Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World

Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World

by Laurie Carlson


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Young adventurers can learn about the settling of America while enjoying activities like stitching a sampler, pitching horseshoes, making an almanac, churning butter, and more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781556523229
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/28/1997
Series: A Kid's Guide Series
Pages: 152
Sales rank: 1,228,830
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 5 - 11 Years

About the Author

Laurie Carlson is the author of Westward Ho!, More Than Moccasins, Green Thumbs, and Kids Camp! She has taught preschool, primary grades, and children’s art classes.

Read an Excerpt

Colonial Kids

An Activity Guide to Life in the New World

By Laurie Carlson

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 1997 Laurie Carlson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-56976-781-8


The People

What would you say if your parents told you they were taking you to an unknown land called the New World, where strange and unusual animals and plants lived? The trip would be made in a boat not much larger than a school bus. What if they mentioned there might be sea monsters, pirates, and, oh yes, worms in your food, during the sea voyage? And you would probably never be able to return to your homeland? Quite an adventure, wouldn't you agree?

A lot of children came to the New World and probably some of them really didn't want to. For most, though, the New World, and the opportunities that might be there were far better than where they had been living.

Look back into your own family's history — if they settled in North America before it became the nation it is today, they were colonists.

The North American colonies were settled by immigrants who came here and eventually formed their own countries — the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico.

There were people already here when the newcomers stepped off their ships. Native North Americans (North American Indians) already had built villages, even cities. They sometimes welcomed the new people, and sometimes fought them.

Native North Americans lived in villages all along the Atlantic coast when the European explorers arrived. Each Indian nation had its own territory, customs, style of dress, and language. The people hunted, fished, and planted gardens. They made things they needed out of wood, hide, bone, and shell.

Villages were usually small because too many people in one place would use up all the food. Many more people could survive in villages where gardens were planted.

Extra food was traded to other villages. People traded for items they couldn't gather or make. The Native North Americans depended on the land, the seasons, the weather, and on trading with each other for their survival.

Nations and villages sometimes fought each other over territory or trade — just like the European and Asian nations.

At the beginning of the colonial era in the New World, European explorers went everywhere they could looking for the most valuable things they knew — gold, jewels, spices, even the fountain of youth.

They were able to travel because ship building and navigation had become refined and well developed. Ship building, map making, and charting the night sky made it possible for explorers to head across the ocean, looking for great riches.

The first colonists were soldiers who, in their search for riches found rich land instead. Soldiers from one country fought soldiers from other countries to claim the most land. Kings and queens were eager to snap up the biggest piece of the New World for their country and sent explorers and soldiers to do this for them.

The colonists that came after the explorers came to stay. They built towns and raised families. They wanted to live in a country where they could have freedom and opportunity — the very things they couldn't find in Europe.

Norsemen from ancient Scandinavia, led by Leif Ericson (a sailor from Greenland) were the first Europeans to land in North America. Ericson sailed in the summer of 1001 A.D. landing in eastern Canada and later exploring it. There they discovered a new plant, one they had never seen before — grapes. The men filled their boat with timber, grapes, and vines to take back to Greenland to show evidence of their discovery. In honor of this new discovery, they called this new land Vinland.

Sagas are stories or very long poems that were spoken aloud. Sagas told about the history of a family. Norsemen wrote down the saga of Erik the Red. That's one way people today learned about the Greenland colonies.

Why not use a notebook to write your own family's history — a family saga? You can start as far back as anyone remembers, and tell the story up to today. Try to write down all the obstacles and difficulties your family faced, and how they overcame them. Keep the notebook to pass on to your own children and grandchildren.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus set out from Spain with three ships, trying to find a sea route to Asia by going west across the Atlantic Ocean. Ten weeks later he came to an island, Hispaniola, and thought he had landed in India, so he called the natives he met Indians. He soon realized that he hadn't landed in Asia, so he made four more trips, from Spain, still searching for a route. On some voyages, his crew of 150 included about fifty twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys — that was one-third of his crew!

As soon as the news about Columbus's trips spread through Europe, other kings and queens sent ships and people to claim and settle the land for their own country.

Spanish colonists settled in southern Florida and the Caribbean Islands. Dutch colonists settled in what is now New York. Swedish colonists settled in what is now Pennsylvania. French ships carried settlers to the southeastern coast and into Canada. English ships brought most of the colonists who settled in New England and Virginia.

At first, most colonists were men and boys. In October 1608 the first two women arrived at James Fort. They quickly married two male settlers. Other women came and ten years later there were almost a hundred single women coming each year. They were auctioned off to men for marriage. James Fort was later called Jamestown, as it grew from a fort into a settlement.

In the Virginia colonies, an English child could pay for ship's passage by working as an indentured servant until he or she was twenty-one years old. An indentured servant was owned by his master and could be sold, traded, or gambled away. Orphaned children worked their way to the New World in order to have a free life outside of an orphanage.

Most newcomers expected to find some sort of riches in the New World. They thought there would be a lot of gold, and some ships were sent back to England full of fool's gold — actually rocks of pyrite that sparkled like gold but they were worthless.

Every citizen in England had to belong to the Church of England, which was headed by the King. A group of people who called themselves separatists wanted to form their own church because they didn't want to belong to the Church of England. They went to the Netherlands, but weren't happy living there because their children were learning Dutch ways and forgetting their English culture. The separatists decided to journey to the New World on a ship named the Mayflower. In exchange for passage and some supplies, the future colonists agreed to send back valuable goods for the merchants to sell in England. Their ship landed a hundred miles north of the Virginia colony. They built their own colony, called Plymouth, in what is now Massachusetts.

The Mayflower was overloaded with 102 passengers, but only 44 were really pilgrims or separatists who intended to stay in the New World. The rest were called Strangers by the pilgrims because they were recruited by merchants to join the venture.

Before the Pilgrims left the Mayflower they wrote up a set of rules to govern their new settlement. They didn't want the wealthy to rule; instead, they wanted every citizen to be equal with a government that represented everyone. It was a very new idea.

How were rule breakers punished? There were no police or sheriffs. There weren't any jails either because no one could take the time to build them with so much else to do. Lawbreakers were banished to the wilderness where they couldn't survive alone. Thieves were given a death sentence. Even swearing and complaining were quickly punished by whipping. It was important that everyone worked together so they would all survive. Crimes that endangered the colony were given the harshest punishment.

Because colonies were in danger from attack by other colonies or Native North Americans, it was important that all the men and boys trained as soldiers in case there was an attack. Villages had their own armies or militias for defense. Militias had been widespread in England. Any man who refused to train or fight was punished.

The Puritans were another group of people unhappy with the Church of England. They disagreed with the church's beliefs and thought the King should make the church's ceremonies less complicated. They wanted the ceremonies to be simplified and more Bible study. The Puritans came to North America and built a village called Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

William Penn was an Englishman who adopted the Quaker religion. His father had loaned a lot of money to the King of England. To settle this debt, the King gave William a large piece of land in the New World where William began an experimental settlement. He created a colony called Pennsylvania, where all people would be equals. The rules were written up to be fair to everyone, even Native North Americans. It was a new idea.

The people who settled in Penn's colony were Quakers, a religion that teaches all people are equal. The Quaker colonists dressed plainly and called their church the Society of Friends. They came to the New World so they could practice their religion freely.

The last of the English colonies to be formed was Georgia. It was settled by many debtors — people who owed money to someone who they couldn't repay — who were released from debtors' prisons in England. They were sent to Georgia to raise silk worms and send all the silk back to England. In time, the settlers quarreled among themselves and turned to fur trading with the Native North Americans instead of silk farming. In a few years, most of the colonists had moved to other established colonies where they found better opportunities.

There were Russian colonies on the west coast of North America. Russian colonists settled at Three Saints Bay, near today's Kodiak, Alaska. They were busy trading metal items to Native North Americans in exchange for fur pelts that they shipped to China. Once there, Chinese merchants paid a good price for these furs. The Russian traders kept the fur trade a secret from other countries as long as they could so that they would be the only ones providing the Chinese with this precious good. Russian settlements, filled with traders, were built as far south as California.

At first, the New World colonies weren't very important to the rest of the world because little gold or riches were found. However, this changed when farmers began growing tobacco plants using seeds from the island of Trinidad. Tobacco sold for high prices in Europe. Tobacco farms were a way to make money, something the colonists needed. But tobacco farms needed workers because all the work — planting, hoeing, trimming, and drying — had to be done by hand. There weren't enough workers to hire because there weren't enough people in the colonies. In Europe and Asia, people had slaves to do these farming tasks, so farmers brought slaves and indentured servants to America to do this work. By 1700 there were more than a thousand ships bringing slaves from Africa to the colonies.

In 1705 there were four thousand black slaves and fourteen hundred Native North American slaves and indentured laborers working for four thousand English colonists. In the southern colonies, where more slave labor was needed on bigger farms, two out of every three people were enslaved. There were more slaves than free people.

Sailing and Settling

Everyone who came to the colonies in the New World had to come by ship. Some were large, with several levels for baggage, food, passengers, and animals. Others were really quite small — some the size of a school bus. The Norse, Spanish, and English ships were all powered by the wind. Large cloth sails caught the wind that pushed the ship across the ocean. The Norse had oarsmen, too, and their ships had flat bottoms, so they could travel through much shallower water, getting right up to the shore. The larger sailing ships had to stay anchored in deep water, and the people used smaller boats to row to shore.

There were 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 32 of them were children. It was ninety feet long — which is about the same length as two school buses.

Build a Sailing Ship

Glue the hull together at fore and aft.

Fold the deck to shape.

Glue together and add a mast and paper sails.


White paper
Brown construction paper or brown paper grocery bags
Drinking straw or coffee stir

* Trace the 3 ship model pieces (2 sides and 1 deck) and cut out. Place these cut out pieces of paper on top of brown construction paper, then trace and cut out. Fold the flaps on the hull and glue these 2 pieces together. Next, fold the deck as shown and glue it to the completed hull. Cut out sails from the white paper. Use a pencil point to poke 2 holes in each sail and thread them through the straw. Poke a hole in the center of the ship's deck. Slide the straw through the holes. Now you have a sailing ship complete with a mast. Land ho!


Trace these shapes onto white paper first, then use them as patterns and trace around them onto the brown paper and cut out.


Fold on dotted lines as indicated.

Sailor Stuff

Knots, Hitches, and Bends

Sailors had to know how to do many different tasks. Because the ship was powered by sails, it was very important that the ropes controlling the sails were in good shape and well-knotted. Everyone's life might depend on a securely tied knot.

Reef Knot: Also known as a square knot, this is the best known knot. You may already know how to tie it.

Bowline Knot: For hundreds of years, the bowline knot has been the most useful knot for sailors.

Clove Hitch:Hitches are used to tie the end of a rope to a post or dock. The clove hitch is the quickest to tie.

1. Wrap around post

2. Overlap the rope.

3. Wrap it around the post again.

4. Bring around front and slip rope end under the second loop.

5. Pull end tight.

Sheet Bend: A bend is used to tie the ends of two ropes together. When a wild storm whipped up on the Atlantic, everyone on board hoped the sailors had tied the bends securely.

1. Wrap the rope ends together.

2. Slide one end behind the loop and pull out.

3. Pull the ends tight. A good knot to use for tying the ends of 2 ropes together to make a longer one.

Make a Darning Stitch

A sailor could never do his work "good enough." Everything had to be done the right way. It was important that every knot, splice, and stitch was properly done — a sailor's life and the lives of the rest of the crew might depend on it. Lives and the overall safety of the ship relied on every sailor's skills.

Cloth sails were cut and stitched by sail makers who spent years working as apprentices to older craftsmen. But on the seas, a sail could be torn during a storm and had to be stitched together immediately.

Thread for stitching canvas sails was rubbed with beeswax to make it strong and waterproof.

Metal needles had to be kept in cases made of bone or bamboo. If the needles got wet and rusted, they would crumble and fall apart. Then everyone on board was in trouble!

A small rip in a cloth sail could quickly be blown into a tear that could destroy a sail. Here's how to patch a small tear.


Large embroidery or crewel needle
Torn jeans or fabric scrap
Thread in a matching color

* Thread the needle with a doubled length of thread. Knot the ends together. Follow the drawing to stitch a tear closed. Pull the stitches smooth but not too tight, to just bring the edges of the torn fabric together.

Needle Hitching

Use this stitch to cover a water jug or bottle. Needle hitching was used to make covers for needle cases, knife holders, and tool handles.

Oarlocks were covered with hitching on whaling ships so they wouldn't make noise on a whale hunt.

Knot the end of the yarn around the rim of the jar.

Begin working stitches on the yarn tied on the rim. Loop loosely — don't pull the yarn tight.

Work stitches down the jar and across the bottom. Pull them tight as you move to the middle of the jar base.


Small jar
Yarn or thin cord
Large-eyed needle
(like a crewel needle)

* Thread one end of the yarn through the needle. Wrap it around the top of the jar rim. Knot it and begin stitching the pattern. Work around and around until you cover the sides of the jar. Turn it over and keep going, doubling the stitches to pull it tight around the base of the jar. When you get to the end, cut the yarn and tie it in a knot. Tuck the end of the yarn up inside the hitching to hide it.

Make a Compass

A ship's captain had to figure out where the ship was going to keep it on course. Ships traveled day and night, whenever the wind blew. At night he could study the stars and figure out what direction they were going. Daytime, he could use the sun for direction. What about when it was cloudy or stormy? Then he could use a compass.

We still use compasses to tell us where the four directions lie: north, south, east, and west. They are always in the same place, so we can tell where we are going if we know where one of the four directions lies.


Excerpted from Colonial Kids by Laurie Carlson. Copyright © 1997 Laurie Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Time Line,
The People,
Sailing and Settling,
Clothes and More,
Home Sweet Home,
Everyday Life,
Arts and Crafts,
School and Learning,
Fun and Games,
What Happened to the Colonies?,

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