One-room schoolhouse closed for the summer. Bristol Notch, Vermont.
For young children, the experience of attending school strengthens their growing sense of independence and their relationship with the world beyond their family. This lesson focuses on this universal experience, using original photographs to give students a vivid impression of how American children received an education a hundred years ago. They learn about a one-room schoolhouse, seeing how children learned, played and traveled to school. This lesson encourages students to explore the similarities and differences of being a student in a one-room schoolhouse versus attending their own well-equipped, modern schoo.
Begin by having the class talk about these questions:
Make a list of students’ responses to these questions.
Explain to the class that early schools in America were very different from schools today. In rural areas, children were sometimes taught at home. As areas of the country were settled and farmers prospered, one-room schoolhouses were built. Let students know they will look at pictures to see what school was like for children their age a hundred years ago. It may be helpful to explain to students that their grandparents’ mothers and fathers might have attended a one-room schoolhouse.
Print or display on the computer screen a photograph of a one-room schoolhouse in Bristol Notch, Vermont from the American Memory archives (to find it, open the collection of photographs of America from the Great Depression to World War II and search on the phrase “Bristol Notch Vermont”). Invite students to share their impressions of the schoolhouse. Ask them to imagine and describe how it looks inside.
Print or display on the computer screen a photograph of the interior of typical one-room schoolhouse from the American Memory archives. Does it look as students imagined? Ask the class to identify items in the classroom that help these students learn. Explain that students had very few school supplies, often just a stone slate and a slate pencil. Older students may have had pens that they dipped in ink to write with on paper. Classrooms were simply equipped with a blackboard, chalk and a reader. Can students identify what time of year it is in this photo? (Students’ clothing and the drawing on the blackboard might give clues.)
Print or display on the computer screen a photograph of a teacher and her pupils in a one-room schoolhouse from the American Memory archives. Ask students to point out boys and girls in the photograph who seem to be about the same age as they are. Can they also see younger children and older children in the photograph? Explain that students of all ages were in the same classroom in the one-room schoolhouse. Students were seated by grade, sometimes with the boys on one side of the classroom and the girls on the other.
Ask children to find the teacher in the photograph. Describe to the children her responsibility for teaching all subjects to all the different grades in her class. Every year students would have the same teacher. Sometimes there might be just one or two students in each grade. The EDSITEment resource American Memory includes two photographs of a teacher giving a lesson to the only second-grade student in her class. Show these photographs to students. (To find them, open the collection of photographs of America from the Great Depression to World War II and search on the phrase “second grade,” then select the photos titled “Teaching only pupil in the second grade, one-room school house, Grundy County, Iowa” and “Lois Slinker teaching the only pupil in the second grade in one-room schoolhouse. Grundy County, Iowa.”) What subject is this boy learning? Explain that subjects were similar to those taught today: arithmetic, reading, penmanship, spelling, geography and history.
Students may be interested to hear that teachers were responsible for all the duties involved in running the small schoolhouse. In winter, they may have had to shovel snow and stoke the stove with coal or wood to keep the schoolhouse warm. They also brought water into the classroom from an outdoor well. Older students may have helped the teacher with these chores.
Remind students that the photos they are looking at were taken in rural America in areas without school buses or automobiles for transportation. Ask the class how these students got to their one-room schoolhouse. Print or display on the computer screen a photograph of students and their transportation from the American Memory archives. Ask students if they would like riding a horse or wagon to school better than traveling by car or bus. Why or why not? Point out the boy standing on the school roof. Ask students to imagine why he is there.
Ask students to name their favorite activities at recess and lunchtime. Show the photograph of students playing a game from the American Memory archives. Can students imagine what the game is, or if students are singing a song as they play this game? Do the children seem to be having fun? Ask students to look at how the boys and girls are dressed in this photograph. Help students identify a pinafore (worn by the girl on the far left), overalls (worn by the boy in left rear), knickers (worn by the boy ducking under the line), and high-button shoes (worn by most children).
After studying and discussing the photographs, encourage students to make comparisons by answering these questions:
Make a list of students’ responses to these questions. Compare them to answers to the questions you asked at the start of this lesson. To complete the comparison, ask students if, given the choice, they would prefer to attend a one-room schoolhouse a hundred years ago, or a large, modern school today. Why?
Use one or more of the following ideas to expand children’s understanding of this topic:
4-6 class periods