Many Pilgrim children came from families that belonged to a religious group known as the Puritans. Puritans were members of a religious and social movement of the 1500’s and 1600’s in England. During the 1600’s, some Puritans came to North America to set up colonies or join existing colonies to freely follow their religious beliefs. Puritan children in the American colonies in the 1600’s and 1700’s went to school, just like children today. But their schools were very different. There were no colorful textbooks, no computers, no school libraries, and no field trips! For Puritans, religion was the only important subject, and their education was centered on the Bible.
The most popular schoolbook in Puritan times was the New England Primer <PRIHM uhr>. From this book, children learned the letters of the alphabet. Each letter was decorated with a simple drawing. A rhyme inspired by the Bible accompanied each letter. The rhyme for the letter “A” often was “In Adam’s fall/We sinned all.” The Primer also included sentences and prayers the student had to memorize. The book ended with a catechism, a list of religious questions and their answers.
Some students learned the alphabet from a hornbook. A hornbook was a flat wooden board with a handle. A sheet of paper was attached to the board, and a sheet of horn was fastened over the paper to protect it. The horn came from the thin outer layer of ox and sheep horns that had been specially processed and then pressed to make the horn sheet smooth and transparent.
Another kind of book from the 1700’s sounds much more fun. The letters of the alphabet were pressed into the dough for gingerbread before it was baked. This gingerbread was a type of hard cookie. A child could break off and enjoy the piece of gingerbread after he or she correctly named the letter on that piece!
Photo Credit: America’s Story for America’s Children