Learn how subjects were taught in the 1850's
Morning Meeting | Reading | Writing | Math | Science/Social Studies | Specials
Morning Routine/Morning Meeting
The Morning Routine of schoolchildren in the 1850s was very different than our routines today. Students entered the schoolhouse at the sound of the teacher's bell- girls first, followed by boys. The children had to "make their manners" to the teacher. This involved bowing for the boys and curtsying for the girls while saying, "Good Morning, Sir/Ma'am." Students had chores to do, including bring in firewood for the fire and fetching water from a nearby stream or river. The teacher would take the roll call*. Any student who was late had to wait outside until recess time. The class might then sing a song, discuss the Thought of the Day, or review the class rules.
Books were very expensive in the 1850s. Many schoolhouses had no books at all. If a school had books, students would most likely share. They began reading out of primers and then moved into small readers. The readers were divided into lessons. Lessons focused on a few spelling words and short stories or poems. Elocution, or the art of public speaking focusing on delivery and gestures, was important. Students were often expected to memorize and recite poems for the class and the teacher.
Penmanship, or the art of handwriting, was considered very important in the one-room schoolhouse. All students learned to write in script, or cursive. They drew their own lines on slates or in copybook, and then students spent much of their time practicing the formation of their letters. The teacher would make the students write over and over again if the formation was not good enough. Try your own hand at some penmanship on the lines below!
She's left-handed! In the old schools, students were not allowed to write with their left hands, only their right hands. Most people were right-handed, and it was considered a sign that there was something wrong with a person if he or she wrote with the left hand. Teachers would force left-handed students to learn to write using only their right hands.
Arithmetic, or ciphering, was one of the most important subjects in the one-room schoolhouse. Memorization of facts was expected, and the teacher often drilled students on their math facts. Students spent a great deal of time copying problems that the teacher had written on the board and then solving them. They had to wait patiently and quietly for the teacher to come around and check their work. But the students also played some fun math games! Try this game, Buzz, that used to be played in the 1800s:
1. Students would stand in a circle.
2. The teacher would call out a "buzz" number, such as 4.
3. Starting with one student, students would begin counting off around the circle by ones.
4. Any time a student said a number that had a 4 in it or could be skip-counted by 4, the student had to say "Buzz". If the student did not say "Buzz", he or she would be out of the game.
5. Play continued around the circle until only one person remained. That person would be the winner.
Reading, writing, and 'arithmetic - known as the three R's - were the most important subjects in the one-room schoolhouse. Most schools did not teach science or social studies to their students. Larger schoolhouses, however, might have maps or globes, and the students would learn geography using these materials. Here are some common geography activities for you to try!
Activity One: The teacher would spin the globe and place a finger down randomly. The student would then have to name the spot on the globe that the teacher was pointing to.
Activity Two: The students would play a geography game. Standing in a circle, one student would start by naming a country or continent. The next student would then have to say a country or continent that began with the last letter of the previous country or continent. For example, if the first student says, "Chile," the next student might say, "England." If a student was not able to name a country or continent, then he or she was out. Play continued around the circle until only one student was left standing. That student was the winner.
Friends, family, and students would sometimes gather in the schoolhouse in the evenings for sing-alongs.
Spelldowns were special Friday-afternoon events. Captains would be picked from among the older students. The captains would then pick teams. The teams would line up in two rows facing the teacher. The teacher would give the first student in line a word. The student would say the word, spell it, and say the word again. If the student was right, he could go to the back of the line, otherwise he was out. The teacher would alternate between teams, giving words that got harder and harder. The last person standing was the Spelldown champion of the week.