All Work and No Play Problem-Based Learning Unit

Child Labor in the Progressive Era

By Shelagh A. Gallagher, Ph.D.

In this unit, students take on the role of members of the National Child Labor Committee in the Progressive Era. They must prepare for a congressional hearing, during which they will ask questions and make recommendations to protect child laborers. To do so, they must learn about a variety of issues related to child labor, including complicating economic factors for families.

In This Series


This unit focuses on child labor during the Progressive Era of American history. In it, students take on the role of members of the National Child Labor Committee preparing for a congressional hearing. Presented with photographs from Lewis Hine, they launch into questions about the extent and nature of child labor, the differences in child labor in industry versus agriculture, the background of child laborers, existing regulations on child labor, and more.

The problem is complicated when the students learn that the parents of the children want them to work and are in dire need of the additional income provided by them, as well as by the fact that an overwhelming majority of the children say that they want to work and would prefer it to going to school. Putting restrictions on the rights of children to work could be economically devastating for families and keeps children from progressing in the careers that will support their own families someday.

Faced with these facts, the students must decide what recommendations to make to protect child laborers—a difficult task. The unit culminates as the students present their recommendations at the hearing.


Problem-Based Learning
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, Teachers & Schools
9, 10, 11, 12
History, Problem-Based Learning, Problem-Solving
Downloadable Materials