Earlier this week, I shared about History as Storytelling…I hope you didn’t miss the great video interview with Jim Weiss.
Today we’re going to go even deeper by looking at teaching History through Role-Playing.

Of course, this is not a new idea.  
Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation and Hale Farm and Gettysburg and countless sights and historical destinations across our great land bring History to LIFE for their visitors through the use of costume and role-play. Why are these so popular? Because reenactments put the student right at the helm of the learning.  They are viewing, and in some cases, themselves acting out the stories being told.  Or as Ben Franklin so famously quoted, 
“Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.”  

Studies have actually shown that we remember about 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we do and say.

When it comes to the great and vast stories that make up our human history, we can further help our students understand them acting them out using simple costumes and role play~things which come very natural to growing developing children anyway.  
We do this as often as we are able, and sometimes, we have big Living History events dedicated to what we are studying.  
So far, it’s been an effective and memorable way to drive home our learning.  
Today’s post is really a peek at some of our history highlights for the past 2 years as we’ve walked through the Ancient Period and on into the Middle Ages.
Kids have HUGE imaginations, and usually don’t need a whole lot of detail filled in for them…often if I can share one or two living books with them, all I have to provide are a few simple costume pieces and props, and they are off to the races on their own.

I enjoy making simple costumes for my kids, sometimes with little more than scissors, fabric and my glue gun, but as I’ve learned to sew on a machine in the past 2 years, I’ve made a couple from patterns that were more elaborate.  
I’ve included a photo album for you to enjoy, and I hope you are inspired to do more role-playing as you teach History in your home school.

What we were studying: Early Nomadic Peoples
What She Wore: -homemade costume using fleece, with fringe cut and beads added-

What we were studying:  Ancient Egyptians
What She Wore: -very basic white dress with fancy homemade belt.  A pinned-on collar, gold headband and sheer fabric cover up were added to complete the look.
What we were studying: Ancient Greece ~ My dramatic little Greek princess
What She Wore: -this was a NO-SEW dress made from a pillow case, a bit of gold fabric, and hot glue. Headband, sparkly belt and bracelets added to complete the simple costume.
Those fancy wrist bracelets are made from a pringles can that we spray-painted!
Now for the boys….

What They Wore: The boys are all wearing pieces of one of my husband’s xlg t shirts.  I literally cut that thing up and made sashes and capes for all 3 from one shirt.  Boys are pretty easy to please like that!
My Spartan warriors with their foam weapons, ready to fight the men of Athens, below

Greek Olympics with racing and wrestling and frisbee toss…

Winners are crowned with a homemade jute and paper laurel wreath.
What we were studying:  Ancient Rome!
Here is my little soldier  Joshua.
What He Wore: I used a pattern for the armor of this homemade costume, then used a pillow case to make the under-skirt thing, and sewed a clasp on a piece of red fabric to make his cloak.  He’s wearing a Thor helmet and carrying a dollar-store shield.
Here’s my oldest boy again, showing off his OWN gladiator costume made from some of my scrap fabric and leather. 🙂
Now Joshua just added a homemade foam trident and a net to his soldier costume to become a Retaurius gladiator.
My 3 year old as a gladiator…in simple (no-sew) costume made from vinylish material.
For my boys, it’s more about the props and weapons as you can see from all these pictures.  When we need something special (as in, we don’t own it already, and can’t find it at the dollar store) I make most of their weapons from big sheets of insulation foam you can get at a home improvement store pretty cheap, and we decorate/finish with duck tape (black, silver, red…)
Gladiators fighting a wild beast in the arena.  You can see all the kids’ costumes in this pic.  A lot of large t shirts and pillow cases are used for our events.
And never underestimate the use of cardboard, foam and duck tape when it comes to making any kind of armor or weaponry.  Everyone used books and photos for reference when they came up with their designs.
What She Wore: My daughter in her Roman style homemade dress–just 2 pc. material sewn together, hemmed, and silver ribbon added with fabric glue.
 What we were studying: Barbarians preparing to overthrow Rome!
 This was the beginning of our current school year in the Middle Ages
What They Wore: -these costumes are just what they appear to be–potato sacks with rope belts.  Perfectly Barbarian.-
What we were studying:  Early Celtic People
What They Wore: More potato sacs for the boys, blue celtic looking fabric pinned across the boys or draped around girls’ shoulders, & blue face paint for the warriors.  
A fierce, blue-faced Celtic warrior, preparing for battle!
What They Wore: Our Celtic girls’ costumes were equally as simple…Emma’s wearing a large t-shirt on the left, Abby’s wearing a pillow case, no-sew dress in the middle, and Eden on the right is wearing a simply-sewn dress made from an old curtain.  Each of the girls have a piece of fabric going around their dresses, and are wearing homemade Celtic pins, necklaces and head bands to complete the look.

What we were studying:  Early Monasticism in Europe
What He Wore: Here Joshua is wearing a Monk’s costume I found online for less than $10 and I actually  used it as a pattern to make 2 more for the boys in his co-op class.  I used old brown curtain fabric to make them and they ended up looking better than the one I bought online.  I believe all our boys’ monk’s costumes do double duty as Jedi costumes these days.

What we were studying: Golden Age of China
What They Wore: a real mix here–Asian looking fabric with an asian umbrella, one (old) store bought Japanese dress, and a couple of original Thai outfits.  My boy on the right has a “straw” hat on, made from poster board and string.
What we were studying: Europe in the Middle Ages…my daughter and I pose as ladies of the Renaissance (at the PA Ren. Fair).
What We Wore: Her dress was borrowed from a close friend & mine was $3 from a garage sale! ha!
And here’s my gal again as a Noble Lady in the fanciest dress I’ve sewn to date (using a pattern).
(remember the other one was borrowed, so we made our own).
With friends at a Living History event…Ben in the middle put together his costume from what he had at home.  The feather in his hat really completed his nobleman/merchant look.


Coming up, we’ll soon be studying Early Native Americans (Incas, Mayans and Aztecs) where we’ll be using costumes we already have, like this store-bought Native American dress my gal wore at her Cowboys and Indians  party last year.

A couple more pics of the kiddos at some of our homeschool events, where costumes came into play…

Notice my boy is now wearing my daughter’s Native American costume for HIS Thanksgiving costume.

And here, my daughter re-used her Nomad costume when we had our 1st Thanksgiving feast last year…her friend Ben re-used his Thai costume with new props to become an Indian.

…and one of my all-time favorite pics.  Gotta love preschoolers.  😉
This is me and my son in our homemade pilgrim costumes using clothing we already had.  I made my collar, apron and hat from white felt and hot glue, and used a fabric belt to tie the hat.  No-sew anything.

And my daughter just re-used it all this year when she dressed as a pilgrim for our feast!
The point is that lots of our DIY costumes do double-duty, which is great.

If you can’t tell already, dressing up and role-play is a regular part of our history learning!

How about you?  Do you enjoy teaching history using role-play and costumes?
Do you buy costumes, sew them, or are you more comfortable using fabric glue/hot glue to jimmy rig things together?
Don’t forget to keep an eye out at garage sales, re-sale shops, and show those post-Halloween sales for potential costumes.  Sometimes the neatest homemade costumes can come from items found cheap at Goodwill that need little or no modifications.

See you soon for one more post on how we teach History here in our homeschool.
Happy Learning!

One thought on “History as Role Play

  1. Amy Maze

    What a wonderful collection of pictures! Thanks for sharing all these ideas. I typically make simple costumes for my kids out of stuff I have around the house. I’m not so great at making things that actually look good, so I should definitely keep my eye out at garage sales (and such) like you mentioned.

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