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The Changing Experience of Colonial Childhood (lesson plan)


Students will learn about early American childhood by studying paintings and readings. They will discuss and write about the ways in which childhood was represented in art and some of the differences in how childhood is regarded today.

Subject Areas
Social Studies, Visual Arts
Family, Identity
NC Standards Correlations
Visual Arts
I.V.1, I.CX.1, I.CR.1, P.V.1, P.CX.1, P.CR.1
Social Studies

Artwork Related to this Lesson

  • Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816) and His Family

    Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816) and His Family, by John Singleton Copley

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Student Learning Objectives

  1. By analyzing the paintings and readings, students will gain an understanding of societal changes on children from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  2. Students will use critical thinking skills and the language of the visual arts to collaboratively write about childhood from an historical perspective.
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1. Provide each student with a copy of the Image Analysis Chart. Assign the class to examine The Mason Children: David, Joanna, and Abigail and Sir William Pepperrell and His Family. Ask the students to record their observations on the Image Analysis Chart.

2. Have the class explore Old Sturbridge Village’s website on childhood in the nineteenth century.

3. Divide the class into pairs. Assign each pair of students to review the written material accompanying the image of The Mason Children: David, Joanna, and Abigail.

4. Assign each pair of students to combine their information on the Image Analysis Chart to create the best compilation of information from the interpretation of the paintings and the information from the article.

5. Assign each student pair to write collaboratively a one-page paper explaining how John Singleton Copley’s depiction of children communicates new ideas about childhood emerging at the end of the 18th century.

6. Hold a brief class discussion focused on comparing childhood in the colonial era and the present day.

Written by Zoe Voigt, Humanities teacher


  • Successful use of the Image Analysis Charts will demonstrate students’ ability to analyze artistic images for meaning, style, and composition.
  • Completion of an effective collaborative paper will determine students’ understanding of the societal role of children from the 17th to 19th centuries.
  • Class discussion will demonstrate the student’s analysis of the impact of the societal changes on American children as portrayed in art.

Lesson Resources










Image Analysis Chart


A Child’s World: Childhood in 19th Century New England

Freake artist painting of Mason children

For comparison to British images of childhood:

“The Oddie Children” by Sir William Beechey (1789)

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