Colonial Life Then and Now.
The life and responsibilities of a child growing up in colonial America were very
different than the lives and responsibilities today. Growing up as a boy was very different than growing up as a girl. Girls and boys got a different education, had different work to do, and did different things in there spare time.
Children in colonial times had a lot of work to do. Children would start doing chores at the age of three, doing such things as weeding the garden, washing dishes, and feeding the chickens. At the age of four both boys and girls would learn to knit so they could soon help to make clothes. When children reached the age of six, they were given their first real pair of shoes, and were then expected to work both inside and out. At this age, girls and boys were starting to get treated differently. Children played an important role in making candles and soap. Their small fingers were a big help to picking the berries that produced the wax. Making clothes was a difficult job, and everyone in the family helped. Children would go into the
woods, and gather ingredients to make dye, and make the dye when they came home. Girls and women would work on the spinning wheel, and men and boys would weave cloth on a loom. The women would then sew the cloth into clothes for the whole family. Boys did different chores than girls, and boys worked more. They worked very hard before school, after school, and at night.
Children worked very hard, and very much but they still had time to play. They played games such as tag and blindmans buff, and sang songs such as “Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Boys in colonial times had many toys they liked to play with, but most of all they like to play ball. They played with a leather ball stuffed with feathers. Some of the toys they liked to play with were drums, popguns, tops, marbles, hoops, and kites. Girls did different things for fun, most of all they liked to play with dolls. They had dolls made of rags and cornhusks for play, and some had wooden dolls that were not usually meant for play. Another thing they did for fun was sewing.
Young children, both girls and boys attended dame school. Dame school was a place where young children learned to read and write. Housewives in the colony who opened a school in their kitchen for small wages taught dame school. Children would use a book called a hornbook to help them learn. When they completed their hornbook they were ready to graduate dame school. When a boy graduated dame school they would then move on to a higher level of school where they would learn more things. Girls would not go on to a higher level of school because it was believed that reading and writing were enough for a girl to learn. It was believed that it was more important for a girl to learn to cook and clean and raise a family.
The schools the boys went on to after they graduated dame school were uncomfortable and very cold in the winter. The families of the boys who went to school had to pay the schoolmaster, and every day the boys had to bring firewood for the fire. If a boy did not bring firewood, he would have to sit away from the fire in a very cold part of the room. Paper was much too expensive so the boys would have to write on the bark of a tree. The only schoolbook they used was called the New England Primer. This book had many prayers, questions, and answers about God, and also had rhymes for each letter of the alphabet. When the boys knew everything in the New England Primer they were ready to go to a new school, and some were even ready for collage. After they knew everything in the New England Primer most boys just stopped school and went to work instead.
Schools in colonial times were very strict and very disciplined. If you did not behave the schoolmaster would whip you with a birch branch. If you didn’t know your lessons you were called a dunce, and you were forced to wear a dunce cap and sit on a dunce stool. You would have to wear wooden whispering sticks in your mouth if you whispered to a friend, and if you didn’t listen to your school master you would have to wear a card that said “idle boy.” If you were caught biting your nails, you would have to wear a card that said, “ bite finger baby.” Some of these punishments hurt, and some just hurt your feelings.
Because of technology today children have much less work to do, and much more time to play. School is much less disciplined today, and it is also meant for girls and boys. Children in colonial America had a life mostly about work, and learning about God and religion, as children’s life today is centered around mostly school, and having a good time.