Whenever I teach a unit about life in the 1700s, students invariably ask about the wigs worn by men at this time. This is especially the case if we watch a period movie. I tell the students about how it was the fashion, like skinny jeans or beards people wear today. And, I talk about how people were not too serious/efficient with their bathing and, as a result, pre-mature baldness was rampant.
But, what really sparks interest and curiosity is when the students watch me put on my period wig. This is when history truly comes alive for them.
I began with wigs. But, once I became department head, I used some budget money to take it up a notch. I bought costumes. Discussing the Continental Congress? I am dressed like John Adams. Exploring key Civil War battles? I am dressed like U. S. Grant. Taking a look at the War to End All War? I slap on my Tommy helmet.
Seeing the styles of the times we are studying helps the students make stronger connections to the past and opens up some really interesting dialogue. And that is just the simple, Halloween-style costumes. To really ramp up learning, I blew the budget on actual replicas. Now learning moves from seeing the past to experiencing it. Feel how much a real sword weighs. Feel the heft of a medieval knight’s helmet.
And beyond helping the students, it really helps you the teacher also. Getting into costume really breaks you out of your old-style lecture mode and pushes you forward into a historic role. History comes alive and you come alive too.
Yes, you could spend your budget on books or website fees. But, if you really want to bring the past to life – for you and your students – put some costumes and replicas into your repertoire.