Thirteen Colonies Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the original thirteen colonies of the United States. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Thirteen Colonies. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children understand what life was like in the Thirteen Colonies and how the United States of America became a country. This movie will explore different European settlers who established colonies and their impact on native people in the area. It will also investigate and share information about the New England Colonies, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies. BrainPOP Jr. plans on launching more movies about American history, but some children may want to explore movies from BrainPOP’s U.S. History unit for extension. We highly recommend that you preview the movie to make sure it is appropriate for your students.

Review with children that a colony is an area settled by a group of people outside their country or away from home. European settlers first started sailing to North America around the year 1000. The Norse explorer Leif Ericsson landed in what is now Newfoundland, Canada and established a settlement. About five hundred years later, Christopher Columbus landed in the New World. You may wish to screen the Columbus Day movie for review or extension. Soon people from England, Spain, France, and other European countries began claiming land and settling in North America. Help children understand that native people were already living in the area, and many were killed, forced to leave, or forced into slavery by the European settlers. Many native people died from diseases brought by the Europeans or died in battles while protecting their homeland. This can be a difficult concept to grasp, so we recommend having plenty of discussions and answering questions.

One of the earliest settlements was established by the Spanish in St. Augustine, which is now part of Florida. There, Spanish explorers established a base to fend off the French from claiming land in the area. In 1607, English settlers who wanted to gain more land and wealth and have a better life founded Jamestown, which is now part of Virginia. The Jamestown colony was the first permanent English colony. In 1620, the English Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, which is now part of Massachusetts. The Pilgrims had moved from Europe because they wanted the freedom to practice their own religion. You may wish to screen the Thanksgiving movie for review or extension. Over the next hundred years, European settlers founded colonies all around the east coast of North America.

Explain to children that the Thirteen Colonies were established by English settlers during the 1600s and 1700s. The colonies were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The colonists kept close ties to England, but they adapted to a new way of life.

Remind children that Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were the New England Colonies. While watching the movie, some children may see that the area that is now Maine is included in Massachusetts. Explain that the territory separated from Massachusetts and became the state of Maine later in 1820. New England colonists grew crops and fished to feed their families and use for trade. Many New England merchants bought goods from England and traded with people all over the colonies. As a result, ports around New England became busy centers of trade. The meeting house was the focus of many New England communities, and it was used for business, religious services, and town meetings. Many meeting houses in New England towns are still left standing today.

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were the Middle Colonies, or the Mid-Atlantic Colonies. Many colonists farmed wheat and other grains, trading them with communities in the Thirteen Colonies. As a result, the Middle Colonies were known as the “Bread Colonies.” The Middle Colonies were also home to factories that produced iron, paper, and textiles. Explain to children that many people in the Middle Colonies practiced different religions and came from various European countries, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Sweden. As a result, the culture of the Middle Colonies included a mix of different traditions.

Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia were the Southern Colonies. Land in many parts of the Southern Colonies was fertile and good for farming. Many colonists began plantations and grew cash crops like sugar cane, rice, tobacco, and cotton. African slaves were first brought over to North America in the early 1600s and plantations relied heavily on their labor. In the middle of the 1700s, about 40% of the population in the Southern Colonies were African slaves. Slavery existed all over in the Thirteen Colonies and wasn’t abolished until the late 1800s.

Help children understand that the colonies were ruled by the King of Great Britain. The colonists had to pay taxes, or money, to the government but did not get to choose their leaders. Eventually, the colonists decided to separate from Great Britain and establish their own independent government. In 1775, fighting broke out between colonists and British soldiers, and the American Revolution or Revolutionary War began. It finally ended in 1781, and a year later, the Constitution was written and signed.

Encourage children to learn about the past and compare how life today is similar and different. Would they want to move to a new land and leave their friends and family members behind to start a colony? Why or why not?