History Students Try On Colonial Living for Size
Fifth-Graders Spend Day As 18th-Century Villagers

By Julie Rasicot
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dressed in Colonial-style clothing, parent Martha Kibbey held up a handsaw and asked a group of fifth-graders at Darnestown Elementary School whether anyone needed a limb amputated.

"We have some bullets you can bite on, because we don't have any anesthetic," Kibbey told the students while explaining an 18th-century apothecary's services.

Welcome to Colonial Day at Darnestown Elementary, where fifth-graders recently spent the day learning what it was like to live, work and play in a Colonial American village.

A well-loved tradition at the school, Colonial Day first came to life 10 years ago when social studies teacher Luanne Deppa and several parents decided they wanted students to experience the Colonial living and not just read about it in a textbook.

"Our children today do not have enough history taught to them. They get bits and pieces. This makes it come alive," said Deppa, dressed in a pink-flowered period dress and cap. "Our children need to have a foundation. They need to know where this country's been, and where it's going, to keep this country great."

The event is the culmination of the fifth grade's study of Colonial history. It has grown since its inception in 1999, when two fathers built the facades of village buildings, such as the apothecary, a meetinghouse and a barbershop, and set them up in the school's gymnasium. "They took a page from my social studies book and built the exact New England settlement," Deppa said.

Behind the building facades, fifth-grade parent volunteers create interior settings each year, filling them with their own furniture and objects to make the rooms look authentic.

"They even tried to find leeches one year" for the apothecary, said Deppa, who supervised her final Colonial Day this year. Fifth-grade teacher Debbie Waechter will take over the event when Deppa retires after 35 years of teaching.

The annual event usually draws most of the fifth-grade parents, who also help make the Colonial-style food served at lunch and sew or collect the cotton dresses and breeches worn by the students that day, Deppa said.

Parent participation in this year's Colonial Day was no exception. As fifth-graders wearing bonnets and tri-cornered hats visited the various buildings and other stations, including blacksmith and shipbuilder shops, parent volunteers talked to them about Colonial life.

"It's 9:50. You are in Colonial America, so remember to be thrifty," town crier and parent Brad Stone said, signaling that it was time for students to move to a new station.

In the barbershop, which also offered wigmaking and dental services, parent Theresa Stone showed students how to make a toothbrush by smashing the end of a piece of bamboo.

"Toothbrushes were a luxury," she said. "Only the very, very rich were able to import them from Europe."

"Did their breath stink?" one boy asked.

Stone nodded. "A lot of people lost all their teeth by the time they were 50 years old," she said.

In the barbershop, students tried on white, fluffy wigs and took turns shaving each other with shaving cream and wooden popsicle sticks.

"How do I look?" Wade Bishop, 10, said as parent Julie Moses shook baby powder to "powder" his wig.

As he admired himself in a mirror, Bishop said he was enjoying his day in Colonial times.

"I love it. It's really cool. I bet a lot of schools don't do this," said Bishop, who seemed reluctant to relinquish his hairpiece. "I like wigs. I like to have long hair, and I have short hair."

In Deppa House, named after the veteran teacher, students sat cross-legged on a parlor floor and listened as parent Lynne Vargas spoke of the daily routines and the types of food eaten in the late 18th century. Vargas sat in a rocking chair beside a paper-and-wood "fireplace" lined with cast-iron pots.

As the fifth-graders moved from station to station, students from other grades peeked in on the gymnasium's village. In the afternoon, the younger students also watched the fifth-graders perform skits about historic events, such as the Boston Tea Party.

Several first-graders crowded the door of the barbershop as Bridget Garagusi, 10, scraped shaving cream off the face of Colton Christensen, 11.

Although they were enjoying the day, both students agreed that they would not want to have lived in Colonial times.

"It's fun learning, but I wouldn't want to be in it," Garagusi said. "You have to work a lot more. It's more painful. We have a lot more technology now."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company