Sometimes it's easy to look back at certain time periods in history with rose-colored glasses. Things often seem better in retrospect and that often seems to be the case with people who observe life in the 1950s. Of course, there were plenty of good things about growing up in that time period like feeling safe enough to let your child walk to school alone or learning basic life skills, however, there are plenty of things the world is happy no longer matter. Regardless of whether you think the 1950s were a better or a worse time than today, you will certainly be shocked by some of the things that kindergartners and children were expected to learn and do in the 1950s.
While the 1950s often seemed like a time of peace, that was not necessarily the case. The 1950s also marked the Cold War where Americans all across the country were worried about the threat of a nuclear attack. So, at the beginning of the 1950s, schools were also greatly involved in preparing their students for such a scenario. They hoped that it would never happen, but they wanted to be ready in case.
Basically, the kids were taught to “duck and cover,” to shelter underneath their desks and brace themselves. That's quite a heavy burden to have for a child.
While learning basic money skills is always an important thing, regardless of the generation that you grew up, they seemed to take things to the next level in the 50s. In 1954, a student named Margaret Bramer has a report card that read “I know pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, dollars.” Of course most kingergarteners today also value learning about money and currencies, however, it would not be listed in such a way on a report card.
Children were also taught to save money from a very young age. This was usually done in the form of a piggy bank where they stored all their coins and cash.
You know all those stories of how your grandparents or parents would tell you that they would walk for miles to school in the freezing cold and that you should be grateful for all of your modern day conveniences? While part of that is based in truth, the rest may be a bit of an exaggeration for the point. While it is quite uncommon for children to be seen walking to school alone, it was expected of children in the 50s.
There were, of course, school busses offered to the children many times, however they were also often just expected to walk to school without supervision.
It may be hard to imagine, but there was a day when cooking classes were a part of the curriculum for young children, often at the age of kindergarten. Nowadays, some schools have started to implement cooking classes for their students, but it usually comes at an older age and definitely not as early as kindergarten. Many children learn basic cooking skills from their parents at home, but it is not something often taught in school.
Children in the 1950s often had cooking classes in their schools and they all had to work together to make a meal that they would then enjoy all together.
While it was important in schools for children to learn their classwork, there were man other different categories of things that were also important for people to learn, such as the golden rule of kindness and compassion. It was important for all kids to be nice and considerate of the other children at all times and this is something that they were even graded on their report card and given a score.
Bramer’s kindergarten teacher of 1954 sought to create a kind, happy environment for the kids and that is why she made it a top priority for the children.
Considering it was fairly common for children to grow up and attend school, but also continue on to "Finishing School" later in life, it is probably no surprise that having proper etiquette was taught at such a young age. While children are taught to have basic manners in today's schools, the term etiquette is not commonly used or considered something particularly important. The opposite was the case in the 1950s.
If children were not able to behave properly in social settings like dinners and big events, then they stood no chance of growing comfortably into society as they got older.
If there is one thing that the 1950s is famous for, it it that it held very rigid ideas when it came to questions of gender and gender roles. It was, for instance, widely accepted that men would go to work, while women stayed at home and tended to the household. As a result, young girls were often given classes in school where they learned how to be a homemaker.
While there is nothing wrong with learning the skills of being a homemaker, it is something that should have been taught to boys and girls.
Because of a long-standing bias, being a leftie has historically been quite problematic for people. Left-handed kids were even sometimes forced to learn how to write with their right hands and that was often the case in the 1950s as well, with many children forced into being more on the right side when it came to hand dominance. Things were starting to change, however, and for the better.
Luckily the prejudice against people who were dominant with their left hand was on the way out the door.
Although you probably would think that it is no surprise that children are expected to stay clean and hygienic, they seemed to be pretty specific about how that was supposed to look in the 1950s. The way that they tested this in school was by testing if their fingernails were clean. Can you imagine getting a score on how clean your fingernails were in school? It could be hard to maintain as a child.
Their report card included an item that read, “I keep my fingernails clean.” At least they are making sure that the children would stay nice and clean and hygienic.
While it is no secret that people in the 1950s were much stricter about general table manners and etiquette than people nowadays, you will probably be surprised to learn that this was as subject that was learned in school. While you probably assumed this was learned at home with parents, there was also a grade in school that was received for table manners. Talk about people prioritizing having good table manners.
On Margaret Bramer's report card from the 1950s, it was listed that her and her classmates were encouraged to “eat nicely,” in order to get a good overall grade.
Now this is definitely something that has been removed from most curriculums in modern times and should definitely be returned. On Margaret Bramer's report card, it was made clear that they would learn how to sow seeds and grow their own food. This is a life skill that everyone should have and it is incredible that children were taught this at such a young age in the 1950s and it should be taught now as well!
You can see that this resulted in many people knowing what to do in a garden and how to grow basic herbs and plants, something that is not considered general knowledge anymore.
On the one hand, this might not seem to too from modern times, where many children play instruments and participate in a band, but on the other hand, it was a bit more normal back then. It was considered very important in order to help children understand the value and importance of working together and to help them with their social skills, while also introducing music and the arts to them at the same time.
All of these skills are very important to develop from a young age, so it is good that it was prioritized from such a young age.
Creativity comes pretty naturally for most children. That is essentially what it means to be a child. They are constantly wondering, thinking, and imagining what life could be. That is why arts and crafts were so important back in the 50s (and also today). Children want to create and make things and see what they can think of, so they are automatically inclined toward this. It is smart to have them cultivate this from a young age.
It seems that teachers in the 50s were very aware of how important arts and crafts were for a child's development and they made sure that all students embraced it.
Now this is probably one of the strangest things that were listed on a child's report card in the 1950s. All of the other items on this list seem normal compared to the checkbox requirement that "I know my father's name". Although it is undoubtedly important to know your father's name from a young age, why was this a required check in school, and why did they not include the requirement to know their mother's name as well?
At least that was probably a pretty easy thing to pass, even for a kindergartener. Most of them know their parents' names even without having to review that in school.
There is probably no one on earth who would disagree with the fact that it is important to teach your children about finances at a young age. The earlier they are taught, the better it is for them and for their financial future. Things haven't changed too much throughout history as this was incredibly important from even the kindergarten ages in the 1950s and it is still important today as well.
In the 1950s, there may have been a bit more of a requirement to learn about basic finances and skills in schools at a younger age than in today's world where it is usually introduced later in life.
Whether the children were actually taught how to work with clay and to make pottery from a young age, or if they were simply given some clay and told to test it out and play around with it, people may never know. However, it is no secret that working with clay as a child is very fun and it helps a child's creative mind expand and their imagination to go wild.
It makes sense that pottery was considered a part of general education for young children everywhere. After all, Play-Doh became famous for esentially the same reason.
If there is any proof that things were a bit better back in the day, it would be that children were able to do things more independently. Of course, it was also more expected than in modern times. Kids were sent to school on their own and went to parks without any adults around. While it seems scary in a modern world where kidnappings and crime is more common, it must have been nice to grow up in such a peaceful time.
Now it is unlikely that you will ever see a child that is unaccompanied walking to school or to the store. There is almost always an adult with them.
This seems like a pretty basic one when you compare it to others on the list, but you can't deny that it is an important one. You probably remember learning as a child that there are ways to remember your right hand from your left, the easiest being that your left land makes an L-shape when spread out. It seems that this was something that was considered important on Margaret Bramer’s report card where it read, “I know my right hand.”
You can also tell that in the times, it was assumed that people were just right-handed. While that is the majority of people, there are plenty of children who are left hand dominant.
Just as it is today, music was considered a very important part of life in the 1950s. While children were not seen walking around with headphones in that prevented them from hearing anything going on in the outside world, they were still taught that music was very important and that they should all try it out. Most children were taught to test out instruments from a young age to see if they were talented.
There were many kindergarten classes in the ’50s that were encouraged to play in rhythm bands at school which helped them to tap into their musical sides.
Maybe the reason that they thought that keeping your fingernails clean was so important was because children were expected to play outside much more than children nowadays. Now children are much more likely to be seen inside in front of a screen than they were back in the day. If you are outside all day, it would be even harder to keep your fingers and your nails clean at all times.
It seems like something that needs to come back, the fact that children are spending less and less time outdoors compared to previous generations.
On the note of preparing for the extreme case of a nuclear war, there was a film that was shown in most schools and to children across America. It was called Duck and Cover and it was created to help teach kids about the maneuver of what to do in a nuclear bomb situation. The protagonist was Bert the Turtle, who would take cover from an atomic blast in his shell.
The film was a light and easy way of getting kids to deal with the grim prospect of nuclear war while also teaching them the basics of what to do in an emergency.
Besides just learning the basics of how to plant seeds and help them grow, children were also taught how to actually be farmers. Of course, they were not made to do all of the hard work that is involved in farming, but they learned the basics so that they would be able to know what to do in a field or when they had to learn to grow food for themselves.
This also taught about the different stages of food production and helped children to understand where their food was coming from. This is also something that has been lost in the modern education system.
Another popular fashion item for girls in the 1950s was Mary Jane shoes. It was hard to find a girl that was not wearing them at the time. Maybe that was in part because they did away with the tiresome fuss of tying laces. The basic pattern of this footwear was a low, open shoe that had a strap across the top that was secured with a buckle or button. Not only were they much more useful, but they were also very cute!
They were a lot easier for parents who were in a rush to help their kids put their shoes on for them and they didn't have to worry about getting help to tie their shoes in the case that they came apart during the day.
Sewing is definitely a lost art in today's world. With the introduction of fast fashion, people don't really feel the need to sew their own clothes or even have the ability to fix their clothes if they break or rip. However, it was considered very important in the 1950s, especially for young women. They were taught it in school and it was a required class so they could learn this basic skill.
It seems that there is a trend for this to become important once again, and sewing classes are often offered in high school for students, but it maybe should be offered at a younger age.
Besides learning how to sew and make your own clothes, perhaps the even more important skill is learning how to mend. And this is something that was taught to children from a young age in the education system of the 1950s. Not only was this good for children to learn basic motor skills, but it was also a very useful general skill to have throughout life. It would help them save money on clothes as well.
Although this was generally prioritized for girls over boys, it is something that could be very useful if brought back into the modern day education system.
It isn’t necessarily the first skill you’d think to teach some kindergartners, but teachers in the ’50s valued children’s ability to carry chairs. While that is probably something that is a bit useful as it relates to how they are able to be physically fit and also help out in the classroom, it does seem like a strange criteria to judge children by for their report cards. It would be funny to see if children failed this requirement.
It does help with the development of motor skills, being helpful, and also general strength and physical activity. Hopefully, all the children passed this category.
While you might think that cooking and baking are the same thing, they are not quite the same. Cooking is defiently more important, as it is a basic life skill that helps people to survive. However, baking makes eating enjoyable and so it is also good that this was taught to children from a young age at school and at home. Of course, little girls had much more of a focus than boys for this at the time
Although it may seem like a waste of time to learn this in school, it really helps their cognitive abilities develop, which can positively impact their academic lives.
If the stories are true that children were expected to walk for long distances in order to get to school and that those distances often included being outside in the cold for long periods of time, then it would make sense that the kids were expected to bundle up properly for the weather. That included scarves, hats, gloves, snow boots, and whatever else was needed to survive the trek to school in the cold and the snow.
Teaching kids how to handle the cold and what to wear in order to stay warm and safe was a very important thing for people in the 1950s. They wanted them to learn basic life skills.
The modern world could do with even just a little bit of the requirement for kindergarteners in Margaret Bramer's class. They had a class where they were taught about kindness and being helpful. They even got a grade and a score which read on the report cards as, “I am kind to others and help them,". This is definitely something that the world could use more of these days (with both children and adults).
Children were often even given extra awards if they went out of their way to be helpful and to be extra kind to others.
If there is one thing that the 1950s was famous for, it was gender roles. Women were expected to be mothers and to stay at home and raise their children. Men were expected to go out and work and be the providers for their families. As a result, children had to get used to the fact that they probably wouldn't see their father too often. Maybe that links to the importance on report cards to learn their father's name.
There are a lot of kids in kindergarten and the surrounding ages who do not know their parents' name even, but it is something that should be learned from a young age.
The CDC no longer recommends having a routine typhoid shot, as children did in the past, so luckily aggressive vaccines at school are now pretty rare. Even in the 1940s and 1950s, cases of typhoid fever were falling. According to the CDC, incidences were down to eight per 100,000 population in the 1940s, compared to 33.8 per 100,000 in the 1920s. While children did get vaccines in school regularly at the time, things would change in the future.
People still have their children get some vaccines at school, however, they have changed the majority of the vaccines from what they were given in the 1950s.
During the ’50s, young girls were taught to master skills that tended to revolve around maintaining a household while young boys were taught that it was more important to learn a trade and to get a job in the future. They were supposed to wear skirts and dresses, while their behavior was encouraged to be more quiet than that of boys. From a young age, they were told to learn what is needed to become a housewife.
It was very specific about what was expected of young girls and how they should use those skills as they grew up. Gender roles were very ingrained in society.
One of the most important things to teach children from a young age is to make sure that they know how to follow specific instructions. For some reason, it seems that children were often tested on this with the use of chairs. Margaret Bramer’s kindergarten teacher in 1954 probably knew what they were doing when they taught the class how to carry chairs “the right way.” in order to place them in the correct formation.
It seems like a pretty funny thing to test students on, but maybe it was more important back in the 1950s than it is today. It is an interesting life skill.
While you probably thought that nursery rhymes were something that was learned from parent to child, that was not necessarily the case. In her book Reading Magic, Mem Fox explains just how important nursery rhymes are for young children. She writes, “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.”
It's funny to think that nursery rhymes were considered so important. They are nice to know, but it seems like people would survive without the knowledge.
So this is one that you probably never expected to see on a report card, but it was included on a report card for Margaret Bramer in the 1950s. It was listed that “I listen nicely to records.” and that is how it was determined if she would get a good grade. It looks like appreciating music is a great thing for a person of any age to do, children included.
They probably also learned how to use the record players without destroying the records in the process, which is quite a feat for a young child.
While you probably wouldn't think that knowing Mother Goose nursery rhymes would be considered something important for children to learn. However, it was considered important for children to learn Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Maybe it was so that they could be a part of society and know general cultural references or maybe it was so that they could learn the skill of rhyming and poetry in a sense for their writing skills.
One of the entries on the students' report cards was to check off, “I can tell rhymes.” Was that that they could recognize rhymes or that they could rhyme?
Kindergartners today are presumably far more familiar with streaming services than they are with record players. But perhaps learning to use one of these vintage record players would be beneficial for kids in today's world. After all, it is pretty simple to use phones and streaming services to listen to music, but records and vinyls can be pretty delicate and you have to make sure that they are used properly.
While consuming music is definitely important for a child, it seems that they valued this so highly because it not only brought about an appreciation for music, but also how to be careful with fragile things.
Although they don't make the most sense, children in the 1950s were often dressed in short-sleeved sweaters., They were especially popular for girls in the 1950s. The sweater would often be worn over a collared blouse and sometimes paired with pants. It is a bit of a funny concept since why would they wear a sweater if it doesn't have sleeves, but they still became quite fashionable regardless of the strangeness.
Girls were just starting to get rid of their skirts and choosing pants instead. In the past, they were only really worn by men, however, that was all about to change.
With the rise of psychology, you could see that approaches to parenting began to change in the 1950s. This was noticed both at home and in the classroom. Harsh discipline fell out of favor for fear it would cause emotional scars and parents and teachers were urged to be more gentle with children and to reprimand them kindly and firmly, but without being overly harsh or aggressive. It was meant to be better for children in the long run.
Prominent pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock became a household name at the time and advised, "Respect children because they're human beings and they deserve respect, and they'll grow up to be better people."
Although you would think that it would be natural for a child to know how to skip and to do it out of choice and somewhat regularly, apparently that is not the case. Few actions represent the joy of childhood more than skipping. It’s a fun and happy thing for kids to do, but it also really helps with their physical development. And that is why it was so important to learn in school.
They would have classes in their physical education courses where they were taught how to skip. Although it is a pretty useless life skill in the long run, at least it was a fun one.