself that presents barriers but the modes of delivery used in the classroom. In fact, some students with such language disabilities may struggle with spelling and reading in English but can thrive in a foreign language like Chinese because of its unique structure. Chinese is a character-based language–with no alphabet, verb tenses, or other common stumbling blocks for students in the English language.

Additionally, some students find that they understand their own language better after studying a foreign language–I know that was my experience!

Myth #3 – We tried Spanish, and I’m never trying a foreign language again.

If you tried basketball and didn’t like it, would you never try baseball? There are many options for foreign languages to study. Don’t limit yourself or think that one failure means that all language study will be a failure. I’m a big fan of Dr. Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset.” We can set up our own self-fulfilling prophecies around learning. If we think that we are equipped with a “fixed” amount of knowledge, it’s tempting to say that new subjects are out of reach. In contrast, those who view academics with a “growth mindset” see that abilities can be developed with dedication and work.

Maybe your family has tried foreign language study before. Maybe your child wasn’t ready yet. Don’t let rule out all foreign language study for your child. It’s a big world out there!

Myth #4 – Chinese is hard. There’s no way I could handle it!

Accessible learning is often more about the teaching style than the content. Students of all ability levels can access a foreign language curriculum with the proper scaffolding, accommodations, and support.

For example, accommodations like different pacing, revised vocabulary lists, multiple modes of engagement, and a certified teacher with expertise in teaching students with special needs are all helpful. Live classes also make a big difference for learners.

The teacher can tailor the material to a student’s needs when a class is dynamic and live. This helps students with learning differences but helps all students in the process. When considering foreign languages for your child, live and dynamic classes often provide more student engagement opportunities and allow the teacher to really get to know your child and how they learn best. (Looking for live foreign language classes?  Check out our selection at True North Homeschool Academy.)

Don’t let these four myths prevent your child from accessing the world through a foreign language. It’s a big world out there, and foreign language is one powerful way to connect your kids with global learning and prepare them for the future.

Student Success with Online Homeschool Classes

Student Success with Online Homeschool Classes

Coaching Your Cyber Scholar for Academic With with Online Curriculum

Online learning is like no other schooling option and is a viable option to public school. Online homeschool courses with a virtual classroom can benefit your child’s education. It provides a powerful path to help students achieve their greatest potential, unleashing educational opportunities galore.

The key to maximizing this unique platform is mastering the parent role in supporting cyber students. As a mom to two former online learners in online schools, I know the Mom-Teacher dance well! It is a beautiful, gracefully executed tango of push and pull, correct and commend, encroach and encourage. For thirteen years, from middle school through college years, I was a learning coach to my digital-generation brood. I have been on both sides of the computer – as a parent and as a teacher. Defining a parent’s role in supporting online learners can be challenging, but here are six tips that will help!

Attack the Day; build a daily schedule and stick to it.

Online Homeschool Classes: One of the great benefits of online courses and homeschooling is flexibility. 

Schooling outside walls, rather than in-person classes, allows us to explore wonderful learning opportunities within our communities. But are you sacrificing productivity and learning with an unpredictable schedule? Children love a set schedule. They feel more in control if there are few surprises during the day. They know what to expect! Teens need a set schedule and learn to be responsible for their own time. They have yet to master self-control and goal-setting that will motivate and shape their behaviors. Their brains are simply not developed enough to think about the long-term implications of low grades and missed classes. When my Digi-cubs began online learning, we used the same basic schedule for school work that their friends used for traditional school during the school year.


8:00-8:30 – Up, dressed, and eating breakfast

8:30-9:00 – Morning meeting with Mom

9:00-10:00 – First online class

10:00-10:45 – Offline work

10:45-11:00 – Break

11:00-12:00 – Second class

12:00-1:00 – Lunch/Outside!

1:00-1:10 – Afternoon meeting with Mom

1:10-2:00 – Offline work, Independent Work

2:00-3:00 – Third class

3:00-3:30 – Review with Mom and plan for tomorrow

We implemented a block schedule for our live classes, and Fridays were used for finishing up whatever was left incomplete from the week. We were usually done on Fridays by midday! Many days, my cyber learners asked to have a “working lunch” in order to finish even sooner! Sure, there were times that appointments or fun opportunities popped up that warranted a schedule adjustment, but those were the exception…not the norm. No matter the age, we all have schedules to keep. Several college students fail because they have not learned how to set and manage a schedule; what a great opportunity to teach this life skill before earning their high school diploma.

Coach for organization and designate a workspace.

If you have ever stepped foot in a young person’s room, you know they need help with organization! Successful online learners are well situated, with all the necessary school supplies readily available. They can quickly locate textbooks, lesson plans, handouts, materials, completed work, and work in progress. Help your cyber scholars effectively use a calendar to mark assignment due dates and to plan their work. In this techno-world we live in, we default to electronic reminders, but students need to see the BIG picture – not just day-to-day digital notifications. Use a large, printed calendar showing a month at a time. Write down when that research paper is due! Having a visual of exactly how many days are left to complete a project helps with planning for it, and marking it off when it is done, can be a huge motivator for students! 

Not all of us have enough space for a school room, but we can still designate a learning area complete with storage and an appropriate work table or desk. What’s a good place for you? Let’s face it – sitting on a bed or couch feels far different from working at a table or desk. One says, “I’m casually chilling,” while the other indicates, “This is serious beeswax!” Our environment affects our state of mind and our approach to the task. Many of today’s students struggle with staying focused, and a designated learning space can be free from the distractions that delay our learning. It is also great to put school away and leave the designated learning space for the evenings and the weekends while honoring their need to move at their own pace. Determine what works best for your family’s needs.

Plan a Great Experience: Know the learning management platform playbook.

We each have different skill levels regarding technology, and often our students know more than we do! Don’t let that stop you from becoming a knowledgeable user of the online learning system! This is the e-campus! The best homeschool programs for live homeschool classes will have a virtual campus. Get in there and understand how to use the platform effectively. Be willing to step into problem-solving. Through parent accounts, you can access all of your student’s teachers, assignments, grades, scheduling, class information, important communications, and more! Do not be uninformed or miss important communications because you might be a little intimidated by the cyber school’s learning management system (LMS). Your students are relying on YOU to help troubleshoot tech issues!

Huddle up for multiple daily check-ins every step of the way.

Hold your online students accountable. Remember: online learners are still home learners. They meet with a school teacher for only one or two hours per week. YOU are their learning coach and home teacher! You get them 24/7! Do not leave it to online learners to be totally independent and self-directed. Help them stay on track with multiple check-ins throughout the day. A morning meeting before learning begins is a great opportunity to map out the day’s work and other activities. Be specific and clear in your expectations of what your student should be doing in the amount of time before the next check-in. Discover the class format and individual courses they are responsible for at their grade level. Always finish the day with a final check on what was accomplished and what must be done for homework or worked into the next day’s learning.

Ask your children, “Where are we in language arts, social studies, and math?” Stay on top of core subjects and specific subjects you’re participating in. Younger students through high schoolers are still homeschooled students, they need their parents, even with an online homeschool curriculum.

Parental Involvement: Communicate with course teachers.

Teachers and parents working together to accomplish educational goals for students is a Win-Win scenario! No one knows your child better than you do. Teachers rely on you to immediately communicate any concerns or problems you notice with your child’s learning. This is perhaps even more crucial to success in an online learning environment and as they become high school students. Most questions or concerns can be addressed through messaging, but others are a little more complex. Never hesitate to request a phone call or a Zoom meeting. Teachers are your best resource and want to help; they want your child to succeed in their class! The best online homeschool programs are the ones that you, as a parent, become involved in. Parental involvement is key!

Celebrate successes in online learning.

Every week, every day, every minute – celebrate your students’ successes – BIG or small! They achieved that A on the assignment they worked so hard on – WooHoo! They could attend an entire class without getting kicked out because of internet issues – Yay! They finished everything on today’s To Do list – Wow! They worked hard and completely focused on their assignment for a solid hour – Excellent! Do a touchdown celebration dance! Focusing on the negative and what is wrong or not working is easy. Have fun! Remember that learning is a journey! Integrate joy and a love for learning that will fuel your cyber students for a lifetime. Celebrating small accomplishments gives us the confidence to reach even higher. Focusing on what we have done well allows us to be a little more open to what we can do better. And while you’re at it, remember to celebrate YOUR successes! This Homeschool Teacher-Mom thing is not easy to tackle, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Remember: we all are doing the best we can for our children, and after all…tomorrow is another day!

True North Homeschool Academy’s Live Online Classes for Homeschoolers

If you’re looking for live online classes that are high-quality True North Homeschool Academy’s homeschooling program might be a good fit. With small class sizes, teachers who are masters in their subject areas, and a course catalog that covers Kindergarten through 12th grade, including special needs, they are a true partner in your child’s education. Discover True North Homeschool Academy today.


Beth Purcell

Beth Purcell

True North Homeschool Academy Teacher

Mrs. Purcell loves helping to shape young minds, partnering with others to create positive change in education, and crafting expression through written words. She believes we are each uniquely designed with special talents and abilities and that we are responsible for utilizing all that we have been gifted fully!

Beth teaches Writing Skills 4: US History and Writing Skills 5: Modern World

5 Communication Strategies for Struggling Learners

5 Communication Strategies for Struggling Learners

When homeschooling a struggling learner, communication can be difficult. Without healthy communication, it will be impossible to help your child, let alone teach them effectively so that they make real progress. Communication strategies for struggling learners are essential.

As a parent to an Asperger’s son who struggles in several areas, I have been blessed with a child who communicates effectively. I have learned a lot from him and our journey these last 11 years as a homeschooling family characterized by a close relationship.  I learned this from a great resource I frequently use, The founder, a young man with Aspergers, teaches about what he calls defense mode and how to get your child out of it.

So what makes the difference? Let me share these five key communication strategies to help you with YOUR struggling learner.

1) Intentionally enter their world.

I must have instinctively known this because it’s something I’ve always done. I take note of my son’s interests and come alongside him to learn and listen.

Whether that was building legos with him or playing cars when he was young or even attempting to play a video game, I make it a point to spend time doing what he loves. This builds trust.

Trust is a foundation of communication, which leads me to the second point:

2) Spend time with your struggling learner APART from school.

Years ago, I learned that my son VALUES spending time with me. Going out to lunch or coffee together satisfies him the most. So I’ve made a point of going out weekly with him for coffee or lunch. Sometimes we take school with us and do school after our food comes. Other times, we just talk.

Regardless, taking this time together regularly sends the message to him that I value his company, which has helped our schooling tremendously.

3) Actively listen.

It’s easy for a parent to get defensive and feel like you’ve failed. I’ve been there many, many times. But when I listen to my son and what he has to say, I can truly understand what’s going on with him.

Case in point: several months ago, I had him evaluated at LearningRx, and we found out he struggles with visual processing. Several weeks after we were working on the school, he told me that he CANNOT visualize, which upset him. I didn’t realize this, so for all those years; I was mistakenly approaching how we did school. I had been using a lot of visual resources rather than audio ones. I had completely missed it!

But because I actively listened to what my son was saying, I finally understood, and now we’re using more audio resources.

4) Treat your child with respect.

Respect goes both ways. Of course, as parents, we deserve respect, but children need and deserve our respect. What does this mean practically?

It means little things like giving your struggling learner advance warning. For instance, rather than demanding my son stop everything he is doing right now instantly, I give him at least a fifteen-minute warning.  Or I will give him choices. Like, “Hey, would you like to do school at 10:00 or 10:30?”

And always have empathy. I learned this most from Love and Logic. LEAD with empathy and mean it, especially if your son or daughter has made a wrong decision or they are struggling in a minor way.  Because you never want to minimize their feelings or tell them they are not feeling a certain way. That will lead to them shutting down and not trusting you. Feelings are feelings, and perceptions are reality.

So just saying a simple “I’m sad for you” when your child is struggling can go a long way!

5) Be consistent.

I have a hard time with this, but it’s so important.  When your child is having a hard time or being defiant, making empty threats will only worsen your situation.  You’re training your child to ignore you until that moment when your tone gets serious, and they know they have to obey.

Communicating up front your expectations and the consequences if these expectations are not met is so important. And then follow through! And don’t threaten something that’s not realistic or will hurt you in the long run!

Communication is so important when teaching a struggling learner. Communication is essential in EVERY aspect of life. These keys will not only help you with your child but will assist in all areas of your life!

Do you need more help with your struggling learner?  Check out our special need courses, tutoring, and advising at True North Homeschool Academy.

About the Author:

Dana Susan Beasley, a graphic artist, writer, and musician, is the principal/publisher/program director of AngelArts. Dedicated to providing excellently-designed ebooks, books, homeschooling curriculum, cards, stationery, gifts, and art services to homeschooling families, inspirational artists, entrepreneurs, and art enthusiasts, Dana delights in sharing her gifts and talents and the talents of others with people who are passionate about spiritual, personal, educational, professional, ministerial, artistic, and relational growth.

Married to Travis Beasley, Dana is a homeschooling mother to her Asperger’s son, Sam. She helped her husband start his architectural business, Essential Pillar Architecture, and assisted him with marketing and administration.

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Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs

Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs

You pulled your child from traditional school (or maybe you never started at all) because the environment just wasn’t suited for their needs. Now you’re at home, learning together, all the time. You’ve started noticing little things preventing your child from focusing and truly showing their abilities. It’s so frustrating!

Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs

There are simple ways that you can 100% change your homeschooling story.

Some of these are adapted from the traditional classroom – but only because they work! As with all things homeschooling, do what works best for your child today. Try things out, make some tweaks, and keep on learning together!

Task List or Schedule Chart

One thing that trips a lot of kids with special needs – as well as typically developing kids – up is keeping things in order, knowing what’s next, and anticipating changes.

Making a simple visual schedule helps children feel settled and in control. They can see their week, day, morning, or even their current task.

You can adapt traditional classroom tools to DIY your schedule! Grab a hanging single strip calendar organizer with clear plastic pockets and some schedule cards or sentence strips. Write out things that you do in your homeschool regularly. Think subjects, special activities, breaks, etc. For pre-readers, you can use pictures printed online. For older kids who can tell time, include a time. You can just add this on the spot with sticky notes or use a whiteboard marker.

Hang your daily schedule in your learning zone or a prominent place in your home. To make a change in the schedule, just swap the cards around. If your child can’t handle a full day of things to do, keep it super simple with just the first 2-4 activities.

Your child will be able to anticipate what’s coming up and feel more confident flowing through the day.

Above the Line/Below the Line

Everyone has things they’d prefer to do, especially kids. For children that push back on learning one particular subject or doing a certain activity, an above-the-line/below-the-line chart helps.

It’s a contract between you and your child. If they can commit to completing 2-4 items of “must do” work, then they can reward themselves with a preferred activity from below the line.

For example, my child must complete Daily Language, one math lesson worksheet/activity, and clean up any learning materials used. Then, she can grab a book to read together, choose an educational show to watch, or enjoy free time with the music of her choice.

Showing the reward for positive, productive work on non-preferred items is a super motivational tool.

Make your own chart by laminating a piece of construction paper. With a permanent marker, draw a line about ½ to ⅔ of the way down. Above the line, draw as many lines as work items you’d like your child to complete, numbering each line; every day, write in your child’s “must do” work. Below the line, using a whiteboard marker, write out the rewards available each day. This keeps things adaptable. Simply erase yesterday’s work and rewards to have a clean slate!

Chunking Work for Success

Plowing through all your work in one big learning session does seem like the most sensible thing to do sometimes. Unless it backfires and you’ve got a meltdown on your hands before half the things are done.

Instead, try chunking out your working time. Work for 5-10 minutes, then take a break and do something else. This is a great time to do physical activity like yoga or “heavy work” – squats, pushups, etc. You could also put on soft music and dim the lights to meditate. Having a healthy snack is another great option!

Building in breaks helps the work seem more manageable. These breaks shouldn’t be super long. Just a few minutes, about 3-5 minutes, is usually enough to reset.

There are two ways to handle the work chunks.

  1. Work in 5-10 min blocks, continuing with the same task/subject/project until complete before switching to a new task or subject.
  2. Work on one task for 5-10 minutes, take a short break, then start a new task or project; whatever you get done in each working block is considered good enough for today; you can continue with the same assignment tomorrow if needed.

Sensory Tools to Stay Focused

Ever notice that your child calms down when they’re holding a certain blanket or bouncing on an exercise ball? Use it!

Try these simple sensory hacks to help your child focus:

  • Velcro strip: attach a small piece of Velcro – either one side or both sides – to your child’s primary working space; your child can stick and unstick two pieces of Velcro or rub their fingers over their preferred side (rough/soft).
  • Exercise ball seating: for kids that wiggle, sit them on an exercise ball – either on its own or as part of a chair system; balancing or bouncing keeps their body engaged, works out the wiggles, and helps their mental focus.
  • Squishy things: use a stress ball, slime or other squishy things to help your child focus; your child can manipulate the squishy as they work – providing a calming and focusing effect.
  • Resistance band chair: stretch a heavy resistance band around the front two legs of your child’s chair; they can rest their legs on it to swing back and forth or push down against the pressure.
  • Fidgets: slide beads along a rope, play with a Koosh ball or fiddle with a small car – fidgets can help your child keep their mind more focused by providing movement.
  • Get creative! Use what your child already loves; offer a preferred object as a reward or to hold/use while working.

These three simple changes can make homeschooling a child with mild to moderate special needs, like ADHD, much easier.

What are your favorite hacks to simplify homeschooling a child with different learning needs or styles?

(Are you looking for academic advising or online courses for your special needs homeschool student?  Check out all of our services at True North Homeschool Academy.)

About the Author:

Meg Flanagan, the founder of Meg Flanagan Education, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. She is a certified teacher in both elementary and special education in Massachusetts and Virginia.

Meg regularly writes for MilitaryOneClick, Military Shoppers, and NextGen MilSpouse. You can find Meg, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

To get actionable solutions to common K-12 school problems, parents should check out Talk to the Teacher by Meg Flanagan.