School has already begun for most children. Shopping for school supplies is complete, new clothes have been purchased and an introductory visit to the school is now done. Students are getting to know their new teachers, and learning what their schedule will be each day. Many students have even learned how to find the right bus to get on when it’s time to go home. In the late 1800’s, when all ages of Iowa farm children went to one-room country schools, preparation for the school day would have looked a little different:
As you milk cows and feed the chickens before getting dressed for school, you wonder if you’ll still have the same school marm (an old word for school teacher). You really liked her, and so did your brother and sister. You each learned so much with her, but you know teachers don’t always stay in one school very long.
Your new shoes feel so good on your feet as you lace them up; you are very thankful for them. The mile walk to school will be much easier. You need to hurry to the kitchen to fix your lunch. Mom just finished using up the lard in the tin so you get a new lunch pail!
You’ll bring one of the apples that was just picked yesterday. Ham from last night’s dinner and some leftover cornbread would be great, too. And, of course, some of Mom’s delicious pound cake. You just need to strap your McGuffey Reader and slate together, and you’re ready to go. You’re almost done with this reader, so you’ll be able to use the one your brother finished last term. Your brother, sister and you take off down your lane to the road. There, you meet your neighbors, who farm just a half mile from you. You play and tell stories all the way to school. You arrive at the same time as the other two families, and you soon discover you DO have the same school marm. This IS going to be a very good school term.
You meet around the flag pole, and sing about America. As you go into the schoolhouse, you greet your school marm with a little bow or curtsy, and put your new lunch pail on the correct side of the cloak room–boys on one side, girls on the other. Inside you share a desk, again boys on one side and girls on the other.
There are only 10 students in class this term. Your sister says it’s because the older boys are helping to get the corn crop in while the weather is good.
Your sister is working out arithmetic problems on her slate. The teacher calls on her to recite her addition facts for the 9’s. 9+1 is 10, 9+2 is 11. As she continues, you realize you are learning some of them just by hearing her recite them! Soon it’s time for you to work on your arithmetic lesson. You must work hard, and be quiet all morning long, so when recess time comes, you are all ready to talk and play games. By the time it’s 4:00, everyone excitedly heads for home. Your animals will be very ready to see you. The cow needs to be milked again, and your chickens have been busy laying eggs that will need to be gathered.
School has gone from one room with all your friends and their brothers and sisters to many rooms in many buildings with students of mostly the same age. If you know some home-educated students, their schooling may be very similar to the way schools were run in the late 1800’s, but they are definitely using many new tools for learning. Instead of writing assignments on slates with slate pencils, do you use a white board and dry erase markers? Or do you use lots of paper and pencils, crayons or markers, and a computer? One thing has stayed the same. Students are still learning to read, write, and do their arithmetic because it is so very important for life. So study well, and learn all you can!