One-room schools were commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Ireland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In most rural (country) and small town schools, all of the students met in a single room. There, a single teacher taught academic basics to five to eight grade levels of elementary-age boys and girls.
The quality of facilities at one-room schools varied with local economic conditions, but generally, the number of children at each grade level would vary with local populations. Most buildings were of simple frame construction, some with the school bell on a cupola. In Midwestern states, sod construction was also used, as well as stone in areas such as portions of the southwest where trees were scarce. In some locations, the schoolhouse was painted red, but most seem to have been white.
The blackboard really is a black board, made of wide boards painted black. It was not until much later that slate was used for chalkboards, although students often had individual slates for writing practice.
Teachers in one-room schools were often former students themselves. During the winter months they would get to the school early to get a fire started in the potbelly stove, so the building would be warm for the students. On many occasions they would prepare a hot, noon meal on top of the stove, usually consisting of soup or stew of some kind.
A typical school day was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of 15 minutes each and an hour period for lunch. “The older students were given the responsibility of bringing in water, carrying in coal or wood for the stove. The younger students would be given responsibilities according to their size and gender such as cleaning the black board (chalkboard), taking the erasers outside for dusting plus other duties that they were capable of doing.
Transportation for children who lived too far to walk was often provided by horse-drawn kid hack or sulky, which could only travel a limited distance in a reasonable amount of time each morning and evening, or students might ride a horse, these being put out to pasture in an adjoining paddock during the day. In more recent times, students rode bicycles.
The school house was the center and focus for thousands of rural communities, hamlets and small towns. Often, town meetings and picnics were also held there.
The vast majority of one-room schools in the United States are no longer used as schools and have either been torn down or converted for other purposes. However, in some rural communities, including among the Amish, one-room or two-room schools are still used, primarily for elementary education, with students graduating to local or regional middle and high schools.