Remembering Elementary School Days in the 1960s

I often wish my sons could experience what elementary school was like in the 1960s.  I have fond memories of those days.  It seems days back then were more carefree and well, just a lot different from things today.

Don’t get me wrong.  My kids went to a fantastic elementary school which was run by a wonderful principal who believed in discipline.  She ran a tight ship.  The teachers (most of them anyway) were great.  If I had to change something about their elementary education, quite frankly, I can’t think of much I would change.

But I would still love to be able to take my sons back to the days I was in elementary school just so they could get a taste of what it was like back then.  I started first grade in 1965.  In all honesty, my first grade teacher, Miss Whitworth, instilled a lot of fear into me.  She always wore purple or blue dresses and wore her gray hair in the back of her head in a bun.  She seemed ancient to me back then but in reality was only in her 60s.  She was a spinster and she reminded me of the scary cartoon lady on the front of the box of Old Maid cards.  Rumor had it she had a glass eye but I couldn’t tell.  I never knew how she lost her eye.  She never talked about it.  Both of my older sisters had Miss Whitworth for a teacher and my mother wanted me to have her too.  Miss Whitworth believed in firm discipline and looking back, she took it to the extreme sometimes.  If you acted out in her classroom, she thought nothing about rapping you across the hands with her short wooden ruler.  She left deep red welt marks on the little hands that were unfortunate enough to be rapped with her ruler.  I also remember her pulling boys by their ears.  I can remember vividly, her pulling a little boy who sat in the desk in front of me by the ear all the way up to her desk.  When he returned sometime later, his ear was a deep maroon red and all puffy and swollen.  I remember even my six-year-old self thinking this was wrong.  Yes, I was scared terrified of Miss Whitworth at times.  While I certainly don’t applaud or agree with how she disciplined her students (I do believe no matter how you look at it, it was abuse), I do remember she was greatly respected as a teacher back in those days.  The principle respected her.  The other teachers respected her.  The parents respected her.  You learned when you had Miss Whitworth for a teacher.  Her students always excelled in the 2nd grade.  And as strange as this sounds, though I feared her, there was something about her that I couldn’t help but like.  Though I didn’t agree with or like how she chose to discipline, I did, even then at my young age, get the feeling she was an effective teacher.  Like I said, things were a lot different back then.

Back in those days, first and second graders used the big fat Husky pencils.  They came in different colors (red, blue, green and yellowish-green), and let me tell you, it was a BIG deal to have a brand new Husky pencil!   I can still remember my dad taking me out to the corner five and dime store where he would let me pick out a brand new Husky pencil. I laugh at that now.  How it was such a big deal back then to buy a brand new pencil.  How that made us kids so happy.  I imagine kids today with their fancy phones and iPods don’t get too excited over a new fat pencil.  I remember one day Miss Whitworth called me up to her desk.  I was mortified.  I was very shy and quiet.  My main goal was to lay low and go unnoticed in her classroom.  I knew by the tone of her voice that I had done something that had not pleased her.  I was in trouble.

Husky pencils.  I also remember them coming in a yellowish green color. Photo credit: www.brandnamepencils.com

Husky pencils. I also remember them coming in a yellowish green color.
Photo credit: http://www.brandnamepencils.com

I had just gotten a brand new red pencil (and boy was I ever proud of my brand new shiny pencil) and Miss Whitworth called me  up to her desk and asked me to bring my pencil with me.  I obeyed.  She proceeded to snatch my brand new pencil right out of my small six-year-old little hand, took out her rather large pair of metal black handled scissors, and right there in front of me, she cut off my eraser.  The eraser on my BRAND NEW Husky pencil.  I was devastated.  She told me I was erasing too hard and had erased a big hole in my paper which she made clear to me she would not tolerate.  First graders tend do those things when they’re learning fine motor skills.  I cried and mourned my new pencil which didn’t look so new anymore.  But you can bet that I never EVER erased another hole in my paper.

Miss Whitworth's first grade classroom.  I'm in the middle row-- 6th from the left in the red and white dress. 1965

Miss Whitworth’s first grade classroom. I’m in the middle row– 6th from the left in the red and white dress.
1965

I remember everyone back in those days was expected to come to school with just a few supplies.  With my kids it seems we would start the first day of school walking in carrying no less than three grocery bags full of supplies.  Back in the 60s, we were expected to bring a school box which was a cardboard cigar box.  There were no fancy plastic “school boxes”  (or none that I can recall anyway).

Cigar boxes served as our school boxes back in the 60s.  My father smoked cigars so they were plentiful in our household.   Photo credit: www.the nostalgiashop.co.uk

Cigar boxes served as our school boxes back in the 60s. My father smoked cigars so they were plentiful in our household.
Photo credit: http://www.the nostalgiashop.co.uk

photo credit: www.the nostalgiashop.co.uk

photo credit: http://www.the nostalgiashop.co.uk

These cigar boxes fit nicely in our desks and held our crayons, our Husky pencils and our school paste which came in plastic jars with a plastic spreader.  I can still smell that paste which as I recall had a sort of  peppermint smell to it.  No wonder kids were always eating or tasting their paste!  We each had a first grade writing tablet (lined) and a drawing tablet (unlined).  We were allowed to go to the school’s bookstore in the mornings to buy school supplies as needed.

First grade writing paper.  Ours came in a tablet (or pad) as did our drawing paper photo credit:  www.quill.com

First grade writing paper. Ours came in a tablet (or pad) as did our drawing paper
photo credit: http://www.quill.com

Back in the 60s, kids didn’t carry backpacks to school.  We had book satchels.  They were usually leather or some sort of imitation leather and usually brown or black.  I remember mine was brown and it had plaid material inserts on the front with a matching plaid pencil-case inside.  The book satchels had a long strap you could carry on one shoulder as well as a handle.  They closed with buckles so they weren’t always easy to get in and out of in a hurry.

Teachers wrote on a chalkboard (or blackboard).  There were no dry erase boards or dry erase markers.  We took turns cleaning the erasers.  I always liked cleaning the erasers which was done usually by taking them outside and “clapping” them together to remove the chalk dust.  In my later elementary years, I remember a machine you ran the erasers through that removed the chalk dust automatically.  Some teachers used cleaning erasers as a form of punishment while others let the more well-behaved students clean the erasers as a reward.

Photo Credit:  Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

We received Weekly Reader magazines weekly which was always a big deal.  These were classroom magazines which contained age appropriate stories with illustrations, current events, puzzles and cartoons.  My mother always subscribed to summer weekly readers which my sisters and I always looked forward to getting in the mail.

Girls wore dresses to school.  Pants were not allowed until I was in the 6th grade and even then, they had to be “pantsuits.”  Yep, we girls in our fancy dresses, climbed monkey bars, slid down slides, and rode on seesaws.  We did everything the boys did and more.

In the early grades, we had milk breaks in the afternoon.  I’ll never forget lining up to go to the cafeteria for milk break and drinking our milk out of the carton with the white paper straws (that left a papery taste in your mouth).  I didn’t care much for milk breaks. My husband remembers the teachers taking the straws away from some of the kids who thought it was fun to blow bubbles in their milk.

As far as music, I remember learning to play the xylophone in 2nd and 3rd grade and in 4th grade I recall learning to play the little black song flutes.  They were made out of hard molded plastic and resembled small recorders but we called them flutes.  The classroom teachers taught us to play those (no music teacher was brought in).  Later, in 5th or 6th grade, you could join band or violin.  I joined the band and chose to play the trumpet. There weren’t too many female trumpet players back then but I was determined that I could do anything a boy could do.  Nobody was going to stop me from playing a musical instrument because of my gender.

Our elementary school did not have a school nurse.  The clinic was run by parent volunteers.  And it worked just fine that way.  Scraped knees and fevers were the most common things seen at the clinic.

I remember everyone had a metal lunch box back in those day.  I had a Mary Poppins lunchbox and thermos.  I still have it.  It was a noisy lunch room with all those metal boxes!  The metal thermoses had glass liners and kids were forever dropping their thermoses and breaking them.  I remember the school lunch room ladies dressing up on Halloween and turning the lights off.  Teachers ate in the cafeteria at a central table.  If you acted up at lunch, you had to take your tray up on the stage and eat in front of everybody.  If you still acted up, off you went to the Principal’s office.

We said The Pledge of Allegiance every morning.  The principal read a poem on the intercom every morning, made the announcements, and I believe even said a short prayer (boy have times changed).  Different classrooms would take turns singing on various mornings on the intercom.  I remember my second grade classroom getting to sing “Up on the Rooftop” at Christmas time which was a big deal.

I loved elementary school.  I sometimes wish I could revisit those days. They were happy days.  I still see my elementary school principal.  After all those years, he still remembers me and my two sisters by name.  He always remembered my mother (who was very active at the school– in the PTA, as a room mother, and working in the school clinic).  He always recalled her red hair.  He was nice enough to come to my mother’s funeral visitation 6 years ago to pay his respects.

Gail ♥       

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About Gail

I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, veterinarian, and wanna be writer. I love nature and animals of all kinds, music, cooking, and spending time with my family.
This entry was posted in Childhood memories, School and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Remembering Elementary School Days in the 1960s

  1. Jakob says:

    I remember the discipline you write about. I started about the same time as you. The teachers did not hit our hands with rulers but did paddle us freely. I had my ears pulled a time or two and we had to sit up face the front. I feared my kindergarten teacher and she was not old. She had high standards and a big paddle she called “Uncle Henry”. As I went up in grade teachers expected more. If I did poorly I was given extra work, I remember recess and we got 3 a day but the teachers would take these away or make you stand against the wall for discipline as well
    I thought pulling ears was wrong and especially hated being paddled in front of the class.
    But I did learn and when I behaved had some fun times.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a teacher who actually named their paddle! Makes me curious as to who she named her paddle after! I have a vivid memory of being in 3rd grade and one of my female classmates acting out. I remember the teacher making her come to the front of the class. She put a chair in the front and I remember she bent the girl over her knee, pulled up her dress (exposing her underpants for all to see) and proceeded to paddle her in front of the whole class. I remember thinking this was wrong. I do remember the girl was misbehaving badly and thinking yes, she did deserve some sort of discipline, but I just felt what the teacher did was inappropriate.

  2. Susan says:

    I loved reading your article! It brought back so many memories. We used to pat the erasers on the side of the school. It was a priviledge to be assigned the duty of raising the flag in the morning and lowering the flag when school was done. That’s how I learned to fold the flag. A movie would take the place of recess on rainy days. I can remember a class assignment to write a letter to Smokey the Bear in 4th grade. The teacher wanted us to learn how to mail a letter. So we walked(just a block from school) to the post office an mailed it. (with her permission) Kick Ball, Dodge Ball,Steal the Bacon and Jump Rope(red hot pepper and double dutch) Hop Scotch were some of the many games we played. Field Day was the best. Girls were aloud to wear shorts. I could go on and on. Thank you so much for bringing back the memories of carefree innocence..

    • Gail says:

      Thanks Susan for your nostalgic comment…. you brought back many memories for me as well. I also remember getting to watch the raising and the lowering of the flag in elementary school and yes, it was an honor to watch! As I recall, I think our patrol boys actually got the honor of lowering and raising the flag. I remember all the rainy day recess games we would play in the classroom— eraser tag, heads up 7-Up, etc. I also remember my 3rd grade teacher teaching us to make paper hats out of a sheet of notebook paper. We would make the hats and she would pop popcorn and fill our hats up and the hats served as our popcorn “bowl.” I also remember playing hopscotch and all the jump rope games. And yes, kick ball, dodge ball, and tag!

      I think writing letters to Smokey the Bear was a great idea. For some reason, I think the art of letter writing is now a lost art! Oh, those were sure the good ole days! Thanks for the wonderful memories!!

  3. Terresa says:

    Do you remember speed reading? I am writing a poem about that…in my school in North Florida, we did speed reading with a projector of some sort shining words on a screen. A line of words ran across the screen, faster and faster with time. I believe we were tested to see how much we comprehended at the various speed. It always made me nervous!

    • Gail says:

      Terresa,

      I don’t remember speed reading. That does sound very nerve-wracking!!

    • Pam says:

      I do! 8th grade! Loved it!

      • Brenda Parks says:

        I loved doing that speed reading. I describe it to people because it was the foundation for my speed reading skill although I don’t think it did much for comprehension! I saw one in the Salvation Army window for 19.99. It is called an EDI Controlled Reader. But it didn’t have any film so couldn’t test if it worked.

  4. ahaqlj says:

    Hello,I’m a reader of your article from china.I come across this article by chance. And I love this article. I can feel that you have a fond memory of your childhood and elementary school. How time flies. I was born in 80s, but to my surprise, after reading this article I find that most of your experience of elementary school are similar to my experience in elementary school in 90s in a small city in china. for example,you said you cleaned the erasers by taking them outside and “clapping” them together to remove the chalk dust. I used to do that,too. interesting.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks for visiting the blog and thank you for your comment. It’s always fun to think back on our elementary school days and reminisce. My kids went to elementary school in the 90s and they were not exposed to chalkboards at all. Their school had white dry erase boards so they missed out on clapping erasers!

  5. Shawn says:

    Just skimmed through your story, but will read it completely in a bit. I was hoping someone might know the name of that paste… I’d mentioned it to a friend (about the smell and taste), but she had no idea what I was talking about. Got me wondering if I’d gone to ‘special’ school or something. Anyway would love to see an actual picture of that stuff, maybe it’s still around, I don’t know.

    • Gail says:

      I’m pretty sure Elmer’s made a school paste. Also, I believe LePage’s was a popular brand. I can still smell that minty smell now!

      • Susan says:

        It was Elmer’s Glue. I remember the smell.. Just like Play Dough (a very distinct smell)

  6. Terry Brennan says:

    I loved your article! Oh, the memories it bring. I remember using bricks under our feet at our desk if we were to short to each the floor. Sometimes discipline was standing at the blackboard with our nose in a circle drawn with chalk. The smell of fresh copies made from the memo graph at the office was something that I remember well.It was an honor to be asked to retrieve them from the office, too. We had milk in the mornings if we had 2 cents. Can you imagine 2 cents for a carton of white or chocolate milk? What a treat that was! Remember Tom, Betty, and Susan? Dick, Jane, and Sally? And Alice and Jerry? Love the nostalgia!

    • Gail says:

      Your comment made me smile. Yes i do remember the rare discipline of the teacher making someone stand at the chalkboard with their nose in a chalk circle. I still can smell all those mimeographed papers being handed out and how everyone would immediately stick their noses on them and smell them! And yes, I remember Dick, Jane, Sally and especially Tip and Mitten! Wonderful memories!!

  7. We share similar memories of elementary school. My teacher in first grade would rap us on the fingers with her pen, and once she put me in the corner for talking. She was the only teacher I can remember disciplining me like that and I’ll never forget the feeling of humiliation it gave me.

  8. Jeanie says:

    Does anyone else remember hanging our papers in the hallways of grade school. There was a chair railing thingie, and there were special metal clips (black) that slid under the chair railing to hold our papers up. No tape was allowed on the walls, ever! What is that metal clip called, and does anyone know if there is any place that still sells them?

    • Gail says:

      I don’t remember these in our elementary school. I think our pictures and papers were taped on the walls. I think I remember seeing those in my sons’ elementary school but don’t know what they were called.

  9. D. Michael LLoyd says:

    The Weekly Reader brought back memories. I even remember the cartoon with a monkey and an elephant i.e. Peanut and Jocko. It was in a weekly reader I first learned of Lasers LOL I even remember the day in 1959 when we added 2 stars to our flag. However, my strongest memories are of the weekly auditorium, or assembly we all attended. There we all sang from old songbooks. Many of those songs would never pass today’s politically correct test. Neither would our prayer, but those were different times
    and I sometimes nostalgically think back with fond memories. Thanks for the article, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read and for your nice comments. I agree…. those were different times we lived in. I have very fond memories as well.

  10. Randy Dylan Jensen says:

    Hi Gail, I stumbled across this, while trying to remember some of the old songs, that we sang in Grade School.
    You’ve done a great job here, brings back a lot of memories. Thanks.. for the trip down memory lane.

    • Gail says:

      Thanks for reading. Wish I could remember some of those songs too.

    • Rock Drumr says:

      Ditto! A friend and I are trying to remember the songs we sang in elementary school, so I thought I’d cheat and get some help. 😀 I went to a Baptist church school, so most of the songs were about Jesus; but, I did remember Oh, Susanna, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, and, I can’t remember the name to this one, it may be North (or South), Dakota. It is about lumberjacks. The only lyrics (along with the tune), that I remember are –
      “The men chopped down ’bout a hundred trees, before they went to lunch – North Dakota”, (or South, lol.)

      Great article, by the way! 🙂

      • Gail says:

        I remember “You’re a Grand Ole Flag,” Down in the Valley, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, This Land is Your Land, and The Itsy Bitsy Spider. I don’t remember the lumber jack song.

  11. gill norman says:

    nice

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