Early Childhood Education, 1938 version

Preschool learning by doing.

Guest post by Charles Clanton Rogers, pictured here before his blogging days.

“Catch that bird! Don’t let that chicken get away, Charles!”

I was four years old, enrolled in  Grandmother’s Biology & History class.  On that morning we covered the food chain, the hunt, the kill, butchering, anatomy of a hen, and introduction to animal reproduction.

This was 1938 Oklahoma. Money was scarce for everyone. My great inherited fortune was not money, but family. I was an only child and only grandchild of a doting family. I was kind of a “prince” of an infinitely small principality consisting of five adults and one little boy.

I didn’t know it then, but the entire country was mired in the Great Depression. In our state, dust bowl conditions were destroying farms and forcing “Okies” into a desperate exodus in pursuit of California jobs.

vintage unschooling,

Farm equipment buried in dust. Image: americaslibrary.gov

Back to the morning’s Biology & History lesson. Grandma and I were “the hunters.” We caught that chicken, terminated its earthly journey, then plucked and cleaned it. I learned comparative anatomy as Grandmother identified the hen’s internal structures. She talked about the chicken and egg as a circle of life. Then she coated the pieces in egg and flour, and fried it along with fresh okra that we picked from her garden (we were the “gatherers” too). After lunch was my Music lesson, which meant Grandmother sang.

That was just the morning.

My grandmother earned supplemental income by sewing clothes for ladies in the community.  That responsibility couldn’t be neglected.  Her sewing machine was a Singer foot trade model.  She sat with both feet on the treadle. Pumping it back and forth moved a belt from the treadle up to a pulley attached to the needle mechanism. I didn’t realize it then, but observing the mechanical action was itself a Physics lesson.


Image: oldsingersewingmachineblog.files.wordpress.com

Grandmother would spread the material out on the floor and pin the pattern pieces. She trusted me to cut pieces around the patterns with pinking shears. I knew a mistake could cause waste and expense so I took this responsibility very seriously.

While she was making a dress, I had my own little sewing projects. I learned how to thread a needle and sew two pieces of cloth together.  It seemed like a way to pass the time, but that early sewing experience came in handy years later when I became a physician.

When I tired of sewing I passed the time with coloring books and Crayolas . I think I had 8 or 10 colors.

After dinner, Grandmother read to me. (The Little Engine That Could
was my favorite.)

Grandmother had plenty of other things to do, but whatever she was doing I was part of her team.  Often she impressed upon me that I needed to learn my lessons well, because I was going to grow up and have children and students and it would be my sacred responsibility to teach them the things she taught me just as her parents had taught her when she was a girl.

Grandmother’s love was undeniable. She certainly knew, as the poet wrote, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

Every waking moment was an education. That suited me just fine.  It did not occur to me that the immersive learning of my early years were in any way unusual.  My “preschool/home school” didn’t have any names or labels. It was just Life. I thought it was what everyone did.

George Gershwin and DuBois Heyward wrote Porgy & Bess in 1934, my birth year. The lyrics of its immortal song, Summertime, could have been the theme of my preschool years:

One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing,

And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky,

But ’til that morning, there ain’t nothin’ can harm you….

hush little baby, don’t you cry.


I became acquainted with retired physician and teacher Charles Clanton Rogers when he commented on one of my posts. Charles enjoyed writing about history, science, art, and music, but my favorites among his work described living with a sense of astonishment. As he wrote,  “I have an idea of what it is like to experience life before a thing is known; and then to witness its deployment. ” I rarely offer guest posts but when I asked, he gladly shared glimpse of a lovingly guided early education with us. This lovely man recently passed away and I still miss our lively exchanges.  

11 thoughts on “Early Childhood Education, 1938 version

  1. What a beautifully written recollection! I love Gershwin. My mom told me stories of going to a little dance hall in her little town and watching her mom and dad dancing to the live music. She says that some of the big names even came through Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman. Thank you again for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, too funny. My life was almost identical, but the year was reversed, 1983 instead of 1938 – but same grandmother’s biology and history lessons, same sewing machine that grandma made clothes for village ladies…. That sewing machine is identical to the one we explored, rummaged through those little drawers, and grandma would get mad when we messed with it, because “it was very expensive”. I had never seen Crayolas in my childhood, we just had some wooden pencils, and that pretty much had to do. 🙂 Thank you for sharing these memories!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a fantastic article! I am the Principal of an amazing pre-school in Johannesburg, South Africa, and we are completely passionate about Early Years learning. We believe absolutely in the power and importance of stimulating and incidental learning in the first 7 years and this article just endorses what we believe in so perfectly, I will definitely share it with my staff and parents – thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My grandmother had that identical Singer sewing machine in her house. We still have it there. The house is now used for farm stay guests and the sewing machine is just a decoration. But back in those days they revolutionized sewing. Thanks for stirring up some pleasant memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Early Childhood Education Journal | Early Childhood Parenting

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