Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 24

Life and Learning in a One-Room Country School

“We continued walking. Winona looked straight ahead, her face as still as stone. Chumani glanced nervously between me and Winona. When we rounded a hill and saw the school house, both girls stopped.” Oscar’s Gift

First School in Tripp County, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

First School in Tripp County, South Dakota, ca 1900-1910. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo

Sod School, Winner, South Dakota. Photo: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Sod School, ca. 1910s, Winner, South Dakota. Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

The above photos give an idea of what school houses looked like in rural South Dakota in the first decades of the 20th century.

What would have Chumani and Winona learned in school?

“Children in a country school learned independently. They progressed at their own pace. Most lessons were memorized. Students knew what to expect in the next grade because they had heard older pupils recite lessons the previous year.10 The curriculum included reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, grammar, orthography or spelling, and hygiene. During the day, pupils were called to the teacher’s desk to read or recite. When not working with the teacher, students did arithmetic problems on their slates, diagrammed sentences, drew maps, and memorized lessons. Many students learned to read using McGuffey’s Readers, compiled in 1830 by Presbyterian minister William McGuffey of Ohio. The books began with simple alphabet work and stories and advanced to excerpts from Shakespeare, the Bible, and English and American poets. The readers also included biographical sketches and excerpts from speeches.” ~ South Dakota State Historical Society

The following resources offer several ideas for how children (and adults) today can learn about what life and learning were like in one-room schools:

Photos: Library of Congress, Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.


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