Hornbooks were named for the thin transparent layers of animal horn that covered the pages attached to them. Examples from Tuer’s History of the Horn-Book, 1896. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Creating a Hornbook

Appropriate for: Grades 1-3
Time: 15 minutes

  • cardboard (can be cardstock or any other sturdy material that can be cut with scissors)
  • paper
  • scissors
  • glue stick or glue
  • a printer
  • hornbook outlines sheet
  • hornbook content sheet

For the people who came to the colonies of New England from Europe in the colonial era, teaching children to read and write was very important. Puritans believed that education, specifically the ability to read, was important so that every citizen could read the Bible.

The first public schools in the colony were founded in the 1640s and by 1717 every town with 100 or more families was required to have one, paid for by parents except when they were too poor to do so. Books and paper were very expensive and rare.

Children would learn the alphabet, numbers, and usually also a prayer or verse though memorization and repetition using “hornbooks.”

Steps for making a hornbook:

Step 1: Print the hornbook outlines and the content sheets.

Step 2: Use the outline as a guide to cut the hornbook shape from cardboard or cardstock.

Step 3: Cut out the content sheets.

Step 4:  Glue the content sheets to each side of the hornbook.

Step 5: Practice reciting your hornbook and try making your own handwritten alphabet, numerals, and phrases to put together another hornbook!

Back to Learning at Home