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Curious
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Go Back (in Time) to School

By Karen DelleCava • Photo courtesy of Canton Historical Museum, Canton, CT

Highlights 4Cs

Curious, Creative, Caring, and Confident™
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Curious
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Creative
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Caring
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Confident
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Hurry through the woods, over the creek, along the dirt road—and back in time. Take your seat in a one-room schoolhouse.

In the 1800s, one-room schoolhouses were built in rural areas across the country. Students often walked several miles, in any weather, to go to school. Grades 1 through 8 gathered in one classroom, and one teacher taught them all. 

The day usually began with a prayer. In later years, the class also said the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the teacher would give lessons to one or two grades while older students helped younger ones. Other grades worked independently until it was their time for a lesson. 

Classrooms didn’t have many books. Kids worked out math problems and practiced penmanship using slate boards and chalk. 

Report cards went out monthly. Besides studying the usual subjects, kids also took physiology. At the time, that meant health and hygiene. Basic physiology lessons taught the importance of regular baths and washing before meals. Keeping clean required effort because water had to be pumped outside and heated on a stove. 

An outdoor well pump supplied water to the school. Students took turns filling buckets. One of the buckets was for drinking water. The entire school shared one dipper or drinking cup. The second bucket was used as a fire extinguisher.  

A potbellied stove was fueled by coal or wood. It heated the room unevenly. Students near the stove were roasting while other students shivered. 

Students carried lunch to school in old lard buckets or syrup pails. Inside might be corn muffins, apples, and a hard-boiled egg or a cheese sandwich. A chunk of sausage was a special treat. 

During recess, kids played games such as Ring Around the Rosie, Drop the Handkerchief (similar to Duck, Duck, Goose), and Red Rover. They also enjoyed jacks, marbles, and jump rope.  

More than 100 years later, you can still find many of the old schoolhouses. Some are empty. Others have been made into town halls, churches, houses, preschools, or museums. The buildings give a glimpse of what it would be like to go back (in time) to school.