Imagine traveling with your family across an unknown country to start a new life in a new place. Few people live there. Your family must work hard to build a house and raise food.
Schooling would probably be a low priority until your family’s basic needs were met. But then what?
- Today, laws require every child to attend some kind of school. Families choose from public schools, private schools, or homeschools.
- During the 1800s, not every state required children to attend school. Many children lived in an area where there wasn’t a school. These children usually learned to read, write, and do basic math at home with their parents. Families had few books, but most had a Bible children could read.
- As towns became more settled, the people started schools. These were usually one-room buildings with rows of benches and desks. In the schoolroom were a coatroom, a flag, and a coal stove. The children had few books and wrote their lessons on small slates (chalkboards).
- The school was the center of the community and the building was often used as a church on Sundays. Everyone in the community was committed to helping the children get an education. Parties, festivals, and holidays were fun celebrations. Children sometimes performed songs or read poems they’d memorized.
- In the schoolroom were children of all ages and abilities. Children living in town were often able to attend school regularly while farm children came to school less frequently because they were needed at home.
- Because of this, there might be a seven-year-old child who could read better than an eleven-year-old.
- School teachers had to be able to teach every age group at once. The teacher would assign the youngest group their lesson and then move on to the next group. The older children often helped the younger ones.
- Being a school teacher was hard work. Teachers weren’t paid well and often lived with the families in the community. Female teachers were not allowed to be married and had to follow strict rules for how they dressed and behaved. Teaching was one of the few professions women could do.
- The children brought their lunches in pails from home. They would sit outside or at their desks to eat. In good weather, they loved playing games outside after lunch.
- There were no indoor toilets; everyone used an outhouse located near the school.
- Slate: small chalkboard upon which to write
- Profession: job
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Did the children ever get in trouble?
Answer: Yes. Most teachers were strict. If a child misbehaved, the teacher might hit the child’s hand with a stick.
Watch a video about modern one-room schoolhouses.
Learn more about old schools.