BY LILY KONGSLIEN
Special to the Star Journal
Years back, when telephones were not in all homes, it was important to have good writing skills – readable penmanship, correct spelling and proper vocabulary – as we wrote many letters, thank yous and notes to family and friends. Pen pals were popular and an enjoyable pastime for kids as well as adults. We would get to know each other, share experiences and send pictures of ourselves, and sometimes there would be a real meeting with a pen pal. Letters we wrote back and forth revealed the kind of person we were, somewhat the way the computer is used today to meet new friends.
In our rural school, the lower grades wrote in the cursive style beginning in the first grade with the writing of our names. Learning the formation of the capital letters as well as the small letters was accomplished by following the samples of the Palmer method placed in full view of all directly above the blackboards. Penmanship was a regular class for all grades, and each grade wrote at their own level. Penmanship classes were important, as an 8th grade graduate was expected to have good handwriting techniques. Assignments required a lot of writing, and we were expected to use the methods of writing we had learned in penmanship class. Ink pens were used by students in 3rd or 4th grade up through the 8th grade only. The little students wrote with pencils; the ink was not washable in those days.
Vocabulary was important and was taught along with spelling lessons. There was a lot of competition within classes as to who was the best speller. Schools had spelling bees between classes in other nearby schools; it was an exciting time as it was quite an honor to be the winner. This was a wonderful chance to visit other schools within the township. The local newspaper would honor the winners individually, and feature the other entrants, including second and third winners.
There were certificates earned by the students as they completed the Palmer course; they came from Madison and were delivered to the school by the county superintendent of schools or the supervising teacher. They were displayed around the classroom and were the topic of discussion all year. Even if you were not a winner of the spelling bee, you were proud of those certificates.
Dictionary work (vocabulary) was stressed by the teacher within all classes, as we were expected to learn a new word each day. Phonics was important in the rural school program, although there were several years at various times, when the phonics method of reading was not followed in the lower classes. It was determined that those boys and girls who were taught phonics in their lower grade reading classes became the best readers in upper grade reading situations. I firmly believe that phonics should always be used by teachers in the lower age classes, as its use universally breeds good readers.
As a volunteer at the Rural School Museum at Pioneer Park, I had a gentleman come into the school and I could tell by the way he was interested in the artifacts that he was in the education field. He stated that he journeyed around the country to the schools, giving talks on the need for all boys and girls to build a good vocabulary. He stated he would end his talk by writing on the blackboard: “If it is up to be, it is up to me.” It’s amazing what power words have, used in the right way–even little words!
Penmanship, spelling and vocabulary are important for all of us as we express ourselves to others throughout our lives. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet and these can be arranged to make words that fill books and libraries for our pleasure, knowledge and inspiration.
Encourage your children and grandchildren to practice good penmanship, become a good and accurate “speller” and improve and add to their vocabularies in order to increase their success in our wonderful and complicated world.