Children in Colonial America

Colonial America is described as the time from about 1607 until 1783. People were traveling from Europe and settling in the New World to escape religious persecution or find a better way of life. These people started colonies which grew as they had children. Many people living in America today came from past generations of children in colonial America. It is fun and interesting to do a people search to find out if any of your ancestors were a part of early American life. Children growing up in colonial America had a very different life than kids growing up today. Today, American families have about one to three children. A typical colonial family had about six or seven children. As many as 20% or 30% of those born in colonial times died during infancy. Many more died in young childhood due to diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza.


Infants were breastfed by their mothers until about one year old when they began to eat solid foods. It was not uncommon for infants to be given alcohol to help keep them quiet. Both boy and girl infants usually wore long gowns. 

Girls 4-8

Girls as young as four would begin working along-side their mother. They learned to cook, sew, and milk cows. They wore clothes that made them look like “little adults”. Some girls had dolls made out of cloth and sometimes wood. 

Boys 4-8

Boys as young as four began to help with the daily living chores as well. The usually worked along-side their fathers learning how to farm, cut wood for fires, and participate in what their fathers did for the family. Boys also wore clothes just like their father. 

*Both boys and girls usually had to make games out of objects such as pebbles, sticks, and buckets or barrels. Sometimes the family could afford wooden play sets or the wooden ball and cup game.

Girls 9-10

If girls were from a wealthy family they would go to school or be tutored. If not, they may be taught at home by their parents or an older sibling. Girls of this age did chores such as cooking, sewing, gardening, and collecting food from animals. They were expected to act like adults and dressed just as other women in their social class.

Boys 9-12

Boys usually went to school and learned from a horn book. If the family could not afford schooling the parents would give the son lessons because education was important. Boys of this age would go to school from about 8 until 4 six days a week and work for their family after school.

Teen Girls

Girls stopped going to school by high school. They continued to do chores for the family and learned how to be a woman. They looked forward to special social events such as parties, weddings, and holidays for entertainment.

Teen Boys

Teen boys began an apprenticeship in the area their family wanted them to pursue. Even young teen boys sometimes began college if their families could afford it. Besides education the boys spent their time working on the family farm.

Look at the following links to learn more about colonial American life:

Growing Up In Colonial America - The lives of children in colonial America. Includes information on chores, schooling, games, and what was in store when they reached an age old enough to marry.

Childbirth in Early America - There was a high risk of complications during pregnancy and birthing in colonial America. Many mothers and infants died.

Redefining Family in Colonial America - How lives of families from different backgrounds were similar or different from each other in Colonial America.

Education in the 13 Original Colonies -What school was like in the 13 colonies and how it was different for boys and girls.

Education in Colonial America -Highly detailed information on the education on places of study for people in colonial times.

New England Primer - View 72 pages from an 1805 New England Primer.

Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior - Manners that colonists, including children, were expected to have. Written by George Washington.

About Early American Music - The music of colonial America, including the instruments used and the types of music.

Occupations and Customs in Colonial America - Some of the occupations that teen boys might take apprenticeships for.

Children's Clothing in Colonial America - Descriptions of the types of clothing that children wore in colonial times. Includes pictures for reference.