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Dressing Up

By Kristin Hamerski
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #64, 2005.

The fun and educational value of dressing up.
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Kristin Lee Hamerski

Kristin as Princess Leia
Gliding across the ice underneath the warm glow of the spotlight, I felt confident and beautiful knowing that I had not only worked long and hard on my figure skating routine, but that I had also designed my figure skating outfit. As the music from the Star Wars movies started, I realized that no matter what medal I won I had already learned a lot by being focused on every aspect of my competition. I wanted my costume to reflect me, not just something I bought at a store. When the music stopped I knew I had given it my all, and with a short curtsy I left the ice. A half hour later the results were up on the wall. "A Gold Medal!" I cried in front of everyone.

I was pleased with my placement, but even more pleased with the compliments on my outfit; it was fun to tell people I designed it myself. As Princess Leia, my costume was complete with the white flowing gown, and the cinnamon bun hairstyle (thanks to my mom for taking the time to do my hair... it was a long process).

A couple years later I recaptured my love of Star Wars and designed a Queen Amidala costume, where I actually made and decorated the headdress. I know that by being active in all aspects of my program I not only enjoyed it more, but felt a greater sense of pride in my achievement!

Kristin, Mom, and Eric as Pilgrims for Thanksgiving
Being able to design or make a costume is useful for many activities, such as a church play, a dance recital, or even a fun costume homeschooling party. Dressing up can be a wonderful way to make history come alive with your homeschool students. When I was younger my homeschool group of friends and I had a lot of fun dressing up during Thanksgiving, as we were in the midst of an extensive learning unit on the Pilgrims. Not only did we read books and watch informative videos, but we actually made Pilgrim clothes together, made traditional Pilgrim food, and had our own Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims had it centuries ago. That day we even tried to talk as if we were Pilgrims, making traditional Pilgrim crafts and having a wonderful time. This same method can be applied to just about anything historical. Find a part of history that your child is particularly interested in and make it come alive by giving them a chance to experience it for themselves, in clothes, food, crafts, and acting. There is no end to this kind of learning, and I will assure you your child will never forget it and will gain a life long love of history. I know I did, and I am very thankful for the time my parents put into my education! I think the key to making history interesting is to make it relevant; helping kids to see that these were real people who had real lives, and in many cases very interesting lives. Once given a chance to touch and taste history by wearing clothes that match a time in history and eating traditional foods, children will find it hard not to change their view of history from just boring books about dead people to an amazing study of lives and traditions gone by that can be touched in their own life today. In making history come alive in their world today, children can relate to historical figures on a much greater scale. I think this approach to history can be taken into every subject, making learning more than just a book... supplementing what is learned in the book with hands-on activities that not only encourage a child's imagination, but also triggers a higher degree of memory comprehension.

When I was younger I enjoyed everything American Girl, from an American Girl fashion show tea party to an American Girl look-alike contest. American Girl is a wonderful way of bringing history alive through dressing up and can be supplemented with many other historical activities. With nine different American Girl Dolls from different time periods homeschool families can have quite a good number of historical unit studies. American Girl Dolls include:

  • Kaya - an adventurous Nez Perce girl growing up in 1764
  • Felicity - a spunky, sprightly girl growing up in Virginia in 1774, just before the Revolutionary War
  • Josefina - a girl of heart and hope growing up in New Mexico in 1824
  • Kirsten - a pioneer girl of strength and spirit growing up in Minnesota in 1854
  • Addy - a strong, courageous girl who escapes from slavery with her mother in 1864
  • Samantha - a bright, compassionate girl living with her wealthy grandmother in 1904
  • Nellie - a practical, hard-working girl who was hired to be a servant in the house next door to Samantha
  • Kit - a clever, resourceful girl growing up in Cincinnati in 1934 during America's Great Depression
  • Molly - a lively, lovable schemer and dreamer growing up in 1944 (especially good for families with a family member in military service).

    (note: Descriptions about American Girl Dolls were taken from their website, www.americangirl.com)

Rona, Kristin, and Mom at the American Girl fashion show tea party
There are also miniature versions of each doll, which are less expensive. In addition, there are accompanying books for each of the dolls that can be bought online or via catalog, or can even be borrowed from your local library. There is also an American Girl monthly magazine, which features tons of fun craft ideas and other American Girl stuff such as costume making ideas, etc. American Girl also came out with a movie (1904 Victorian Era), which can be purchased through American Girl catalogs or online. Homeschoolers can even start up an American Girl Doll Club and bake recipes that correspond with the different doll's time periods, as well as make crafts, sew clothes, play games, have tea parties, etc. The website www.americangirl.com also has many interactive games, paper dolls, a scavenger hunt game, email cards to send, etc. I will always remember the Look-Alike Contest when my mother and I made an outfit to match that of the Kirsten pioneer doll, and for the fashion show tea party I dressed up as Samantha, the-turn-of-the-century Victorian-era doll.

If you are interested in another dress-up option, 4-H has an annual Fashion Revue. You can model your favorite outfit, which can be made by hand or store bought. I found this to be a wonderful opportunity since it gave me the opportunity to not only make an outfit and model it, but also to have an interview time one on one with the judges, answering questions such as how I made the outfit, why I made it, etc. I won a blue First Place ribbon and a purple Champion ribbon in each category and found the whole experience very worthwhile and fun for the whole family. I was even able to use the dress I made in the talent portion of a pageant.

Kristin as a Santa Bear at the Fur Rondy Ice Show
In Anchorage we have an annual Renaissance Faire, which offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about the Renaissance era as well as to dress up and live it for a day. Many towns have such a fair, which offers the food of that time, plays with people speaking in old English, as well as many Renaissance games. I dressed up as a medieval princess when I went and enjoyed the experience so much that many people thought I was one of the actors in the plays! I would highly recommend attending a Renaissance Faire, and if you have a very keen interest in that time period, see if you can learn to speak in old English and try out to be one of the actors.

Fur Rendezvous (Fur Rondy), a winter festival revolving around the fur trade, dates back to before Alaska became a state. During Fur Rondy one of the highlights is the show "Rondy on Ice," which I have been a part of. This particular ice show was wonderful for giving me yet another chance to dress up. Each year the show has a new theme. When I was a beginning skater I got to play the role of a clown. Another year the theme was about each of the months of the year and I was in the "December group" dressed as one of the "Santa Babies" (from the song "Santa Baby").

I know that these experiences have helped me in pageants, especially the Personal Expression category where each girl had to design her own pair of jeans that best expressed who she was. We then modeled them at the pageant. I placed in the Top Ten of that national pageant and feel that much of the confidence I had on stage was because I was confident in my personal style and experience, which was developed through these many activities

Kristin modling decorated jeans at the American National Teens pageant
When my brother, Erik, was little he really enjoyed me dressing him up in whatever I could find. I had fun being creative and making him look funny. Now he skates in the Character Spotlight Competitions and it makes me smile to see him enjoy "getting into character."

I design figure-skating costumes for my brother Erik, such as a tree costume with a robin in a nest hat ("Rockin' Robin" theme music), an Archie costume with a lollipop ("Sugar Sugar" theme music), Shaggy costume with Scooby Doo toy ("Scooby Doo Where are You" theme music), and best of all a Marine costume for skating to "Yankee Doodle"! These costumes won him numerous gold medals as well as thunderous applause from the audience, but I think the best part was that he was part of the creative process, and took pride in the fact that he helped make his costume.

I think you will find that no matter what you are interested in you can find a way to incorporate dressing up into your homeschool program. Whether you want to bring history alive by giving your children a chance to wear clothes from times gone by or whether you want to help your child learn to be creative in making a costume for a competition event or a play I think you will find that your student as well as the whole family will remember and cherish the time spent in "dressing up."

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