Life for Amish Children

What a special treat we have today! I asked a question about Amish children to one of our specialists, and here is the amazing answer I got.

Brenda Nixon is the specialist. She and I go way back together in the field of parenting.


What is life like for Amish children today? How much remains like yesteryear, and how much is infused with modern conveniences?


Good question. I can speak only on one Amish Order – Swartzentruber. I have many relationships with those in or from this uber strict order.

One example comes to mind, the five darling children of Ida and Harvey. For these children, it is early to bed and early to rise. Without alarm clocks. Walk to school toting a packed lunch. Walk home after school, and then household chores. Ida and Harvey’s children have not eaten in a restaurant or been inside a store like Walmart. They do love sweets and I often tuck candy in my pocket when I visit their farm.

Deutch – or Amish – is their first language. English is their second language. Children learn English once they begin school at five years of age.

Amish school education ends at eighth grade. Students are called scholars. After eighth grade, children go to work with the father, in a family member’s business, or are hired out to work elsewhere. They learn trades. The girls learn homemaking skills such as baking, gardening, and sewing in addition to working outside the home. All earned income goes to the father, as Amish children do not “come of age” until 21-years-old.

Amish children are expected to do household chores such as tending to the farm animals, helping with the harvest, or cutting hay. Usually they’re given chores and responsibilities early in life. Our son-in-law was driving a team of plow horses much bigger than himself by 11-years of age.

When they do have time to play, they entertain themselves with fishing or hunting. Since Swartzentruber Amish children cannot have bicycles, they find or make other toys. They play games like tag, race their buggies, and tease each other like any siblings.

Like children from any culture, when the parents are away the kids will play. Monroe – our second “son” from the Amish – told me of the times he and his brother would unclamp the two-volt engine from the water pump and hook it up to a wagon. His brother would lift up the back wagon wheels while Monroe pulled the cord to start the engine. Once those back wheels touched the ground – the motorized invention sped off. Monroe said he used the tongue or long handle of the wagon to steer it. Since there were no brakes, he’d sometimes run it into a fence. Of course this happened only when they were home alone.

As for the remains of yesteryear, one would find many pre-twentieth century behaviors. Swartzentruber Amish may not use electric, radios, cameras, cell phones, washers or dryers, vehicles, store-bought curtains or sunglasses, and rarely seek professional medical and dental care.

Passing by a Swartzentruber Amish home, you’ll see a simple, plain house, probably two-story, with dark single-panel curtains, surrounded by a large garden and black buggies. Even in winter you’ll see clothes hanging outdoors on the porch or in the yard to dry. Many have outdoor pets – cats and dogs.

The Amish I know are inventive and some wire electric in their barns for the animals or have it at their place of employment. They may use a two-volt engine to pump water or a cistern.

For pictures and more details about the charms of their children, see my post “Amish Children: Just Too Cute” at my Beyond Buggies and Bonnets blog


Please feel free to contact Brenda in any or all of these ways. She would love to hear from you.

Brenda, About me

Raising Awareness of the Amish in Beyond Buggies & Bonnets blog

On Twitter


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  1. Thanks so much for this great post!
    It is always fascinating to see how other folks live!
    Brenda I’m very curious about the mental health aspect of the children?
    Are they emotionally healthy or do they have lots of emotional problems with the strict upbringing?

    • Whew, that’s a loaded question Ava 🙂 I can’t speak for children of the many different orders but, I’ll address those from the insular Swartzentruber order.

      The ones I’ve had in my home suffer the effects of rejection. Many say, “I knew I’d be shunned when I left but I didn’t know how painful it’d be.” They are happy to be out of the Amish life but are lonely. Some are so tired – or resentful – with the uber strict rules, constant supervision, tattling when they break a rule, and demands for public confession, that they have their “radar” up alert to any hint of being told what to do. Because of this alertness, they may appear – or be – non-compliant.

      My son-in-law Harvey was bullied by other Amish peers, consequently he’s extremely sensitive to criticism or condemnation. His cousin – our “nephew” was bullied by his older brothers and teased by his dad, so he’s a wounded spirit.

      Most Swartzentruber Amish parents do not hug, touch, or verbally acknowledge their children. I’ve met two who literally did not know how to embrace. I hugged on them, explaining how to wrap their arms around and give a gentle squeeze. Levi took about 2 years before he finally would initiate a hug with me 🙂

      Because the Swartzentruber Order permits intermarriage, I’ve met both Amish and ex-Amish with bi-polar, depression, dwarfism and other challenges.

      This just touches the topic. I love those who come into my home and heart. They need a “mom” to recognize and acknowledge their strengths, to hear that someone is proud of them. They need to experience unconditional love that says, “I don’t always love your behavior but I always love you.”

  2. Thank you Brenda for sharing with us such important information along with such excellent parenting guidance. Your advice at the end of “unconditional love” is exquisite.

    The difficulties you cited take place to one degree or another in our culture and in others. Your teachings will be helpful to many and will have far-reaching effects.

  3. Wow Brenda thanks for that in depth description. It brought tears to my eyes. You’re doing such great things teaching them to love and parenting them.
    I guess because they don’t connect with the the outside world they don’t get to read and learn from the newest research on how to handle kids feelings.
    And the bullying that’s just awful.
    It must take such strength to leave the order. Good for them!
    But heartbreakingly lonely I could see that I guess building a new life takes time!
    So great what you’re doing

    • Yes, unfortunately teasing often crosses the line into bullying. I’ve heard many stories from “my kids” where I believe they suffered bullying, which I admit surprised me. Somehow that fact doesn’t seem to fit the Amish image.
      Strength? Stamina! I cannot imagine how emotionally painful it’d be to sneak out of the only life you’ve ever known. Your identity. No pictures to look at. Nothing tangible to remind you of your past, except the clothes you wore when you left.
      Some people seem skeptical and ask me, “Why would they leave the Amish?” I feel the more important question is, “What would make them so desperate to leave?”
      For most formers, I’ve found it takes a minimum of 3 years for them to build a new life. I know some who’ve been out for 30 years and they still have regretable memories or moments of sadness. Professional counseling has helped some heal and move forward.

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