Finally to conclude this miniseries I’ll look at some of the school games students played and talk about the different types of punishment students faced if they misbehaved!
School’s In Session (Part 3)
Recess and lunch were times for students to put away their books and amuse themselves in a variety of ways. Money was scarce for most families and so toys were often homemade. Whistles were carved from thick twigs, straw and rag dolls were made with fabric scraps, and bladders of large farm animals, when blown up, served as balls for the boys to play with. Games didn’t always have to involve toys. Tag, hide and seek and “Ring Around the Rosy” were popular. Word games, such as “First and Last Letter”, “Nonsense Numbing” (a rhyming game), “I Spy”, and “Crambo” (also referred to as “I’m thinking of a word…) were another form of amusement.
While the children were allowed to have fun during their breaks, they were expected to do their work and behave during class. If they failed to behave, harsh punishments would be handed out. Students could be disciplined for many things, not just bad behavior. Arriving late, answering questions wrong and falling asleep in class were all punishable offenses. Some of the more popular punishments were memorizing long passages, writing lines over and over after school, wearing a dunce cap (this was believed to shame the student into good behavior), and whipping with a hickory switch or birch rod.
While school was for the most part very serious and a lot of work, students did get to enjoy some special events from time to time. Spell-downs or spelling matches (the term spelling bee is modern and wasn’t used in the 1800s) were a source of pride and entertainment for the students as each tried to be the last one standing. The schoolhouse was also used for community gatherings. In the later 1800s students would put on Christmas pageants for the townsfolk. It was a chance for the students to show off their skills by reciting poetry, singing songs, and performing math drills.
One room schoolhouses continued to thrive throughout the 1800s. The decline of one room schools didn’t come until the 1940s and 1950s when the growth of the population began to increase drastically. That and the advent of modern transportation would mean the end of the one room school era. However, there are still some one room schools in use. Towns with populations too small to meet standard school sizes and too remote to be bused to other communities still use a modern version of the single room schoolhouse. While no longer prevalent, one room schoolhouses still live on. And you can still find hundreds of one room schools throughout the United States, carefully restored and preserved so that they may share their rich history with many generations to come.
If you wish to see what historical schools might be around your area follow the following link: One Room Schoolhouse Center