What was it like for kids in Colonial Times?

There were no video games, no television, no cars, no air conditioning, and no cell phones.  How in the world did kids survive during colonial days?  Colonial days are the years from around 1565 to 1776 (when America was no longer a colony of England, but its own country – the United States of America).
Where would they live? 
Perhaps we should go all the way back to the Mayflower where children came with their parents to build a new life.  Thirty four children sailed on the Mayflower and one more was born before they even reached America.  (just a note – we know that Jamestown was settled before, but children sailed over on the Mayflower, so that’s why we’re talking about it here).  Imagine being on a ship with 30 sailors and 102 passengers (34 of them children).  Once everyone reached the New World, homes had to be built, but sometimes families would share their homes with the other settlers until more permanent homes could be built.  Even the children had cramped quarters.
picture of colonial life

What did they wear?
·        Until they were six, they wore little gowns – both girls and boys.  After that, they dressed like their parents.  Remember there were not stores back then, so everyone had to learn to make linen from flax.  The flax would need to be beaten with a flail (this is called scotching).  Then they are pulled through a ripple that looks like a rough comb (with 30 nails sticking out of it).  Children had to gather berries, roots, and flowers to create the dye for the linen and wool. Goldenrod and birchbark made yellow; pokeberry made red; iris made purple; and logwood made blue.
  • ·   Girls wore long dresses in red, green, blue, or brown.  They wore linen caps over their heads.  When it was cold, girls wore capes.

·        Boys wore brightly colored long-sleeve shirts. They wore wool or leather jackets and breeches (which were like short pants that came to the knees).  They also wore woolen stockings and caps.
feeding the chickens

What jobs did they do?
·        Boys watched the cornfields to keep critters out. They would set up traps to capture small animals for meals and would check them each day. They would gather firewood and even clean their own clothes when they needed.  They will gather the rye and carry it back to the barn.
·        Girls had many tasks as well.  They would help serve the food and prepare meals with their mothers. They would also learn how to keep a house clean. They would clear the table and help feed the chickens with the scraps. They will milk the goats and work in the garden. They will polish the brass and planted seeds.  They learned to work the spinning wheel.  Even girls as young as 4 could wind the yarn into balls.
·        Boys and girls shelled the corn, cooked food, and stuffed mattresses.  They would gather food that was needed – from berries to nuts to mussels.  They would also take care of any animals like cows, goats, or sheep.  Everyone learned to sew.
barrels and drinking utensils

daub and wattle buildings

typical house for majority of people in 1600s

men, women, and even some boys wore wigs

What would they eat?
·        Mostly they ate food they grew, gathered, or hunted.
·        Corn! They ate lots of corn – corn was put into almost every form of the meal.  It was an important crop they learned to grow from the Native Americans.
·        They made porridge
·        If they had goats or cows, they had milk and butter and even cheese

girls learned to use spinning wheels

games - bilbo and cards

schoolroom at a manor house

What was school like?
·        Children only went to school after all their chores were done.  Often they would wake up before the sun rose and milk the cows and feed the chickens.
·        Any town with more than 50 families had to have a school.  Boys and girls went to school for the first few years.
·        Girls would stay home to help the mother and learn how to keep house – housewifery duties
·        Boys would continue at school if they were bright or they would stay home and help their father run the farm or business or they would become apprentices
·        They learned to read and write from the horn book first.  When they finished, then girls would go back home.
·        Most schools were only 1 room.  All the students, no matter how old, were in the same room.  The students were lucky if the school had a fireplace.  Long benches were there to sit on.  Every boy had to bring firewood.  Parents paid the schoolmaster with food.
·        Boys used birch bark to write on – they used a lump of lead or a quill with homemade ink.
·        School would last from early morning to six in the evening

Let's go see what's happening at the gaol!

"I wonder who is stuck in the stocks today?"

writing utensils

What did children do for fun?  Children did have fun.  They did not have to work all day long.  Some children, depending on their parents’ economic status would have more free time to play than others.
·        Rolling a hoop
·        Playing hopscotch
·        Checkers and chess if you had someone to teach you
·        Flew kites, played with marbles, played ball, and cards
·        Swimming
·        Tag, hide and seek
·        Girls might play “house” and pretend they were part of a family using their dolls as babies
·        Girls also sewed – stitchery making samples with sayings on them
·        They would read books if they were lucky to have them (most families did not, but they all had a Bible)
·        Everyone loved to dance – so dancing lessons were given and people went to each other’s homes to dance or listen to music
·        Everyone also went to church – it was a social gathering as well as a religious exercise.  People would meet and talk and listen to any announcements made at the church.

making linen from flax

scutching flax for linen

making lye soap

As you can see, life was not as leisurely for children as it is today.  Children got up before the sun rose. They did their chores, they went to school, then if there was time, they could play.  Because there was no television or movies, if there was something going on at the courthouse, everyone came to see and hear.  Many times, people would gather in the streets and listen to speeches or they would gather to see a small play being held at the outside theater.  Gruesome as it seems, even children would go to see public hangings or other sentences being given out.

When the Declaration of Independence was read in town squares, everyone came to hear it – even the children.

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