Thursday, March 29, 2012

Amish One-Room Schoolhouses

When school's out, school land is used for grazing.
When I first met Amish youth in New York, I  was buying fudge or other baked good at a roadside stand. At first the thought I better have the right change because they didn’t have calculators, and some were quite young, maybe nine. Well, I didn’t have correct change, so I apologized, but no sooner had I said, “….I’m sorry,” when they whipped out the right change. I just gawked at asked, “How did you do that?” It wasn’t like I bought something for $10.00 and gave them $20.00. It

was much harder.  One boy pointed to his head and said, “I did it all up here.”

Most Amish children learn mental math, doing figures in their head without paper. This is the way it’s always been done for hundreds of years.  They also only focus on the three “R’s”: reading, writing and arithmetic, so they’re very good at them.  These are the building blocks that foster life-long learning, something I’ve observed about the Amish; they love to learn new things.
Just like the Amish didn’t adapt to the industrial revolution, neither did they adopt the public school system.  They believe in local schoolhouses where their children can walk to school, or it’s a short ride. They only go to the 8th grade, and then go on to learn life-skills. For women, it means preparing to be a wife and learning many artisan skills so they can have some kind of shop to supplement the household income. These shops range from bakeries, dry goods stores, quilt shops, craft shops, greenhouses…the sky’s the limit. Amish young men go on to an apprenticeship to learn a trade, such as blacksmithing, farming, making clocks or furniture. Once again, it’s as varied as the human imagination.

Many are surprised and some appalled that they only go to 8th grade. When they find out they go to one-room schoolhouses, their views seem to shift. They think of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Anne of Green Gables.  The nostalgia usually wins out and so there is little criticism.

 I homeschooled my four kids using the one-room schoolhouse method (we even used Pathway Amish readers) and I believe it’s the best method. Children aren’t confined to one grade. They may be in 3rd grade math, but 5th grade reading. I also liked combining classes, just like they did long ago. We studied history together and went on field trips, learning the same things; my older ones helped the younger. I can’t say we were always as bonded as the Ingalls…oh, we had our days…but they’re all very close today.   

Notice the outhouses to the right.
The Amish hope that close friendships formed in one-room schoolhouses will last for life. My friend Lydia still writes to a friend she had in 2nd grade, even though they haven’t seen each other in over 30 years. When I asked her why, she said, “We were school friends”.  Other Amish call their school friends their “gang” or “buddy gang”, and I always think of my neighborhood “gang” when hearing this.
The biggest surprise may not be that the Amish go to the 8th grade in one-room schoolhouses, but that they rate equal to or higher than public school students. Steve Berezney wrote an amazing article on this wonder. It’s entitled The Suprising Phenomenon of Amish Schooling. If you Google this title, it will come up. He states that the Amish have a saying on what makes a happy school. The Answer: Study, Cooperation, Honesty, Order, Obedience, Love-SCHOOL. I believe they’re on to something….


  1. Thank you for sharing. When I go places where the Amish live, I always feel so at peace. Also I loved your stories the Amish Knitting Circle, I felt like I new all the people in the stories.

  2. Thank you Mary Ann! I'm writing the next episode of Amish Knitting Circle...will be called Amish Friends Knitting Circle. It's strange, but I feel like Granny has more to do and say. ;)

  3. Thanks for this great post.
    Love your blog!


  4. Very interesting. Thanks for writing.
    I also home school in a 'one room' schoolhouse--our livingroom! Currently we have 8 of the children of 13 attending (4 have graduated, one is a toddler). I've always believed the same about many levels being together as a blessing. Many subjects can be done in a group; for sure. God bless.

    1. Pam, you have 13 children? God bless you! I could hardly keep up with my four. Do you blog? Would love to read it!

  5. What a great story! Thanks for writing Karen!
    It is amazing how much more of a sense of community there is in the Amish. More so than I have ever encounter in the "English"!

    1. Thanks Allyson. Really trying to take the advice given by the Amish..."If you admire our community spirit, build your own," But that means you can' be so busy, which I'm working on. ;)