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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

What are Soft Skills?

What are Soft Skills?

What are Soft Skills?

What are Soft Skills?

Soft Skills are those personal attributes that allow us to interact well with others, allowing us to have peaceful and healthy relationships.

They are also known as power skills or personality traits. Soft skills are those skills that everyone seems to understand implicitly. They are related to manners and social moves. For kids with learning disabilities, however, soft skills can be elusive and confusing.

Hard skills are easily definable skills that are often job-specific, such as knowing how to speak German, code a computer, or write in cursive; those skills that get us the job.  Soft skills are more difficult to define and are those skills that allow us to keep the job. You know the adage,

“You are hired for your hard skills, you’re fired for your soft skills.”

What are Soft Skills?

3-t have recently heard about the “4 C’s of Education.” These would include

  1. Communication
  2. Collaboration (Teamwork)
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Creativity

Public Schools are beginning to work specifically to train kids in these basic soft skills, as they are so necessary for success in academics, job ability, and stability, and managing and maintaining healthy relationships.


Communication, in particular, is easily identified as the queen of soft skills, as without it, we can hardly function.

Communication Skills Consist of 4 areas:

  1. Verbal
  2. Written
  3. non-verbal
  4. spoken

Employers are currently stressing the need for students to have excellent communication skills, including the ability to persuade by written and spoken communication. In particular, they want to hire those who can “sell” (i.e., persuade) both orally and using the written word.


Collaboration is better known as teamwork. Can you lead, follow, and interact maturely with other team members? Do you problem solve and handle your own emotions well, or are you causing problems for others on your team? Do you understand the team hierarchy well? Are you willing to lead, follow, and get out of the way?

All of these skills go into being a good team player, at different times and various seasons.

Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking is the ability to analyze facts and form a conclusion, using deductive and inductive reasoning, formal and informal logic, and the scientific method. Critical thinking allows us to be proactive, instead of constantly reactive, strategize, and take the long view, deferring our own short term gratification for long term pay-offs.


Creativity is all about thinking outside the box, generating new ideas or tweaking old ones to fit new situations, and interacting with materials, people, and resources in unique ways.

Time and Distraction Management

Time and Distraction Management is the ability to manage one’s time effectively to accomplish small and large tasks, repetitive as well as on-going tasks. This also has to do with the ability to manage distractions, be that a little sibling, social media notifications, or our self needs or interest. Developing good time management habits is critical to being able to interact with the world maturely.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Flexibility and Adaptability require having the ability to change and flex as needed. Our world is growing increasingly complex with radical and sudden shifts occurring on both a micro and macro scale. We must teach our kids to flex and adapt as needed as well as to know how to set appropriate boundaries and to stand firm when time and circumstances demand it.

Work Ethic

Work Ethic is the value that hard work is intrinsically valuable and worth doing for its own sake. Having kids who are diligent and detailed oriented in their work can mean the difference between success and failure in so many areas of life.


Leadership is both the ability to research and prepare for what’s ahead as well-being to lead, guide, or instruct a group or individuals, teams, or organizations.


In a world that makes it increasingly easy to “block” or “ghost” someone, loyalty is a soft skill worth developing. Standing by one’s faith, family and friends is the mark of someone with integrity and other well-formed, soft skills. Everyone is irritating, demanding, and in need of salvation and standing by and next to each other while recognizing our own and each other’s humanity is what being loyal is all about. The soft skill includes patience, kindness, self-control, and the willingness to overlook the other’s failings.


Integrity is the foundation of all soft skills. It is the quality of basing our behaviors on principles instead of situations, being honest and morally upright—integrity based on the Gospel of Truth, instead of our own or others’ desires.

What are Soft Skills? Soft skills are those skills that take a lifetime to master and can always be improved upon.

All of us have soft skills that come naturally to us, and those that are a struggle. Regardless, we can all develop a lifestyle of learning so that we continue to grow and develop to glorify God-given who He has made us to be, and in doing so, shine His light in a world that is growing increasingly dark.

What are Soft Skills and Where do I Find Out More About Teaching Soft Skills?

Click on the links in this post to view courses offered by True North Homeschool Academy teachers who have goals that are aligned with yours as a homeschool parent.

We believe in the importance of Soft Skills so much that we host a weekly podcast on Soft Skills 101: Life Skills for a Digital Age!

Please join us over at the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network for more great discussion and information on Soft Skills!

Communication: Key to Success

Communication: Key to Success

Communication: Key to Success

Communication: Key to Success at at school, work and home! It is a valuable basic life skill and affects every area of our lives. It enables success at work and in relationships with family and friends. It’s our ambition at True North Homeschool Academy to help you teach those critical and practical life skills, so, of course, communication skills are of the utmost importance to us. Through the years, we have discovered and utilized many resources that we will share right here!

An orange megaphone on an orange background depicts how communication is key to success.

Four Essential Types of Communication:

  • Verbal – Verbal communication skills are ranked first among a job candidate’s “must-have” qualifications.
  • Written – This type of communication is essential both for business and enjoyment.
  • Non-verbal –  Non-verbal communication includes things such as the way we dress, signals, and body language.
  • Emotional – Emotional communication skills vastly improve both business and personal relationships.

Let’s Break Down Each Type of Communication:

Verbal Communication Skills

We are all familiar with verbal skills: this includes how well you speak or write, how concise you are in conveying your message, and how winsomely persuasive you are during verbal interaction. There are four types of verbal communication. They are:

  • Intra-personal Communication – This form of communication is extremely private and restricted to ourselves. This can include private journaling, our thought process, and even metacognition. Positive self-talk is an important skill your child can learn that will help them through difficult times when they may be tempted to dwell on negative thoughts. Check out our Affirmation Cards to keep positive thoughts flowing!
  • Interpersonal Communication – This form of communication takes place between two individuals and is thus a one-on-one conversation.
  • Small-Group Communication – This type of interaction takes place amongst a small group.
  • Public Communication – Speaking to a large group publically or even public writing can be considered as part of this form of communication. Our excellent Speech Club is a resource for teaching students to speak and gain the confidence to participate in public speaking.
Written Communication Skills in Business
  • Transactional Written Communication – This is a message sent to get results.
  • Informational Written Communication – In this type of business communication, the sender is delivering a message for the receiver’s benefit. Since this is less dependent on the receiver, there is no response needed. If the receiver has questions or concerns that would bring the conversation back to transactional communication.
  • Instructional Written Communication – This message gives receivers directions for a specific task.
Written Communication for Entertainment
  • Plays
  • Poetry
  • Novels
Non-Verbal Communication

Instead of written or oral words, non-written communication relies on non-verbal cues like physical movement, symbols, signals, etc. to express feelings, attitudes, or to give information. These most often include:

  • Eye Contact
  • Dress
  • Facial Expressions
  • Gestures
  • Posture and Body Orientation
  • Space and Distance
  • Touch
  • Silence
Emotional Communication

Blonde woman in a yellow field of flowers using body language to communicate.Depending on how and where you were raised, you may express some emotions differently. Factors that can affect our emotional communication include gender, social morays, and more. Here we will consider six basic feelings:

  • Happiness
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Disgust
  • Surprise

Emotion is commonly expressed with:

  • Facial Expressions (such as smiling)
  • Body Language (using a relaxed stance)
  • Tone of Voice

Now that we have broken down the primary forms of communication, you can see that excellent communication is a worthy goal. Skills like how to communicate with one another have a massive payoff in our work and personal lives.  Be sure to include projects and lessons that will help your child learn to express themselves in your home and your homeschool.

What are the vital communication skills to teach your kids, regardless of age?
  1. Basic etiquette and Good Manners
  2. Netiquette (good manners and thoughtfulness online)
  3. The Art of Small Talk  (conversational skills like simple jokes and stories)
  4. Name Emotions (pointing these out to your children will help them to identify and deal with them readily)
  5. Help Them Set Goals (knowing their end game will allow them to communicate effectively in any situation)
  6. Show Them How to Evaluate (and then use the most effective form of communication)
  7. Mindfulness (let them know it is ok to “push the pause” button and be mindful of themselves and others)
  8. Awareness (help them become aware of their nonverbal communication)
  9. Active Listening Skills ( they can become engaged and active listeners)
  10. The Capacity to Communicate with Self-confidence and Humility
  11. Identify and Understand (so they can empathize with the emotions of others and deal with their feelings as well)

Communication: Key to Success!

We all need to be able to express thoughts and feelings well and accurately. We are so confident that communication is an essential soft skill that it is central to many of the resources you will find on our website or at the Soft Skills 101 Podcast.

It’s easy to fall into the idea that these types of soft skills are just something we are good at or not! But that’s not true – everyone can learn to be better at these types of things. Like we mentioned, soft skills like communication make our lives and relationships better! In this digital age, as careers and our workforce continues to change, the human touch of excellent communication becomes even more valuable. Take a quick look at some of our ideas and resources (listed & linked below), and as always, let us know how we can support you in your homeschooling!

Want support in teaching your kids communication skills?

Listen on your favorite app or visit the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Website for more discussions about teaching our children and check out our Podcasts on Communication:

Planning for the Future by Building Integrity

Planning for the Future by Building Integrity

Planning for the Future by Building Integrity

Planning for the Future by Building Integrity is written by Val Harrison, The Practically Speaking MOM, author & homeschool mom. Check out my interview with Val on Work Ethic at the Ultimate Homeschool Podcast Network).

I’m honored to write a guest blog post for my new friend Lisa of True North Homeschool Academy.  Lisa and I share the same passion for encouraging and equipping parents and students with what they need to succeed – be it at home, academically, in preparation for a career, or spiritually.  It’s especially exciting to talk about the current True North theme of INTEGRITY.  What a powerful topic!

As a mom, I know that I want my kids to have strong integrity –

  • that they would do the right thing no matter who is or isn’t watching,
  • that they would be committed to speaking truth even under pressure,
  • that they would choose the right thing even if it contradicts what they feel like doing.

On any given day, you can hear me saying to one of my kids, “We do what is best, not what is easy.”   Oh, the good ol’ “mom-isms” of life! There are probably a few at your house as well.  Some of my favorites are:

  • “Work hard before you play hard,”
  • “Don’t trust your feelings, because feelings are deceptive,”
  • “We were created for relationship – relationship with God and relationship with others,”
  • and my all-time favorite, “Do what is best, not what is easy.”

That last one is what INTEGRITY is all about!  It’s about doing what is truly right no matter how we FEEL, no matter what we WANT, and no matter what temptations or pressures may be pushing us toward compromising God’s values.

Good parents are constantly in the process of doing what is right instead of what is easy in the situations they face.  That’s why parenthood is so profoundly impactful to our lives – it requires so much setting aside of self for the good of someone else.  The very essence of a loving parent is integrity.  Now how do we help our children see the necessity for this same quality?  How important is it to teach our children to choose honesty and uprightness no matter what?   Martin Luther King said, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of convenience, but where they stand in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.” I want to raise children who can stand strong through all the situations of life.

Moms of teenagers, I hope you will have your students read the following part of this post to help them grow in their commitment to integrity as they prepare for a career.

In my book, GAINING MOMENTUM: Preparing Your Student for the Pursuit of a Career with or without College, one of the sections is called, “Power Steps and Career Habits.”  Since Lisa asked me to talk about integrity in this blog post, I thought I would examine some of the power steps and career habits that would be jeopardized by a lack of integrity.  Let’s take a look at just a few of them. First, you’ll see the Power Step or Career Habit, then you see how a lack of integrity destroys it.

Improve Interpersonal COMMUNICATION Skills to Build a Strong Career

Lack of integrity ruins relationships.  One of the success habits I discuss in the book is the importance of growing your interpersonal communication skills or relationship development. Whether it is a parent/student relationship, boss/employee relationship, relationship between co-workers, or even just neighbors, integrity is a critical part of every relationship.    Quality relationships hinge on honesty and doing what is best for the other person even when it is inconvenient or without immediate personal reward.  Honoring a person includes being honest with them and treating them fairly. That is what integrity looks like in a relationship.

A Large Network Solidifies Your Future

Lack of integrity causes a professional network to crumble.  Your goal is to be constantly growing your network of relationships with people in your career field.  This ever-expanding network can produce countless dividends for your efforts. In fact, a large network is seen as a strong hiring asset because that network represents potential clients or potential referrals, and it reveals to an employer that you possess the social skills necessary to grow the company as you have grown your network. However, if you struggle with maintaining strong integrity, that network can crumble quickly.  In contrast, purposeful effort to maintain exceptional character can produce an unparalleled strength in your network.  The strength of your network depends on the strength of your character.

Understand the Power of PERSONAL BRANDING

Lack of integrity destroys a Personal Brand.  We’ve all got a personal brand, and we’re constantly developing it.  From your social media posts to the way you dress, your hygiene, your word choices, your posture, your eye contact and the confidence in your voice; all of these factors and more go into the development of your personal brand. Among the many factors, your personal brand is shaped by your integrity.   When you are dishonest, it sends the message that you can’t be trusted.  When you choose to compromise quality in workmanship, you compromise your personal brand about whether you do dependable work.  If you want to stand out in your career field, stay above reproach in your integrity to keep a strong personal brand.

If You Want to be Great in a Career, Learn to be the Servant of All

Lack of integrity is self-serving rather than serving others. Good integrity requires doing what is right for all involved, not impulsively caring about your own desires above rightness. Conversely, to possess integrity is to possess a value for all people in a given situation, and by so doing, you are serving them. Serving others requires humility and empathy.  It also produces a much better leader, as serving in every level of work throughout the organization gives a more thorough understanding of all the facets of the business.  This principle works because it is a Kingdom Principle – a principle our Creator designed for His Kingdom.  Matthew 20:26 and Mark 10:43 both say that “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom, learn to be a servant of all.”

God’s Got This – Putting Your Career in God’s Hands

In making decisions, a lack of integrity is relying on your own thoughts rather than relying on God’s wisdom.  “To be honest,” I say in the book Gaining Momentum, “my husband and I don’t want our kids to have their dream jobs.  We want them to have God’s ideal career for each of them.  And there’s only one way to discern what God’s career will is for our students – to help equip them with the habit of seeking His will in all facets of their lives” (49). Imagine that you receive a gift – a package that says, “God’s Choice for Your Career.”  You are excited to find out what it is and to get started on your future!  However, the label on the front of the package reads, “Warning: This gift only works if you utilize the contents according to the directions.”  The directions are God’s principles – your knowledge of them and your ability to implement them.  If you want to be in the center of God’s will for your career, make each decision along the way according to His will, not your own; and that, my friend, is having integrity, doing what is best not what is easy or comfortable.

Integrity Quotes

When someone chooses to compromise their integrity, it reveals five things about them:

Breaking integrity shows a lack of trust in God.

God is allowing you to be in this situation, and He has a way for you to respond that fits within His life principles.  Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  We must have faith that God’s principles are the best options in any given situation, even if it doesn’t seem like His principles will work in a particular crisis of decision.

Breaking integrity shows a lack of respect for others.

When you make decisions that benefit yourself at others’ expense, you are not honoring them in the situation.  Do you realize that caring enough to be honest with a person reveals your value of that person?  If we truly value someone, we will make decisions that are for others’ good. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Breaking integrity shows a lack of caring for your own future. 

Dishonesty, compromise in quality, or short-cuts don’t bring lasting stability. All of these impulsive responses come from a lack of self-control.  Proverbs 25:28 says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”  It’s like building a house on shifting sand, it’s going to collapse eventually, just as Jesus taught in Matthew 7:24-27.

Breaking integrity shows that we’re not seeing the value that emerges through adversity.

What is that value?  Growth! God doesn’t bring every difficulty that is in your life, but He certainly will bring good out of the difficulty if you stay the course and work through the crisis with His principles as your guide.  When it’s hard to do the right thing yet you do it anyway, God usually has some lessons for you to learn (growth) and some exceptional blessings that follow.

In fact, it has been my experience that the greatest blessings come through adversity.  In contrast, when you compromise right morals in a situation to get what you want when you want and in the way you want, you are missing out on the growth and blessings that may have come from unwavering integrity. Romans 5: 3-5 and James 1:2-4 point out the benefits that transpire from staying strong during hardship.

True North’s name indicates its commitment to unwavering clarity in focus – its compass is set to God’s principles and His ways, no matter what the world around it may choose. I love it! This title can be an inspiration to every student who participates with True North Academy.

We’ve spent the majority of this post talking about how career success hinges on strong integrity, and that is true.  Integrity is essential in business because the Creator of all earthly systems, both seen and unseen systems, are dependent upon the principles that He established. Even unbelievers, if they live by God’s principles, will reap the benefits of those choices. However, the most important reason that you should seek to possess integrity is because God calls us to live a life of obedience to Him.  Matthew 6:33 implores us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His RIGHTEOUSNESS…” Integrity is a commitment to His Kingdom and His will instead of our own.

May God bless you in your journey as you are Planning for the Future by Building Integrity

For more info check out our Soft Skills 101 series on Integrity:

Books and Resources by Val Harrison, The Practically Speaking MOM

Val Harrison, The Practically Speaking MOM and her husband Rich have seven children. Five have graduated from their homeschool while school is still in session for the youngest two. With a degree in communications, she has taught speech and career skills to homeschool students for just under two decades. She is the author of the book series “Your Family God’s Masterpiece” consisting of three books:  Wearing All Your Hats without Wearing Out, Clash in Your Home: A Game Plan for Cleaning Up the Conflict, and When Littles Are Loud: Maximizing the Moments without Drowning in Chaos.   She is also the author of GAINING MOMENTUM: Preparing Your Student for a Career with or without CollegeVal loves to encourage and equip parents. You are welcome to visit her website and blog  or on Facebook.

Do you focus on integrity in your homeschool? Check out why we think integrity is an important part of your homeschoolers future. #TrueNorthHomeschoolAcademy #careerpath #integrity #podcast