Life as a Native American Child
Native Americans for Kids
Have you ever wondered what it was like to grow up in an early Native American tribe? These children lived very different lives than we live today.
Young children and babies spent all of their time close to their mother. The mother would go about her daily work and chores carrying the baby on her back in a cradleboard. The mother often nursed the young child until it was two or three years old.
Baby in a Cradleboard
(People by Edward S. Curtis)
(People by Edward S. Curtis)
Naming the newborn was also an important process. A person's birth name was usually not used in everyday conversation. People referred to each other either by their relationship (ex. "son" or "mother") or by a nickname. Boys were often given a nickname that described a characteristic or exploit of the boy.
Did they go to school?
The early tribes did not have any sort of official education or schools like we have now, but the children were expected to learn. The boys followed the men around and were taught how to hunt and do men's chores. Young girls followed the women around and learned to do traditional women's work like making baskets, working the fields, and cooking.
Children learned of the history and moral rules of the tribe from stories told by the elders. These stories were not only entertaining, but also held meaning and taught the children how they were expected to behave.
Were they punished when they disobeyed?
One of the things that shocked early European observers of daily Native American life was the way children were punished. Unlike European children, Native American children were seldom struck or "spanked" when they disobeyed. Punishment usually involved teasing and shame in front of the rest of the tribe. At the same time, children who obeyed were praised and honored in front the tribe.
Havasupai girl wearing beads
and cape, half-length, seated
The transition from child to adult was usually clearly defined in Native American tribes. The child would go through some kind of rite of passage ceremony and then be considered an adult. They were expected to act like an adult from that day forward. The ceremonies varied between different tribes and were usually different for boys and girls.
One type of ceremony was called a vision quest. During the vision quest, the child would go off alone into the wilderness. They would stay there without food or sleep until they had a vision. The vision would provide a guardian spirit or direction for the child's new adult life.
Interesting Facts about Life as a Native American Child
- The typical Native American family had around three to four children. This was small compared to the average European family at the time, which typically had around six or seven children.
- Grandparents played an important role in teaching and raising children.
- Children were often taught at a young age to be strong and not show emotion. They were expected to conform to the ways of the tribe.
- In some societies, boys were raised by an uncle, not by their father.
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