I’m a teacher, homeschool veteran and American history reenactor. I teach a 1700s-era dame school (here’s a model one at Thursley in Surrey, England) at our local history museum “Feast of the Strawberry Moon” encampment. Here are free printable hands-on early American history lessons and historical crafts and free printable colonial America lesson plans.
Teach about school history. Explain that education wasn’t compulsory in the U.S. colonies till 1852 and then only in Massachusetts. Kids might be taught in “dame schools.” Then only basics. Women weren’t deemed capable of teaching boys. They taught handicrafts, reading, writing and ciphering. Higher education was taught by men to families who could afford it. Here are free printable history lessons and historical crafts from Kidipede linked to the main page for the whole collection.
Reading in Colonial America. In 1647, reading, writing and Bible was mandated, under the Old Deluder Satan Act. The New England Primer was used starting in 1760. MacGuffey Readers came out in 1836. But that was the colonies. The Michigan territory was settled by Catholic French. Education came from missionaries, like Quebecois Ursuline nuns under Marie del Incarnation. Catholic or Protestant, instruction was religious and moral. Here are free printable selections from the New England Primer. Teach kids the famous alphabet poem beginning: “In Adam’s fall.” Here are more colonial early American history lessons.
Colonial America ladder school. Teachers grouped students by age and ability. In math, the first row, the youngest, worked on counting. The next row, basic addition. The next, subtraction and so on. Spelling, reading, and handwriting would be taught this way, too. D emonstrate this with students. If students are agemates, assign some to play older kids and some younger. Arrange seats or benches in rows (ladders). Here are sample free printable early American history lessons like those teachers would have used.
Make homemade books. Vellum was a costly paper-like material made from animal membrane. This could be scraped down and reused. Few could afford it. But they would have saved and reused everything. Teach kids colonial America frugality. Make books from paper grocery bags (similar to parchment or butcher paper). Sew pages by punching holes and weaving with pieces of twine, rope, yarn or leather cording. Have students write the New England Prime Bible poem and illustrate. Here are other free printable colonial early American history lessons and historical crafts.
Hands-on math games: Give children pebbles for counting. Kids transfer one pebble from hand to hand as they count. Demonstrate simple operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I’ve used beans, but tell kids these were food stuffs and wouldn’t have been wasted. Shells, feathers, sticks would likely have been used.
Writing in early American history. Make slate pencils. Children in early American history used slates and a stylus made of rocks. Gather rocks. Scratch on pieces of rock tile. Ask local rock or tile dealers for samples. See which kinds write best. Make quill and ink. Cut the end off the feather at an angle. Heat in flame to make a nib. Ink would have been too expensive. Only scholars, professors, scribes (professional letter writers) and maybe officials used it. Make ink from berry juice or by soaking walnuts, but remind students food would not have been wasted on ink.
Make stick pencils. Kids and teachers used what was on-hand, probably writing in sand or dirt or with sticks. Make pencils burning the ends of sticks. These colonial America activities give children cultural immersion in time periods, that goes was beyond the textbooks.