School bells will be ringing again soon. A new generation of school children will be learning the 3Rs, just like their parents and grandparents. August often brings back nostalgic memories of the “good old school days.” Many of today’s older adults who lived near small towns and in rural areas received an education in a one-room school. Encourage group members to share recollections of a typical school day for both the teacher and the students. Ask participants to chat about some of their favorite memories of school. Here are a few suggestions to get your group talking.

  • Discuss the difference between book smarts and street smarts. Ask: Is academic knowledge more valuable than common sense? Where did you learn common sense? How do you teach common sense to someone?
  • Define bookworm. Ask: Did you enjoy reading as a child and young adult? What do you remember about your school library? Was it simply a classroom collection of books? Name some books you enjoyed reading, e.g., Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys series or Little House on the Prairie books.
  • Reminisce about memorable schoolteachers. Ask: What qualities do good teachers have in common? Watch a favorite movie about the impact of a teacher on his or her students, e.g.,Mr. Holland’s Opus.
  • Gather old school photographs of your group. Mount them on poster board. Have group members guess who’s who.
  • Ring an old brass school bell. Sing the classic song “School Days,” first heard in 1907. Ask: What are “dear old Golden Rule days”?
  • Encourage participants to share school experiences related to the following topics: length of school year, methods of discipline, and amount of homework. Ask: How do your school experience compare or contrast with your own children’s school experience?
  • Show an old photograph of a recitation bench, often found in one-room schools. Ask: What was the purpose of the bench? Encourage participants to recite some lines from a favorite patriotic poem (or read it aloud from a book). Suggestion: Longfellow’s “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
  • Hold an old-fashioned spelling bee, using variations such as the following: Choose words that all start with the same letter; are slang words from the 1920s; are the names of famous people or places; are related to a theme, e.g., flowers or kitchen tools.
  • Hold a simple arithmetic contest or “ciphering match.” Name synonyms for cipher, e.g., calculate, compute, solve. Ask: How were you taught arithmetic in school?
  • Reminisce about the involvement of families and the community in the life of the school. Ask:What kinds of big events took place during the school year, e.g., field days, Christmas program, school play, promotion ceremony/picnic?
  • Brainstorm a list of traditional school games played during lunch or recess. Ask participants if they can recall how to play The Farmer in the Dell; London Bridge; Ante Over; Red Rover, Red Rover; Drop the Hanky; Button, Button; Red Light; Leap Frog; Simon Says; and Mother May I.
  • Read a moral tale from an old McGuffey’s Reader. Ask: What common values are taught in the lesson? Share recollections of character traits that were stressed in school.
  • Have some fun with a school craft project, such as paper folding. Make a paper model airplane or paper cup.
  • Reminisce about the school dress code. Ask: What is the purpose of a dress code? Display some vintage school clothes such as a pinafore dress, overalls, shorts/knickers, and high button shoes.
  • Share memories of traditional school books, such as Noah Webster’s dictionary. List ten words every educated person should know. (Consult a dictionary for clarification.)


In the good old school days, patriotism, citizenship, and U.S. history were important parts of the curriculum. Display an American flag and ask your group to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the first verse of “The Star- Spangled Banner.” You can challenge your group to a history quiz, using the following questions.

  1. Who was president during the Teapot Dome scandal? Warren G. Harding
  2. In what state was George Washington born? Virginia
  3. Which president was in office the longest? Franklin Roosevelt
  4. Who burned the city of Washington in 1812? The British
  5. How old must a citizen be to be president? 35 years old
  6. What territory did Jefferson purchase that doubled the size of the United States? Louisiana (from France)
  7. He was the tallest president. Abraham Lincoln
  8. What historical document starts out with these words: “When in the course of human events . . .”? U.S. Declaration of Independence
  9. Under what president did Hubert Humphrey serve? Lyndon B. Johnson
  10. He was Silent Cal. Calvin Coolidge


“Man’s mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

“SCHOOL DAYS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2007 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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