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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Early Employment: Jobs of Colonial America

In this gallery you will find images of people working at jobs found in early America. You will also see a few examples of the products they would have made. By looking at these paintings and objects, you will become more familiar with the types of work people did in the past.
You can think about whether we have the same job or it's equivalent in today's world.

Lesson Plans for Early Employment: Jobs of Colonial America
Written by Bethany Altchek
1-2 Teacher, Natick Public Schools

Objective: This series of lessons was created to give children the opportunity to think about jobs that adults had in our early history in America. It also gives them an opportunity to think about the jobs that exist in our communities today, and compare and contrast the two time periods.

Additional Learning Goals:
• For children to look at images of art and artifacts from the colonial period and notice clothing, tools, furniture, transportation from a time other than the one they live in
• For children to practice speaking skills when they answer the discussion questions next to the slides. This could happen in a pair share, as well as teacher calling on individual students
• For children to practice their critical thinking skills by backing up what they say with evidence from the slides or from their own schema
• For children to consider the roles of adults in society (and as part of their communities), and that there are many jobs adults work at


This gallery slideshow is meant to be a part of a larger unit on historical American figures and of communities now and long ago. For further lessons in this area for 1st graders, see Kristen McEnaney's gallery called, Patriot Portaits and American History. It is very important that the teacher reviews the images in the gallery and looks at the discussion questions next to the slide before beginning a session. It helps keep the discussion focused, and it allows some pre-thinking about what questions may be best served in a "turn and talk", individual responses, or written fashion.

The images from the gallery should be projected on a large screen so that all children can see them well. Students should already be partnered up so they can quickly and easily get started with pair/share discussions when prompted by the teacher.

Children at this age get saturated quickly when faced with a lot of information, so only a few slides (2-3) should be shown per each session. Sessions could be once a week or once a day, depending on your timeline and curricula.

Children should be taught to look at a slide quietly and without raising their hands for about a minute. When first starting this process, that minute will seem very long. However, it will promote richer discussions because children will notice more things in their close looking at the images. The lack of raised hands also sets the stage for children to be able to wait and listen while their peers make their comments. Prompts come from the notes next to each slide; the teacher should control how many there are in a session and which ones deserve deeper conversations.

For some slideshow sessions, you may want to have your students respond in writing to one of the questions found in the slide notes. It can be the wrap up activity after looking at two or three images. There are questions with each slide, knowing your class will help you choose one that fits their needs or interests.

To signal the end of the session, before the last slide is shown, tell the children you only have time for one more. When the ensuing discussion is over, compliment the class on the things they noticed and how rich their conversations were. They really look forward to the next time.

During read aloud at another part of the day, children should be exposed to good literature about the time period so they can build schema about historical figures and start to get a feel for what happened in the past, and what is happening in the present.

Here are some book suggestions, though they are by no means exhaustive:
• Children in Colonial America by James Marten and Philip J. Greven
• Jobs People Do by Christopher Maynard (This is about present day jobs, for comparison opportunities.)
• If You Lived in Colonial Times by Ann McGovern and June Otani
• Outrageous Women of Colonial America by Mary R. Furbee
• Crossing The Delaware: A History In Many Voices by Louise Peacock (This is a series of letters, and needs lots of explaining- so read only short pieces at a time.)
• A Picture Book of George Washington by David A. Adler
• Paul Revere: Boston Patriot by Augusta Stevenson
• Molly Pitcher: Young Patriot by Augusta Stevenson

Opportunities for Further Discussions/ Images to Note:

• The George Washington slides provide an opportunity for a discussion on the office of presidency. Knowing who the president is, what he does, and how he gets elected by the people is in the MA Frameworks for 1st grade.
• The ship slides (Half Hull Model and Image of Shipyard) provide an opportunity to discuss types of transportation and 3 professions: merchant, sailor, whaler. Since ships were used to import goods from other places (and still are) there are opportunities for discussing buyers and sellers, part of economics in the Frameworks.
• John Amory (slide 2) was a merchant. He owned ships and sold the goods when they returned to port.
• There are other jobs not represented, such as basket maker, weaver, wheelwright, potter, shoemaker. There are images to be found in the Museum's resources if this is an area you want to extend.
• There is an opportunity to talk about why women are not as represented as men in the jobs of colonial times, and children could contrast that to the present. (Mercy Otis Warren is the only woman shown in this series. Hopefully children will list that as something they find "surprising", which is the first discussion question next to that slide.)
• Samuel Quincy was a lawyer. Joseph Warren was a doctor. It is possible you have children whose parents are doctors or lawyers. Invite them in to talk to your class about their professions (or any of the professions where you can make this connection to past and present. )
• George Washington and Joseph Warren were also both generals during the Revolutionary War. You may have parents in the armed services, some fighting overseas. This could be an opportunity to discuss careers in the armed services. It is also a place to discuss patriotism.
• There is an opportunity to talk about why the people are painted instead of photographed, and that there are not images for some people, like the Ipswich joiner, Thomas Dennis

Common Core Standards Addressed:
RI.1.3: Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.
W1.1: Write opinion pieces in which [the student] introduce[s] the topic or name the book they are writing about, state[s] an opinion, suppl[ies] a reason for the opinion, and provide[s] some sense of closure.
MA Curriculum Frameworks Addressed:
History and Geography, Grade 1:
1. Identify temporal sequences such as days, weeks, months, years, and seasons.
Use correctly words and phrases related to time and recognize the existence of changing historical periods (other times, other places).(H)
1.2 Identify the current President of the United States, describe what presidents do, and explain that they get their authority from a vote by the people. (H, C)
1.5 Give reasons for celebrating the events or people commemorated in national and Massachusetts holidays. On a calendar for the current year, identify the months for Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Patriots’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day. (H, C, G)
Economics, Grade 1
9. Give examples of products (goods) that people buy and use. (E)
10. Give examples of services that people do for each other. (E)
11. Give examples of the choices people have to make about the goods and services they buy (e.g. a new coat, a tie, or a pair of shoes) and why they have to make choices
(e.g., because they have a limited amount of money). (E)