The Schoolhouse Series – Part 2
To view the original article and others in the 2022 series visit the online Cottage Shack magazine
As curator of the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM), I have had the opportunity to welcome into our collections so many amazing artifacts this past season. Our co-op students have done a great job researching them and creating signage and labelling. The A-Team group of volunteers have worked hard to provide additional storage and display areas for our ever-expanding collection.
Already we are planning World War 1 and World War 11 displays, a new veterinary office and a lovely picnic area by the river. Even through the winter months, all of our dedicated volunteers are planning and preparing for next season’s displays and events.
Part 1 in this series was about our “Eady” schoolhouse. As the resident schoolmarm, I re-create a typical day in the late 1800s. Being a city girl, I lack the personal experience of a one-room school. My program, instead, is based on research and the heartfelt memories of many of our visitors. An abundance of old textbooks, slate boards, desks and inkwells are part of our assemblage of favourite treasures. The entire room is reminiscent of bygone times.
Our schoolhouse is open to visitors every museum day. The school program is available each Tuesday (Community Dat at CCHM), each Wednesday, and at special event days. We also accept reservations for families and small groups.
The children’s school day begins with me wandering the yard, ringing the leather-handled bell. Students responding to the bell line up outside the schoolhouse entrance – boys in one line, girls in another. As it was believed that cleanliness is next to godliness, each child’s finger nails are inspected. I am certain that the nail polish I see was not an issue in the 1880s.
As the students enter, girls are told to curtsy and boys to remove their hats. Upon finding a desk they then read the wall chart that enumerates the school rules. In my previous article I told of these rules, but suffice it to say here they were very strict. Some children get a little overwhelmed by them. I reassure them that we are just taking a flight into make-believe. Once we have settled in, the girls are invited to don one of our pinafores. We have yet to come up with something special for the boys to wear.
Roll Call follows in which each child is required to stand up and address the teacher with “Good Morning.” At its conclusion we all stand and sing “God Save The Queen” while I hold up a picture of Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the day. Unfortunately, not many Canadiana children today are familiar with this anthem, so I usually end up singing a solo.
Next comes a Bible reading, often by a senior student. In the one-room school it was common for teacher to regularly call upon the older students to assists him or her with the younger pupils. As an example, I often have the Olmert students lead in the singing of “O Canada” – even though it did not officially become our national anthem until 1980.
Depending on how long the students are with me, our daily schedule typically includes all or part of the list below:
- Printing/Cursive Writing – always hold your pencil correctly, keeping you head up and use your right hand.
- Reading in small groups with the teacher (Ontario’s Reading Program Texts)
- Arithmetic – doing sums
- Tour of the museum
- Crafts (prepared by my co-op students)
- Singing time
- Archaeology – digging in our sandbox for buried treasure
- Recitation -poems and verses are taught and recited
To complement these mainly academic pursuits, music has an important role in our program. Having been a music teacher and choir director, I use my experience to introduce the children to songs of by-gone days. I also use puppets to engage the students. We attract many passing visitors when the schoolhouse bursts into song. I also play old-time records on the record player and have the students march around the room following the leader.
I have been told that in the past students would march around the room for the main purpose of keeping warm. Next season I hope to incorporate a rhythm band into our march.
At recess on Community Days, we provide snacks, but often families bring picnic lunches. After eating, we go outside to enjoy such games as Tag, Red Light/Green Light, Hide and Seek, Duck/Duck/Goose and a Tisket/a Tasket. We sing “Farmer in the Dell,” “Punchinello” and “My Bonnie.” Parents and grandparents often join in the fun.
At the days end we return to the schoolhouse to tidy up and collect the student’s work. After singing a goodbye song, the students are asked what chore they would have to do when they got home to the farm. I am always amazed that so many children have embraced the pioneer spirit and answer with jobs such as feeding the horses, cleaning the barn and collecting eggs.
On days when the homeschooling groups come, up to 40 children experience pioneer school day. At the end of these days, I feel like the actual 1880s teacher must have felt at the end of her day. Exhausted!!
Check out our website and make a plan to visit our olden day Eady schoolhouse when we reopen in the Spring.
By Patricia Turnour
(My next article will examine the life of the pioneer school teacher.)