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Studying Colonial Times

Janelle Cox

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to study colonial America with your students. Here you will find a variety of activities that engage students in exploring and understanding colonial life.

If You Lived in Colonial Times

A child's life in colonial times was drastically different than that of a child today. To help students understand what life was like in the New England colonies during 1565 to 1776, read aloud the book "If You Lived in Colonial Times" by Ann McGovern. Students will learn what types of clothes they would have worn, if they would have to go to school, and what would happen to them if they misbehaved. After reading the book, discuss the section entitled “What did people do on Sunday?" Talk about how the children had to sit very still in the meeting house and not make any noise.

Have students experience what it was like by encouraging them to sit still for ten minutes. During this quiet activity walk around the room as you were the Tithing Man and if you see anyone move or talk then gently tap their head, or tickle their nose as they did back in the colonial times. Once the ten minutes are over, talk about how their Sundays are different from that of a colonial child. Have each student create a T Chart, and on one side of the chart have them write, and draw a picture of what they do on Sundays. Then, on the opposite side of the chart have students write and draw what a colonial child would have done on a Sunday. When they are finished, bind their charts together to create a class book.

Interview with a Pilgrim

To begin this activity, ask students "Who were the pilgrims?" And "Why did they come to America?" Ask students, "What would it be like to live in the colonial days?" And "What if you could meet a pilgrim, what would you ask them?" Challenge students to pretend they were time travelers and have them go back to colonial times to interview a Pilgrim. Their task is to come up with five interview questions, as well as five detailed answers to those questions. There answers must come from facts they learn in books they have read, or on a historical website.

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Travel Back to Colonial Times

What would life be like if you were a man, woman, or a child from the colonial days? Tell students that they are going to take a journey back to the colonial times. Their task is to choose a character from that time period, and write about what their life would be like during that time from the viewpoint of that person. They can choose to be anyone they wish: a colonial wife, mother, father, child, merchant, shoemaker, apprentice or blacksmith, to name just a few. In order to complete this project they must include the following information in their story.

  • Their authentic colonial name
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Occupation
  • Educational background (if any)
  • Family history

Students should add details such as specific games they played, popular foods they ate, and the chores they did. They can talk about what their house looked like and what they did for fun. Provide students with the following links to get them started on their research projects:

Colonial Children

Biographies of Colonial People


Colonial Toys

Students may be surprised to know that colonial children only played with toys that were handmade. A popular toy to make back then was a corn husk doll. Students can use the directions on this site to create one of their own. For the students who do not want to make a doll, they can make a dream catcher.

Becoming a Colonial Apprentice

Tell students that they are going to become a colonial apprentice for the day. Assign each student a job such as a baker, blacksmith, merchant, candle maker, etc. Their task is to research their specific trade and present to the class their everyday duties. They must create a poster describing the name of their job, what they make, what they like best about their job, and what they like the least. For example, if their trade was a shoemaker, they could talk about how it's hard to sit all day making shoes, but how it's rewarding because they know that everyone needs them.

Do you have any activities or lessons that explore the colonial days? Please share your ideas in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the globe.

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