In 1690 Benjamin Harris printed the first edition in Boston. Students used the New England Primer to learn how to read. Students in New England and other English settlements used the Primer. Benjamin Harris printed a similar version in London and students used through the 19th century. Before the 1790’s the New England Primer was the foundation of most schooling in America. Before the 17th century no literature was specifically aimed at children’s readership, so the New England Primer helped to define what children’s literature was. The Puritans were the first to write books for children in both England and America. The Puritans emphasis on the importance of reading as a way to spiritual salvation convinced them to produce books for children.
The people of Puritan Massachusetts believed that children who could not read were Satan’s attempt to keep kids from religion. The Puritans passed a law stating that all kids were to learn to read. The Primer taught kids to read while teaching them different scriptures along the way.
Each alphabet letter provided a woodcut picture and a religious phrase for the kids to remember. First appearing in the New England Primer was the Children’s Prayer. Which says, “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the lord my soul to keep and if I should die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” The New England Primer includes a variety of genres across a range of reading levels: alphabets, emblems, proverbs, prayers, poetry, and moral tales. The Primer also contains religious questions and phrases that will challenge children’s thinking.
The New England Primer was used for reading, vocabulary development, and moral and religious instruction. The New York 1750 edition of The New England Primer begins with letters. It starts off with the lower case letters on the top, then down to vowels and consonants, then double letters, italic letters and double italic letters. Next they have syllables and then they have words which contain one, two, three, four, and five syllables. After that there is the alphabet which contains all 26 letters and each includes different pictures to go along with different verses for each one. After the alphabet is the Lord’s Prayer and Creed which contains the Ten Commandments. The Lord’s prayer goes like this, “OUR Fa-ther which art in Hea-ven, hal-low-ed be thy Name.
Thy King-dom come. Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Hea-ven. Give us this Day our dai-ly Bread. And for-give us our Debts as we for-give our Deb-tors. And lead us not in-to Temp-ta-ti-on, but de-li-ver us from Evil, for thine iss the King-dom, the Pow-er and the Glo-ry, for ever, AMEN” ( Next it talks about Poetry and it talks about John Rogers after that. Then they talk about rules and advice which contains different prayers.
Some of the prayers are grace before and after meal and a prayer to be said before bed. The Boston 1803 edition of The New England Primer begins with letters. On the top of the page where the capital letters and then the bottom had the small letters.
The next section to come were the syllables. The syllables were easy syllables for children. Then came the words. First were the words with only one syllable, then two syllables (accented on the first and last), then came three syllables (accented on the first, second, and last), and finally came words with four and five syllables. Next came the letters of the alphabet, each followed by a verse or moral dictum and an illustration to emphasize the meaning: On the left of the page was the letter “A,” with a small drawing of a man and woman contemplating an apple, accompanied on the right with the verse, “In Adam’s Fall, We Sinned all.” Next came the letter “B,” with a small image of an open book fortified by “Thy Life to mend, This Book attend.” For the letter “C,” with an illustration of a cat playing with a mouse, the verse stating, “The Cat doth play, And after slay.” After the alphabet came the Instructive Questions and Answers.
Then came John Rogers, followed by the Ten Commandments and then the prayers. Finally came poetry, followed by Catechism which provides many questions and answers, and more poetry to round it off. Children in today’s generations have to learn to make the connection between sounds and letters. With their being 44 spoken English sounds it requires kids to be able to make the connections of each letter in a word. Children must understand that written words/letters are connected to word/letter sounds and these are necessary for accurate and rapid word reading skills.
According to G. Reid Lyon, “Phoneme awareness and the development of the alphabetic principle are so critical for beginning readers because if children cannot perceive the sounds in spoken words – for example, if they cannot “hear” the at sound in fat and cat and perceive that the difference lies in the first sound, they will have difficulty decoding or “sounding out” words in a rapid and accurate fashion” (Lyon 2017). Children that are good readers are phonemically aware and understand the alphabetic principle.
There are so many ways that kids can learn to read in today’s world. There are also so many differences between the way kids learned in the 17th and 18th century compared to the way kids learn now. All kids in the 17th and 18th century were taught to read by the New England Primer but kids nowadays are taught to read in so many different ways. I think that parents should have a choice on how they teach their kids before they enter preschool. Nowadays families aren’t super religious like they were back then and the New England Primer taught kids to read while also teaching them about religion. Religion was very important to most families in the 19th century. I believe that the New England Primer was a great start to allow kids to read and that it helps them to also learn about religion at the same time.
I think it would be easier for all kids to learn the same thing but if the family isn’t religious then they are forced to be religious just to be accepted by their people. It interests me what families did back in the 16th-19th century that weren’t religious. If families weren’t religious then were their kids allowed to still read from the Primer or what other option did they have to teach their kids if they weren’t allowed to read from the Primer. Were there other options for kids to learn to read or were they just bound to follow the devil’s wishes.