Chinese-American children in San Francisco, 1936.
Chinese-American children in San Francisco, 1936.Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Chinese-American children in San Francisco, 1936.
Eskimo child in Canada, 1937.
A young Rumanian boy, 1938.
Children in blitzed north of England, 1940.
Young boy in the Tungkwan area of China, 1941.
A farmer's son holding a pair of Hampshire piglets on farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1943.
Child actress Margaret O'Brien and her spaniel pet Maggie sharing a bubble bath, Los Angeles, Calif., 1944.
Children having military parade in street in Tarrytown, N.Y., 1944.
Three children graduating kindergarten in the U.S., 1945.
Austrian girl and her doll, 1946.
Native American boy of the Chochiti tribe playing drum outside his home, Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1947.
David Henseley, young child crippled by polio with both legs in braces, soliciting funds in public fund-raising driver for a new polio hospital. High Point, N.C., 1948.
Four year old Flora and her sister Jacqueline Couch in Leslie Country, Kentucky, 1949.
Three young boys eating a Red Cross meal in Arizona, 1950.
Koo Ri Kang, a Korean war orphan who would not smile in South Korea, 1951.
Nine year old prodigy, Hansan Kaptan, Turkish child, has an exhibition at a gallery in Paris, France, 1951.
Child standing beside a miniature horse, showing size comparison, Los Angeles, Calif., 1952.
A young Jamaican girl scout with surprised look as she watches the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II. Jamaica, 1953.
Group of Boys Club little league baseball players putting on their uniforms while sitting in classroom, Manchester, NH, 1954.
Children hard at work at school in Iowa, 1954.
A little girl looking at doll through a window, Westchester, NY, 1955.
Laughing boy on street in Trastevere, Rome, 1958.
Little boys sleeping on a subway car in New York, NY, 1959.
Sandra Kunhardt pretending she is a doll in the US, 1961.
A group of children in India, 1963.
A young child in Vietnam, 1965.
Children in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., 1966.
Children at a school in Lancaster County, Penn., photographed with a Polaroid SX-70 camera, 1972.
Chinese-American children in San Francisco, 1936.
Alfred Eisenstaedt—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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See 30 of the Best Photographs of Children From the LIFE Magazine Archives

Across the world, in nations from China to Cuba, this Thursday, June 1, will mark what's now widely known as International Children's Day. The purpose of such a day — some other nations mark it at different times throughout the year and the U.N. has Universal Children's Day in November — is to both celebrate the lives of children and remember the importance of protecting them so that they can fulfill the boundless potential that comes with being young.

In honor of that day, LIFE takes a look back through its 37 years of iconic photography to find images that capture the breadth of experience of children around the world. Funny or serious, cute or moving, happy or sad, the kids shown here illustrate in their own ways an element that makes childhood uniquely special. They may be small, but their inner lives, as captured on film by LIFE’s expert photographers, are anything but.

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