Inside: How to Make a Colonial Hornbook
From the mid-16th century until the 18th century, hornbooks were used as primers to teach young children to read. They were paddle-shaped and usually contained a sheet of paper with the letters of the alphabet and Biblical scriptures, such as the Lord’s Prayer.
Because paper was scarce during this time, particularly in the early American colonies, the hornbook paper needed to last a long time so the item could be used by many children. To protect it, the hornbook paper was covered with a thin, transparent sheet of horn from a cow or other animal, which is how hornbooks earned their name.
Hornbooks also had a handle for holding during lessons. Sometimes they had a small hole for a string so children could wear the hornbook around their neck or waist for convenience and to keep from losing the learning tool.
How to Make a Colonial Hornbook
- Hornbook Sheet (see form below to download the PDF)
- Hornbook Shape Template (see form below to download the PDF)
- Piece of cardboard (or piece of thick paper)
- Glue stick
- Wax paper
- Piece of string (approximately 32″ long)
- (Optional) Gold paper and/or brads
1. Print and cut out a Hornbook Sheet from the Printables. Also, print and cut out the Hornbook Shape Template.
2. Use the template to trace the hornbook shape on cardboard. Cut out.
3. Position the Hornbook Sheet on the cardboard and glue down.
4. Cut out a piece of wax paper to cover the hornbook, but not the handle. Add glue ONLY to the cardboard visible around the hornbook sheet. Position the wax paper over the Hornbook Sheet and press down to secure it to the cardboard. This creates the thin, transparent “horn” covering over the paper.
5. If desired, add gold brads to the corners or strips of gold paper around the border of the hornbook.
6. Using the template as a guide, create a hole on the hornbook handle. Pull the piece of string through and secure the ends together in a square knot.
Place your hornbook around your neck and hold it by the handle as you practice your lessons!
Print the complete hornbook (see Printables) on thick paper, such as card stock. Cut out, punch hole in handle, and add string.
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Did you know…
This project is included in our BCTB Guide for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
It’s also the perfect companion project to accompany these books:
Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.More info →