Colonial Education

Yale University in 1726

Colonial Education - Yale University 1726

This article on Facts about Colonial Education provides interesting facts and information about life in the American colonies in the 1700's

  • Facts about Colonial Education - Dame Schools, Elementary schools and Grammar Schools
  • Colonial Education and Schools
  • Interesting facts and fast information about Colonial Education
  • Colonial Education, schools and universities
  • Educational resource for teachers and kids about Colonial Education
Colonial SocietyLife in Colonial Times
American Colonies Index

History of the first 13 Colonies and life in the Colonial Period

Education of the different classes: The daily lives of the colonists in the 13 Colonies during the Colonial Period

Colonial Education
This article contains fast facts and information about Colonial Education that was available to kids and children before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Colonial Education was determined by the social class of the family. The early American colonists who had immigrated from Europe followed the standards of education that used in the 'mother countries' and were based on wealth and class. Some of the institutions for Colonial Education were tax-supported and some were privately operated. Girls were rarely given the opportunity to be educated. Colonial Education was determined by the social class of the family.

Colonial Education


Colonial Education of the Upper Classes

The boys from upper class families were taught be private home tutors and then sent to college or university. Many of the Upper Classes sent their boys abroad to English educational institutions in order to receive a university or college education.
 Colonial Education of the Middle ClassesBoys from the middle class, the sons of merchants, ministers, doctors and lawyers, attended dame schools, elementary schools and grammar schools. Only occasionally would they attend college
 Colonial Education of the Lower Classes & Indentured ServantsLimited colonial education - apprenticeships were available to some lower class boys
Slaves had no education and in the Southern colonies slaves were forbidden by law to learn how to read and write

Colonial Education

Colonial Education and Religion- Education in Puritan New England

The first colonies to be established in Colonial America were in New England and were predominantly Puritan.  The Puritans encouraged Colonial Education for religious reasons as Bible reading and Bible study played an important role in their religion. Puritan parents believed that the education of their children in religion was their premier duty. the children of Puritans were schooled in the Scriptures in daily devotions, at mealtimes and in sermons. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony established an early law that stated it was the parental duty of teaching children to “read and understand the principles of religion and the capitall lawes of this country”. It should be noted that this law was not always enforced.

Colonial Education - Home Education & Home Tutors
The basic principles of required behaviour and education would be started in the home. Children were taught to respect their mother and father and ask for their parents blessing and to say prayers. The girls would be taught obedience to the male members of the family at a very early age. Disobedience was seen as a crime against their religion. The Church firmly believed this and quoted the Bible in order to ensure the continued adherence to this principle. The education of girls concentrated on housewifely duties and the skills associated with women. Only wealthy or sometimes middle class girls were taught to read and write by private home tutors.

Colonial Education - Dame Schools
The most basic level of education was conducted for boys aged between 5 and 7 at what was called a 'Dame School'. These lessons and general education were conducted not in a school but in the house of the teacher.  These were usually run, for a small fee, by a local, well educated housewife, and were therefore also referred to as ' Dame Schools '. At the Dame School the boy's education would consist of being taught to read and write English, learn the catechism and also learn lessons in behaviour.

Colonial Education - Elementary Schools
Elementary schools were established in the colonies with a strong emphasis on religion. Boys began their education at Elementary Schools from the age of 7 years old to 10 years old. The boys first learnt the rudiments of Latin with the assistance of a text-book known as Lily's Latin Grammar. Parts of speech together with verbs and nouns would be taught at the age of 7 and the rules of grammar and sentence construction would be taught at the age of 8. Their third year at school, at the age of 9, concentrated on English-Latin and Latin-English translations and basic math.

Colonial Education - Horn Books

Horn books were the most important tool used during Colonial Education. Reading and Writing skills were learnt from the alphabet detailed on a 'horn book'.

A horn book consisted of a piece of parchment usually pasted on to a small wooden board with a handle, and covered with a thin plate of transparent horn from where the name of 'horn book' was derived.

The horn book was durable and inexpensive. The horn book displayed the alphabet in both small letters and capital letters.

The Lord's Prayer in English was also included on the horn-book together with the mark of the cross. The the alphabet detailed on the horn book was known as 'Christcross-row' or 'chrisscross'.

Horn Book

Colonial Education - Grammar Schools
The Grammar Schools educated boys aged 10 to 14 years of age. Their lessons continued with Math and Latin to English translations and occasionally the study of Greek. Lessons in literature including the works of the great classical authors and dramatists, such as Ovid, Horace, Virgil, Cicero and Seneca. At 14 the boys would leave Grammar School to attend University.

Colonial Education - Life at Colonial Schools
The life of school boys at school was quite strict. During summer the school day started at six o'clock in the morning and finished at five o'clock in the evening. There was a two hour break at midday. The school week consisted of a 5 full days and a half day on Thursday,  which continued for up to 44 weeks of the year – more than double the current school hours. The punishments were fierce and fifty strokes of the cane was not an uncommon occurrence. education was based on repetition and constant examinations. A typical school week and education at a Colonial Grammar School would cover:

  • Monday: An examination based on the previous Sunday’s sermon
  • Tuesday to Thursday: The basic curriculum
  • Friday: Examinations and Punishments
  • Saturday: Study of the catechism and some mathematics

Colonial Education - College and University
The boys from upper class families were the elite. Their families were wealthy, well bred and well educated minor aristocrats. Many of the Upper Classes sent their boys abroad to English educational institutions in order to receive a university or college education. This would often be supplemented by a Grand Tour of the major Cities of Europe. As time went by it was far more convenient to study in America and colleges and universities were established in Colonial America. During the Colonial Era colleges of Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Columbia, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth were founded. Benjamin Franklin played a major role in launching the University of Pennsylvania which was the first college free from denominational control. Student enrolments to colleges were small, numbering about 200 boys at one time. Education and the curriculum at university was gradually extended to cover:

  • Education in Theology, religious education
  • Education in the classics
  • Education in Law
  • Education in the Liberal Arts including Grammar, Logic, Music, Astronomy, Arithmetic and Geometry
  • Education in the Arts including Philosophy, Rhetoric, Poetics and Natural History

Benjamin Franklin

Picture of Benjamin Franklin

Colonial Education

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