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Back to School!

SchoolhouseThe first day of fall is here! Fall is when it starts to get colder. The leaves on the trees turn fun colors and pumpkins turn orange in the garden. For many kids, fall is also when they go back to school. In 1875, Iowa farm kids often went to a one room school house. desks in the classroom

All the kids from grade one through grade eight would sit in the same room together. Students sat in desks together with the teacher at the front. The teacher could call groups of students to the front to learn their grade’s lessons while other children studied at their desk.

Students learned to read and write. They learned to spell and to recite and to do math. A lot of these lessons take practice. Every student would have a slate—a miniature blackboard in a frame—at their desk, to practice their lesson.


Instead of using computers, children learned to write by hand. First they learned to print and then to write in cursive. The teacher would write a letter to practice on the blackboards at the front, and students would practice on their own slate. Students began with push pulls and ovals on the slate. You can do this exercise at home too!  Take a blank piece of paper or a dry erase white board. Draw two lines across the page. Now in between the two lines, practice making ovals. Draw circles all along the line, but don’t pick up your marker or pencil to draw the next circle. Keep them all connected. This helps you learn how to make the ovals all the same size and shape.

practicing ovals and push pullsYou can also practice push pulls. Draw two new lines across your pad. Without lifting your pencil or marker, draw slanted lines in the spaces. The lines going from bottom to top will be thin and the lines from top to bottom will be heavier and thicker. When kids learned cursive writing, having good ovals and push pulls made the letters prettier and easier to read.

reciting in the classroomYou can also practice spelling and recitation at your house the way a student would in 1875. Students had to learn to spell words and poems from memory. They would stand up in front of the class and recite. To recite means they would say their spelling word or poem out loud for their classmates. Students might be expected to memorize a short poem or essay to stand and recite before the class each week. Let’s practice with a simple poem you might already know. “Mary had a Little Lamb” was written in 1830 by Sarah J. Hale—184 years ago! Read the poem to yourself several times. Stand up straight. Put your feet together and recite it out loud. Speak very clearly. Here’s your poem:

“Mary had a little lamb, His fleece was white as snow, And everywhere that Mary went, The lamb was sure to go. He followed her to school one day, Which was against the rule, It made the children laugh and play To see a lamb at school. And so the teacher turned it out, But still it lingered near, And waited patiently about, Till Mary did appear. “Why does the lamb love Mary so?” The eager children cry. “Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know.” The teacher did reply. ”

stove in the classroom

The only heat for the school came from the large iron stove. As the fall days got colder, the teacher would start the stove when he or she arrived in the morning. Students and teachers brought their lunch to school, often in tin lunch pails.

lunch pail Cold biscuits and jam, a boiled potato or bacon were all possibilities. After lunch the students could expect to go outside for recess. Games such as tag and red rover were popular, along with marbles, baseball, and jump rope. The school bell would call the children back inside at the end of play time.

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