My husband is from Pennsylvania, so this state is of particular interest to our family! Founded by William Penn in 1681 as the Province of Pennsylvania, also known as the Pennsylvania Colony, it was the second-to-last colony to be founded but became the second state to be admitted into the Union. It was home to our nation’s temporary capital, Philadelphia, while Washington, D.C., was being built, and it is the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.
Pennsylvania is one of only four states also known as a Commonwealth, thus making its full state name “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” Kentucky, Virginia, and Massachusetts are the only other states that are officially Commonwealths, though some states use the name commonwealth and state interchangeably in their state constitutions. After the Revolutionary War, having Commonwealth in the state name was a sign that the former colony was now ruled by a collection of its citizens.
Click the photo below to get a brief introduction to the history of Pennsylvania. Then check out some links in this post to find some activities, printables, and ideas for further study!
Watch another shorter video on Pennsylvania’s history here.
The Hello Pennsylvania eBook offers a good overview of the history of Pennsylvania and includes some interesting facts.
Learn the name origins of each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Pennsylvania may not be our first state, but it is a state that has a lot of “firsts.” Find out more about things Pennsylvania was first in the nation to do.
Print some free Pennsylvania-themed coloring pages (these are great and offer small history fact snippets)!
Older learners might enjoy the Explore PA History web site, a great site for those who want to study Pennsylvania in depth.
William Penn acquired the Pennsylvania Colony from King Charles II of England as repayment of debt owed to Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn. Charles granted Penn the large area west and south of New Jersey, which Penn called Sylvania, latin for “woods.” However, the king wanted the colony to be named Pennsylvania in honor of Penn’s father (and so known as Penn’s Woods).
Penn’s ideas inspired our nation’s founding fathers. In fact, the democratic principles set forth by Penn served as inspiration for the United States Constitution!
Watch a brief Drive-Thru History video about William Penn.
Print William Penn’s Guide to Pennsylvania, a free activity book.
Read a more comprehensive overview of Penn here.
Learn about Pennsylvania’s state symbols.
Print some state symbol coloring pages (nice selection).
Color a state quarter coloring page.
Print an outline map of Pennsylvania.
Use a printable county map and then complete this map activity. (This activity is best suited for older students and designed for residents of Pennsylvania; if you are not a PA resident, you can skip the first question or choose a county to “pretend” to live as part of the activity.)
Older students can practice using a mileage chart while determining the distance between two cities.
Notable Cities in Pennsylvania
Find out more about Philadelphia.
Art and Music
Observe and learn more about Benjamin West’s painting, William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians.
Study the 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze
View the 1850 Thomas Birch painting, The Landing of William Penn.
Interactive Online Activities
Have fun with this huge selection of Pennsylvania-themed interactive learning games.
If you’d like to visit some beautiful places in PA but can’t work out a trip, be sure to check out this collection of Story Maps and take a virtual field trip to a variety of places!
Junior Ranger Guides
Junior Ranger guides are free, printable activity books to be used when visiting national parks. Even though they are made for actual visits, we have found the guides to be useful and fun for home use as well! Grab some Pennsylvania-specific guides below:
- In 1754 the battle of Fort Necessity was the opening action of the French and Indian War and set the stage for the American Revolution.
- The Battle of Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and a turning point due to a major Union victory. It also was the inspiration for President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
- Find out more about Independence National Historic Park with this Junior Ranger Guide.
- Learn more about the Germantown White House and its role in George Washington’s life.
- Thaddeus Kosciuszko served as a military engineer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Download the guide to learn more about Kosciuszko and his role in the history of our country.
- George Washington’s strategic use of the Delaware River helped bring his troops to victory during the Revolutionary War. Learn more about the Delaware River with this guide.
Print a free 58-page Pennsylvania Wildlife Student Guide
Learn about common trees in Pennsylvania (be sure to scroll down after clicking the link to get some great activity sheets).
Match an animal to its home with Home Sweet Home.
Identify animals native to Pennsylvania using only their eyes!
Watch a short video featuring Pennsylvania wildlife.
Download a free educator’s guide, Celebrating Pennsylvania Bald Eagle and Elk Reintroductions.
Library Book Suggestions
William Penn: Liberty and Justice for All (chapter book)
Life and Character of William Penn: The Indian’s Friend and Founder of Pennsylvania (for older students; free, public domain book)
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