Fourth graders travel back in time at one-room schoolhouse

Fourth graders from Wysong Elementary School opened their calendars to 1892 this spring during an immersive visit to a local one-room schoolhouse.
Twenty-two students in Clara Calkins’ class traveled back in time as they took lessons in the Cunningham School (formerly known as Heritage School) at Pioneers Park Nature Center. They learned how to write with an ink-filled quill, took part in a spelling bee and sang old-fashioned songs like “Clementine” during their technology-free experience. 
Elsie and Modi said they were enjoying their morning and afternoon at Cunningham School. They were happy to have a chance to see what life was like for students more than 125 years ago.
“I was really excited, because we usually don’t get to experience how people lived in a different time,” Elsie said. “It’s fun to see how they lived and what they did in school. It’s really made me think of the things they had to do to go to school.”
“It was a little scary because I didn’t know what would happen, but I was excited too, because I didn’t know what would happen,” Modi said.
Calkins said she was proud of her class for the way they handled their journey back in time. Many of the girls were donned in 1800s-era dresses and bonnets, and several boys sat in their wooden desks wearing plaid shirts.
“It’s fun to watch them take on this challenge because they know how to do school, but they don’t know how to do school in 1892,” Calkins said.
Calkins said the educational visit helped students learn how to thrive in a new environment. Rather than using a hands-free faucet to clean up before lunch, they relied on a pitcher and washbasin in the back of the school. The tablets they held came equipped with chalk instead of a keyboard, and games were played with a thimble instead of their favorite electronic devices.
“I think it’s really fun,” Calkins said. “It gives them an immersive experience. For them this is very out of the norm, so it’s really cool to watch them take it in stride. To try using chalk and a slate and washing your hands out of a basin, those everyday things.”
Courtney Wiegand joined students in their time travel as the one-room schoolhouse teacher. She instructs thousands of fourth graders from every LPS building each year as part of their social studies curriculum. Wiegand told the Wysong class at the beginning of a morning activity session that they needed to work hard to prepare for that afternoon’s spelling bee.
“You have two rounds in the rotation to practice your spelling,” Wiegand said. “There are a lot of words for you to practice.”
Students received a list of nouns and verbs that would have been common to use back then. They used a piece of chalk to make words like recite, quarrel, gopher and pastime appear on their rectangular slate.
“I like that we’re learning new words and how to spell them,” Modi said. “Like prairie sounds like it only has an ‘a,’ but it really has an ‘ai.’”
Calkins went over story excerpts from an old McGuffey Eclectic Reader with students during one part of the morning, and Wiegand helped others write with a quill pen. Groups spent seven to ten minutes in each station before rotating to another activity.
Wiegand told students that feather-tipped quills are hollow inside because they are only made from birds that fly. She first showed them how to dip the quill in ink and check the ink levels with a piece of blotting paper. They then penned their first names in either cursive or print in a copy book.
“Just think of how long it would have taken to write the Declaration of Independence,” Wiegand said as students nodded their heads in amazement. “Every three words they would have to redip their quill in the ink, so they had to have a lot of patience when they were writing.”
Elsie said using the same writing utensils as Abigail Adams, William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci was a highlight of the day.
“Probably writing with the quill and ink because we don’t do that at school,” Elsie said. “We use normal pencils, so that was really cool.”
Wiegand began the noon hour by passing out songbooks that contained tunes such as “Home on the Range,” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean' and “Whistle Mary.” Students filled the air with music as they took turns washing their hands. They retrieved brown bag lunches in the cloakroom before returning to their seats to eat.
The class competed in a spelling bee during the early afternoon before returning to the year 2024 by 2 p.m. Calkins said all 22 students had written positive words on their calendars during their trip to 1892.
“It’s so much more meaningful to come here,” Calkins said. “It’s all very cool. You can see them just light up with it too. All of the kids are getting something out of it.”

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Published: May 24, 2024, Updated: June 3, 2024

Wysong Elementary School fourth graders practice their handwriting with chalk and a slate inside Cunningham School. Students traveled back in time to 1892 during their visit to the one-room schoolhouse this spring.