Teddy Roosevelt’s Childhood For Kids

Bedtime History

Birth

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was born in New York City on October 27th, 1858. At the time New York City was the biggest, busiest city in the United States. His father was named Theodore, too, his mother’s name was Mittie, and he had an older sister named Anna. Later a brother Elliot and then a sister, Corinne, joined their family.

Theodore’s ancestors had lived in America for almost 200 years and over time the Roosevelt Family had become very wealthy. But his father believed in using their money to help people in need. He spent much of his time helping at the many orphanages in New York City. An orphanage is a place where orphans, children who don’t have families, live until they can find a home.

Young Teddy Roosevelt
Young Teddy Roosevelt

Illness

Theodore is a long name, so his family started calling him “Teedie” for short. Teedie loved to play outside and was very active, but he found out very soon that he had asthma. Asthma is when it’s hard for your lungs to breathe. So when Teedie played too hard, he had to stop and take deep breaths, and often his parents made him stay inside for long periods of time, so he could start breathing again. Often, at night when he struggled to breathe his father scooped him up in his arms and carried him around, trying to soothe him. Sometimes the only thing that helped was to ride him around the city at night in their carriage, so the cold air would make his lungs work again. Theodore loved his father and later wrote that he was was “the best man [he] ever knew.” 

Early Education

Not being able to breathe frustrated Teedie, especially when he had to stay inside while his brother and sisters played outside. But while he was stuck inside, Teedie found his parent’s library and spent the time reading. He spent many hours reading books about far off places and adventures and exotic animal life. He admitted to being nervous and timid as a child, but reading about the heroes of the Revolutionary War and other battles and adventures, made him want to be strong and brave like the people he read about.     

During the summers, the Roosevelt Family moved to their summer home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. There Teedie played outside whenever he could. He loved to learn the names of the different plants and animals and often made notes about them and sometimes took them home. This caused problems when bugs and other creatures ended up inside the house!

One day while traveling through the city in a streetcar, Teedie lifted his hat and several frogs lept out of it, frightening the other passengers. Another time, he brought mice home and his mother shrieked and had to send them outside.

A Curious Mind

He wrote in notebooks about all of his findings. He drew pictures of them and labeled them. This included every type of ant, spider, ladybug, firefly, beetle, dragonfly and other specimen he found. With all of the plants, animals, and insects he collected, he started calling the space in his bedroom the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History and dreamed of creating his own science museum someday. 

Teedie also started keeping a journal about his own life. During the summer, he loved exploring, swimming, hiking, and going on long horse rides. He was small and weak and still struggled with his asthma, but didn’t let it stop him from playing as long as his body allowed him to.

Often Teedie noticed his friends and family were able to see things he couldn’t see. When they’d go hunting, they were able to hit targets he wasn’t able to see. One day, his friends were able to read letters on a sign that were just blurry to him. He told his father about this and his father found him a pair of small glasses, called spectacles. When Teedie put on the spectacles, he later wrote “they literally opened an entirely new world to me. I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles.” For the rest of his life, Teedie wore spectacles that clipped to the end of his nose.  

World Traveler

When Theodore was 13, his father decided to take their family on a year-long tour of Europe. He thought it would be good for everyone to get out and learn more about the world outside of the United States. Teedie was sad to leave his friends, but he kept a very detailed journal along the way. First, they visited family in England and toured ancient castles. They sailed down the Thames Rivier and toured London, then moved on to the Netherlands and Germany, where they sailed down the Rhine River. Teedie often wrote about the places they visited, but also that he was very homesick. He also had many asthma attacks and his father did everything to help him feel and breathe better. 

During the trip, they also visited Venice, Italy, the city built on stilts over the water. He was fascinated by the gondolas that transported people from building to building. He also liked visiting the Natural History museums and studying their specimens, similar to the ones he liked to collect at home. They journeyed on to Paris, France, climbed a beautiful mountain there, attended an opera, then traveled to Rome, Italy. There they met the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, and Teedie wrote with excitement about meeting him and kissing his hand. 

After a year of traveling, they sailed home and saw a pod of whales along the way. When Theodore saw New York in the distance, he was very excited to finally return home.

“You must make your body”

As a teenager, Teedie grew taller. He began to notice how clumsy he was. His asthma still bothered him and his father and mother continued to worry about his health. One day his father took him aside and said “Theodore, you have the mind [meaning you are very smart], but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body. It is hard work to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.” Basically, his father believed the only way Teedie could work through his health issues, was to exercise and make it stronger. He didn’t know if this would fix all of his health problems but hoped at least it would help.

Teedie agreed to do his best. He started visiting a gym nearby and used weights to strengthen his arms and legs. He worked out every day for many months and noticed his arm and chest muscles growing harder and stronger. His health also began to improve. Teedie also added running and swimming to his daily workout routine. During the summers, he rowed while exploring the rivers.

Boxing

One day, Theodore took a coach ride by himself to a nearby lake. Along the way, he ran into two older boys who teased him and pushed him around. Theodore tried to defend himself, but found out that even though he was stronger, he was not able to defend himself against the bullies. He told his father about it and he gave him the idea to learn how to box. Taking his advice, Theodore added boxing to his daily workout routine, a sport he practiced the rest of his life.

“Egypt, the land of my dreams”

When Theodore was 14, his father decided to take the family on another tour, but this time of the Medeterranean, the Holy Land, and Egypt. This time Teedie was actually excited to go and like the last time, took very detailed notes of their adventures. They sailed across the ocean, then travelled through Europe on a train until they reached Egypt. Teedie wrote, “How I gazed upon it! It was Egypt, the land of my dreams; Egypt the most ancient of all countries! A land that was old when Rome was bright, was old when Troy was taken! It was a sight to awaken a thousand thoughts, and it did.” 

He wrote about the street life of Alexandria, Egypt, and the many ruins of the once powerful civilization. They boarded a boat and sailed down the Nile River. Theodore marveled at the exotic birds and plant life, the zebus, kites, vultures, and zic-zacs, and water buffalo. He treated the trip as a scientific voyage to gather more data and specimens for his own Roosevelt Museum of Natural History at home. His room wherever he went became a laboratory, where he sometimes dissected animals and prepared them for the trip home. He saw himself as a scientist with a mission to know everything about the wildlife of the world around him. 

Sadly, during the trip, he still suffered some asthma attacks, but they weren’t as bad or as frequent as before.

The family ended up in Cairo, Egypt where they vacationed for a while. There he was gifted his first shotgun and spent his free time exploring the area and hunting. From Cairo, they visited Palestine and Syria and then on to Greece. Lastly, they spent time in Dresden, Germany. There they visited relatives and Theodore spent time reading in their library before finally returning home to New York again.

Later Life

Young Theodore would go on to become a senator and eventually the President of the United States with the nickname “Teddy” Roosevelt, one of the most recognized Presidents of U.S. History. But like most people, he started out as an ordinary child. Spend some time thinking about Teddy’s childhood. How is he like you? How is he different than you? Do you struggle with any of the same things as Teddy such as asthma or poor eye-sight or wishing you were stronger? 

How can you be like Teddy?

Like Teddy, you can take an interest in the world around you. He enjoyed time outdoors and investigating the plants, animals, and insects he discovered. If you think about it, the world is a pretty amazing place with all of its diversity! Diversity means difference. Have you seen trees and noticed how each has very different leaves? Have you looked at insects and noticed they each have very different features and bodies and move in very different ways? Teddy liked to collect samples of the different things he found and described them in his notebook. You could do the same! Or you could take pictures of them and create your own catalog or little museum of interesting things you find. When you’re not outside there are many great documentaries about the different plant and animal life spread across the world. 

Also, when Teddy realized he had a problem, that his body wasn’t strong, what did he do? He started exercising. By creating a plan for himself and sticking to it every day, his muscles grew stronger. He was able to run faster and do more because his body improved. What kind of exercises might you do to strengthen your body? 

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About Bedtime History

Bedtime History is a series of educational, relaxing stories for kids and families. Learn about inspirational characters such as Jackie Robinson, Sacajawea, Neil Armstrong, and Maya Angelou. Other topics include space exploration, current events, and great feats of engineering such as The Transcontinental Railroad.