Childhood: Then and Now: A Comparison

Childhood: Then and Now: A Comparison
Lucy Hayes: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One or two class periods


Childhood during Lucy’s time (her childhood and that of her children) probably had some similarities as well as differences to our own childhood.  What did children wear?  What did they play?  What kind of chores did they have? How did they interact with their parents?  All these are questions that tell us something about childhood in a particular time.


Students who participate in this lesson will gain experience in historical research, as well as in synthesis of information, making comparisons, and critical thinking.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Biography of Lucy Hayes Notebook paper Venn diagram sheet


1.  Working together we are going to write down a list of the characteristics of nineteenth century childhood and then we’re going to describe our own.  When we compare the two lists, we will get a sense of how American life for children has changed over the last century and a half.
2.  Have the students take their sheet of notebook paper and fold it vertically.  Place the fold to the right with the open edges to the left.  Label [near the top of the paper] this half of the sheet “Then.”  Turn the paper over so that the “Then” side is down and the fold is now on the left and the open edges are on the right.  Label this side “Now.”  Make the crease hard and crisp, then open the page.  The “Then” list will be on the left side and the “now” list will be on the right.
3.  On the “Now” side, have students list their favorite activities, games, toys, entertainment—anything that they can remember up to this point in their lives.  
4.  Using the biography and the websites below, have students individually list the childhood things noted in both of these sources.  These can be games, toys, entertainment, activities--anything that pertains to childhood. 

5.  Have students circle the items that are identical or very similar.  These will be written on the Venn diagram sheet where the two circles intersect.  The other items will be written on either the “Then” circle or the “Now” circle, whichever one is appropriate. 

6.  Time should be allocated for sharing of findings and commentary on whether or not students would prefer life then or life now.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having students write a short paragraph in which they identify the categories of items that are similar or identical between the two centuries and in which they describe the differences between the two time periods.  Students might also research (in books or on the Web) differences in clothing for boys and girls, making posters with drawings or illustrations of 19th century clothes.

Sources & Resources:

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.