Americans Then and Now

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12115

You are probably familiar with the first Americans. Maybe you've seen them on TV or in movies, being chased by cowboys, or remember them from the first Thanksgiving. Learn about early life in America!


People and Their Environment, United States

Social Studies
learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Primary (K-2)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio: Image - Button Play
Image - Lession Started Image - Button Start
  • Have you always lived in the home where you are now?
  • How long do you think your home was there before you lived in it?

Small, young, funny girl, inflated cheeks on blue background

  • How long do you think the country you live in has existed?
  • What was here before then?
  • Who lived here?

Discover the first Americans to live on the continent before there was a United States of America!

Water for Camp, painting by Charles M. Russell

The first people to live in the Americas were not pilgrims.

The first Americans were Native Americans. It is not known exactly when the Native Americans arrived in America, but it was estimated they arrived more than 7,000 years ago. That’s thousands of years before the pilgrims!

There were hundreds of Native American tribes (groups of people living together) scattered across what is now the United States. Each tribe had its own unique customs and ways of going about everyday life, but every tribe lived very differently from how we live today.

  • When your family needs food, where do they go to get it?

You most likely go to the supermarket to get your food. You may even go to a farmer or farmer's market to get your fruits and vegetables.

Thousands of years ago, supermarkets and large farms did not exist. The Native Americans lived off what could be found in nature.

For example, they hunted and fished for meat. They also picked wild berries and plants. Some Native American tribes were the first farmers. While they did not have large farms like we have today, they did grow vegetables like corn, beans, and squash.

  • How does the way your family gets food compare to the early Native Americans?

Today, you probably live in a home with four walls and a roof. It likely has running water, a heating system, and a kitchen with appliances such as a refrigerator and dishwasher.

The early Native Americans would have thought your home was huge and luxurious! Most of the things you have in your home did not exist thousands of years ago.

The types of homes the Native Americans lived in depended on the tribe. Some early Native American tribes were nomadic. This means they constantly moved to follow their food source, the buffalo.

Since nomadic tribes constantly moved, they needed homes that could move with them. These tribes lived in tipis. Tipis could be quickly taken down, moved, and assembled again.

Tipis were made from animal skins and long sticks or branches. The skins were wrapped around the sticks or branches to make a temporary home, like a tent.

Shoshone encampment in 1870

Tribes that were not nomadic lived in different types of homes, such as wigwams and longhouses.

Wigwams and longhouses were built from reeds, tall grasses, and cattails. These materials were stretched and attached to sticks and branches using mud and other tall grasses.

Look at the images below of a wigwam and a longhouse.

Image - Video

  • What is the difference between the wigwam and the longhouse?

Each structure was built from similar materials, but they have very different shapes. Wigwams were small and rounded, while longhouses were long, rectangular structures.

Typically, only one family would live in a wigwam, while several would live in a longhouse.

  • How does your home compare to the three different early Native American homes you looked at?
  • If you need a new coat, where do you go to get one?

You most likely go to a store or the mall when you need a new coat. Stores and malls did not exist thousands of years ago. The early Native Americans got their food and the materials to build their homes from nature.

Clothing was no different. The early Native Americans made their clothing from animal skins.

You have probably noticed that your life differs from the first Americans'.

  • What are three ways your life is different from the early Native Americans?
  • Would you have wanted to live like the early Native Americans? Why or why not?

When you are ready, move to the Got It? section to continue comparing American life then and now.

Image - Button Next