Settling the New World: Colonial History Unit Study

During the elementary and middle school years, our history studies – for the most part – take place as unit studies. In a relatively short amount of time, we can cover SO much material in fun and interesting lessons. And this unit was no exception!

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study with a great notebooking component

Over the course of about six weeks, our Colonial History unit study covered everything from the first colonies of Roanoke, Jamestown and Plymouth to the settlement of the 13 original colonies to life in colonial times.

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Colonial History Unit Study


We used two main “spine” books during this unit. Hands-On History: Colonial America provided us with fantastic notebooking activities! The reproducible notebooking pages and mini-books helped my children document the time period thoroughly and beautifully.

Hands-On History: Colonial America: Fantastic Easy-to-Make Projects That Help Kids Learn and Love History!


Take a look at some of their pages!  (I used colorful cardstock to make the pages exciting. The colors made the final journals look great, too!)

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{Cover page | Roanoke question wheel | Jamestown fact web}

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{Colony comparison chart | 13 Colony mapping | Mini-book of Colonial trading}

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{History of the 13 Colonies mini-books}

Hands-On Learning

Not all our units are as jam-packed with hands-on activities as this one. Too many hands-on activities can become over-kill in most cases, but we just never got tired of trying new things during this unit! Thus, the heavy load of hands-on projects. Most of the ideas came courtesy of Colonial Kids.

Colonial Kids: An Activity Guide to Life in the New World (Hands-On History)


Believe it or not, the pictures below don’t show all the hands-on activities! Some of the additional activities included making hasty pudding, playing leapfrog, bb gun target practice, sewing, knot tying, candle making, knitting and decoupage.

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{Colonial style boxes painted with typical Colonial designs | Homemade butter | Clay buttons}

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{Silhouettes | Bread dough figures | Homemade honey cough syrup}

Hands-on, literature-based Colonial Times unit study

{Embroidery hand-prints using the clay buttons | Writing with feather pen and berry ink | Homemade soap}

Living Literature

During the unit, my oldest (12) was assigned the two books below. I asked her to complete a “book report” on one of the books using a resource called Better Than Book Reports: More Than 40 Creative Responses to Literature. From the many project-based ideas – mobiles, dioramas, timelines, etc. – she chose to write a traditional book report and give an oral presentation.

Calico BushIndian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison


My son (9) only had to read one simple book as part of the unit. (He was in the midst of other readings in other subjects.)

Witch Hunt: It Happened in Salem Village (Step into Reading)


As a family, we enjoyed two wonderful historical fiction books. I read aloud Night Journeys and we listened to The Witch of Blackbird Pond as an audiobook in the car.

Night JourneysThe Witch of Blackbird Pond


Online Resources

Jamestown Online is a fun game that allows you to make decisions like the original settlers would’ve had to make. In the end (it only takes a few minutes), you see how well your colony survived based on your choices. My kids loved it!

Colonial Williamsburg Kids Zone has all sorts of historical online games that also reinforces academic skills. They are short, sweet and fun!

PBS’s Colonial House site has several fun interactive games and quizzes. Would you have survived the colony?

Quia has a fun colonial quiz.

This Salem Witch Trial Site has a neat video about the trials.

End-of-Unit Project-Based Learning

I typically end our unit studies with one or more open-ended projects that my children complete on their own.  The projects act as an assessment of what was learned during the unit – and always require some level of research.  I LOVED the final outcome of this research-based 13 Colony brochure my son completed!

Thirteen Colonies Travel Brochure

Other posts you might enjoy

 How To Build a Hands-On Homeschool Slavery and Civil War Unit Study Homeschooling Middle School



  1. love love love the handprint embroidery!

  2. Looks like you had some interesting studies going on. I really love to add in as many hands on activities as I can. I think it gives the kids a better visual. I will have to check out some of the links you shared and book mark them for when we get to the subject.

  3. Hey there! This could be already listed and I’m missing it, but other than read alouds, what was the spine for your information? Did you use any specific text aside from the Living Books they read?

  4. Hi, Jennifer. Good question. The two activity books actually have quite a bit of information in them, but we supplemented with informational books from the library for sure. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a running list of those books during this unit. Anything on colonial history or colonial life would be good.

  5. Thanks for sharing! We’re partway into a long study of the colonial period too and it’s great to see some different ideas. Looks like your family had a lot of fun!

  6. We really did have so much fun! Enjoy your study!!

  7. I have finally figured out that my daughter (10) learns much better and has way more fun when we do unit studies…so this year, I was thinking we will cover Colonial period, Revolutionary period, Wild west…ect…I love all the ideas that you have on your blog…I use it a ton in my planning!! But, I did have a question…do you do your unit studies like 3 days a week and then do a different science study a couple days a week? I wasn’t sure if you incorporated science with your history study or did it on a separate day.

  8. Hi Jeni! It depends. Sometimes we’ll do history 3x/wk and science 2x/wk. Sometimes a history or science study “takes over” and we only do one until it’s finished. My children definitely prefer to dive into one or the other rather than split up our week between the two. Have fun with your American studies this coming year!

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