Monday, 30 July 2012

English Literature

English Literature; a highly favoured subject and one that many Catholic Home educators will enjoy.

In many Catholic homes one will find a treasury of well loved, classic and cherished books and many a Catholic child will grow up remembering books being read out loud and sitting in a quite corner enjoying an honoured favourite.

In our home we have a wide range of books ranging from old fashioned classics to non-fiction, all varied and different but censored to be morally acceptable so a child can choose anything from a shelf and sit down and enjoy.

Being well read is a worthy prerequisite for any English course, especially the IGCSE in Literature. If one has read widely and enjoyed different genres and styles they should have little problem with these courses.

From our own experience we have, again used the CIE board for English Literature.

 Catholic families will be glad to find Shakespeare still available for their child to study - well known classics such as 'Julius Caesar' or 'The Tempest'  or 'The importance of being earnest' by Wilde. There is poetry too, last year was Alfred Lord Tennyson or a more modern option 'Songs for ourselves'. In 2014 they have included the poetry of Thomas Hardy.

A note regarding Shakespeare- whilst it is a wonderful experience for many children to hear and read the jewels which are Shakespeare some will find it challenging to study alone and not in a group setting or just plain difficult. My son decided not to opt for the Shakespeare choice last year because he preferred to see it performed live and felt he benefited more greatly from this than from studying it laboriously and not gaining much thrill from it.

Instead it can be beneficial to read stories like 'Tales from Shakespeare' by Lamb (my children read this with me at  10yrs);

And try and see the plays performed live. This brings such a realism to the child and Shakespeare will linger for a long while in their minds.

I could not recommend 'The Young Shakespeare Company' enough ;

Our secular home education group employed them to do a whole workshop on 'The Tempest' with a large group of children many years ago now and they still talk about it and have vivid memories of being part of such a sensational play!

Shakespeare plays are often performed in open air theatres and these can also be very attractive to children.

Returning to the Literature syllabus- there is not much which is morally objectionable and one is able to find classical and deep literature.

In the Edexcel board they offer Austen's 'Pride and prejudice' which is exceptionally popular in my household!

Ben, who is 15yrs, sat his English Literature in the summer. He chose three texts- 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte, 'Journey's End' by R.C Sheriff and selected poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Instead of choosing more books he opted for the unseen paper so he had to answer on a piece of literature he had not previously seen.

English Literature is definitely a viable option for the Catholic home educator. Do allow a maturity of mind however, I certainly would not conceive of my children sitting it before 15/16yrs old as they need to master how to pen a clear essay with critique, analytical skills and argument and I think this comes from experience and a more developed mind. (and lots of practice!)

What are your views on this subject? Should all children study Shakespeare?


  1. Great article Amanda! My tuppence-worth on the Shakespeare question:

    Even today, Shakespeare is so prevalent within the arts that I believe some appreciation of him and his plays would be of great benefit to those studying literature.

    The question is: how to make it interesting to home-schoolers?

    Here is my suggestion. First: find out more about the man and the times he grew up in, before even thinking about studying any of his plays in depth. For a totally engaging, thorough humourous and downright fascinating look at Shakespeare the man I can't recommend Bill Bryson's 'Shakespeare' highly enough.

    Having learned about the world in which Shakespeare made his mark, children may be better disposed to find out what made his plays so successful. Nothing can beat a trip to the theatre for this, but a good second would be to borrow one of the many DVDs available at your local library. Discuss with them their favourite scenes and maybe get them to read those out loud from the script, acting out the different different parts?

    I was put off Shakespeare by the dreary way it was taught at school and only in later life have I come to really savour his rich language and unique perspective on the Human Condition. I'd hate to think that our children were put off in the same way.

  2. Thank you very much for these wise words. We have a couple of excellent dvds of Shakespeare and you have prompted me to re-use them!

    There is also a wonderful book called 'Shadowplay' by Clare Asquith, who claims in this great book that Shakespeare wrote a hidden code into his plays as a reaction to what was happening in 16C England. It is claimed that much can be learned politically and religiously through his plays even though he did not overtly speak out at the time. In fact he ceased writing plays at the very pinnacle of his writing career which is a mystery unraveled in this fascinating book.
    For the more mature student this could be a good introductory to his genius plays.