How to Make a Colonial Hornbook

This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share a commission.

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.

Finished Hornbook Image

How to Make a Colonial Hornbook


How to Make a Colonial Hornbook - Supplies Image
  • 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)
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • 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.

Use the template to trace the hornbook shape on cardboard. Cut out.

3. Position the Hornbook Sheet on the cardboard and glue down.

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.

add gold brads to the corners

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!

Finished Hornbook Image

Alternate Option:

Print the complete hornbook (see Printables) on thick paper, such as card stock. Cut out, punch hole in handle, and add string.

Get a FREE PDF download to Make a Colonial Hornbook

We’ve created a set of FREE PDF Templates to make a Colonial Hornbook. Click the blue button below to download the templates.

Did you know…

This project is included in our BCTB Guide for The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond Book Guide iPad Cover

It’s also the perfect companion project to accompany these books:

Hornbooks & Inkwells

Hornbooks & Inkwells

Hornbooks & Inkwells: Readers follow brothers Peter and John Paul as they work with birch-bark paper and hornbooks

More info →
Buy from Amazon

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

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 →
Buy from Amazon

>>> Click here to see our Pinterest board with Colonial Hornbooks?

Check out these other books about Colonial American History:

The Courage of Sarah Noble
The Cabin Faced West
Johnny Tremain
The Fourth of July Story
Amos Fortune, Free Man
Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books
A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832
Calico Bush
Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos
Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia (Landmark Books)
Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin
Caddie Woodlawn
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Homespun Sarah
Calico Captive
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon
Mr. Revere and I
Of Courage Undaunted: Across the Continent with Lewis & Clark
Paul Revere’s Ride
Poor Richard
Year of the Horseless Carriage: 1801
The Sign of the Beaver
Steamboat School
The Star-Spangled Banner
The Matchlock Gun
Sam the Minuteman
George the Drummer Boy
The Last of the Mohicans
Mary Of Plymouth: A Story of the Pilgrim Settlement
Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride
Molly Bannaky
Dear Benjamin Banneker
Ticktock Banneker’s Clock
Dear Mr. Washington
Indian Captive
A Voice of Her Own: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, Slave Poet
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave
Thy Friend, Obadiah
The New Americans: Colonial Times: 1620-1689
Hornbooks & Inkwells
From a Small Seed – The Story of Eliza Hamilton
Phillis Sings Out Freedom
Leave It to Abigail!: The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams
The Star-Spangled Banner
A More Perfect Union
Our Flag Was Still There
Pilgrim Stories
The Landing of the Pilgrims
The Thanksgiving Story
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Jamestown, New World Adventure
Samuel Eaton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy
Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy In Pilgrim Times
On The Mayflower
The Story of the Pilgrims
Squanto, Friend Of The Pilgrims
The Pilgrims of Plimoth
The Vikings
Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving
The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving
Pilgrim Cat
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
Sarah Morton’s Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl
Mary Of Plymouth: A Story of the Pilgrim Settlement
A Lion to Guard Us
The First Thanksgiving
Three Young Pilgrims
The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims
Children of the Longhouse

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *