4-6 Grade Field Trip Lesson: Jobs in the Colonial Period

Rationale and Background

A field trip to The Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown, NH is a fun and exciting experience for students and teachers. Young learners who visit the Fort are temporarily immersed in 18th century life by churning butter, trading and bartering and playing colonial era games. The reconstructed Palisade, houses and Great Chamber are a compelling sight for students as they approach the Fort. Costumed historical interpreters guide students through their unique hands-on program designed to connect students to the past. While the Fort’s program is appropriate for visitors of all ages, the Fort’s school program complements the colonial period curriculum in United States History for fourth through eighth grade students.

A field trip to the Fort has sound pedagogical reasons that skillful teachers capitalize on to achieve their educational outcomes. Research has thoroughly documented the benefits of interactive learning as found in a Living History Museum such as Fort at No. 4. Students touch and manipulate recreated objects from 18th century life; their minds are active and engaged which promotes kinesthetic learning. The interactive program overall addresses a variety of learning styles. Students who are naturally energetic, curious and multi-sensory thrive in this type of active learning environment. With this high degree of sensory input, students are more focused, gain a fuller picture of the historical time period and tend to retain the information longer.

In addition, a field trip to the Fort can help shape students’ attitudes about history by helping them construct their own meaning when presented with demonstrations and activities. This experiential learning cannot be duplicated in the classroom or with a textbook, yet can give students a positive outlook on studying history and help facilitate learning once they have returned to the classroom.

With educational objectives in mind, teachers can achieve curriculum goals through this fun field trip experience. A key component to a successful field trip is that students are adequately prepared for the adventure. The overriding essential question of the lesson asks Why are people’s jobs an important part of the fabric of any community, past or present? Students should have the foundation of knowledge that helps them understand how colonists came to the new world in search of economic opportunity, as well as religious freedom. The jobs available to them were naturally very different than today. To meet their needs of food, shelter, clothing and transportation colonists had to produce everything. This made jobs an extremely important aspect to the functioning of a colonial village or frontier settlement like Fort at No. 4. Colonists were skilled laborers making by hand those things which are mainly factory produced today. Students will learn the role of blacksmiths, carpenters, teachers, shopkeepers, weavers, farmers, ministers and doctors. Through discussion, students will discover how some occupations still exist while others are practiced by very few, yet all areas of work in the United States have been greatly affected by technology. By the end of the lesson students will have a rich context to understand jobs in the colonial period and how they have changed over time.

A trip “back in time” at the Fort is a great source of excitement and motivation for students. It can make a difference in students’ understanding of the time period. The learning and thinking generated by the visit is only the start. Teachers can build on this dimension of student understanding throughout the learning process.


Early American Trades Coloring Book by Peter F. Copeland. Dover Publications, 1980.

Eighteenth-Century Woodworking Tools by James M. Gaynor (Editor), Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1994.

Homebuilding and Woodworking in Colonial America: An Illustrated Source Book of Practical Techniques Used by the Colonists by C. Keith Wilbur. Globe Pequot Press, 1992.

Museum of Early American Tools by Eric Sloane. Dover Publications, 2002.