What Every Farmer's Child Was Expected to Know

Old-Fashioned Advice

October 25, 2017
Old-fashioned Children

Some things can be learned from experience, while others just need to be taught. Here’s what a farmer’s child was expected to know in the year 1867—with a boy’s list and a girl’s list. Growing up on farm is still like nothing else, so we’ve added some more handy and unusual things you might not know if you didn’t grow up on a farm!

Judging from these tips from 1867, the expectations of children between then and now have certainly changed quite a bit!

What Every Farmer’s Boy Should Know

  • To dress himself, black his own shoes, cut his brother’s hair, wind a watch, sew on a button, make a bed, and keep all his clothes in perfect order and neatly in place
  • To harness a horse, grease a wagon, and drive a team
  • To milk cows, shear sheep, and dress veal or mutton
  • To reckon money and keep accounts accurately and according to good bookkeeping rules
  • To write a neat, appropriate, briefly expressed business letter, in a good hand, and fold and superscribe it properly, and to write contracts
  • To plow, sow grain and grass seed, drive a mowing machine, swing a scythe, build a neat stack, and pitch hay
  • To put up a package, build a fire, whitewash a wall, mend broken tools, and regulate a clock

​What Every Farmer’s Girl Should Know

  • To sew and knit
  • To mend clothes neatly
  • To dress her own hair
  • To wash dishes and sweep carpets
  • To trim lamps
  • To make good bread and perform all plain cooking
  • To keep her room, closets, and drawers neatly in order
  • To make good butter and cheese
  • To keep accounts and calculate interest
  • To write, fold, and superscribe letters properly
  • To nurse the sick efficiently and not faint at the sight of a drop of blood
  • To be ready to render efficient aid and comfort to those in trouble, in an unostentatious way
  • To receive and entertain visitors when her mother is sick or absent

Talk about responsibilities! What did children of your day need to know? Tell us in the comments below!

Learn more about old-fashioned etiquette: Victorian Era Etiquette and Manners


The Best of The Old Farmer's Almanac: The First 200 Years


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What a child in my time needed to know

To mow the lawn in summer and shovel the snow in winter. To cross streets safely. Parents didnt chauffer us to school.

Childhood responsibilities

Growing up in the 50’s and early 60’s in a large family, responsibilities were given before the age of 5, watching over younger siblings and light house chores such as clearing the table after each meal. As I got older, by the time I reached the age of 12, I was able to sew all of my dresses and sewed for you younger sisters, wash and iron the clothes, cook a complete meal, bake bread for each day of the week and clean the whole house, help keep the yard swept.

What Every Farmer's Girl ...

I'm a quilter. I have read that at the age of 5 a girl was taught how to piece a simple nine patch square. She was to complete a quilt a year because in ten years she would be of marigable age and would need her own linens. And there was no Walmart then.

Now and Then

I grew up in the city, but ran to the country when I was 20 years old, and married a Farmer. My only sibling was a Girly Girl and I was the Tomboy. Before I was 9 years old I could drive, change a tire, re-wire my mother's vacuum cleaner that she yanked all the plugs off of, shoot a gun with amazing accuracy, paint buildings neatly, and do basic woodworking projects. My father taught me everything HE knew, and told me to never be dependent on my future husband. My first REAL job was as an Auto Mechanic for Sears Auto Centers while I went to school to become a Police Officer, which I DID. Now, as a Senior Citizen, I can still do all those things and all the wife and mom stuff as well. NO ONE should rely on others to do what they can do for themselves, even today, with technology and automatic everything. It's up to Parents to turn off the electronics and teach your kids to be self-sufficient. We could lose the Grid at any time, then what?


Because of the huge change in technology in the last 150 years, it's understandable that times and chores have greatly changed. We have a blended family full of adult millennials. They are of both genders, both political parties and all in their 20's and 30's. They are all hard workers who have chosen different careers, some own homes and some don't, some have children and some don't, some live near us and some don't. t of nine kids, only the youngest still lives with us but has a full-time job and pays his own bills. I'll never understand the term, 'snowflake,' and why people feel the need to somehow insult another person simply because they have made different choices or be held responsible for what parents have or have not taught them. Every generation has worked hard for what they have and that continues with this generation. It's just the kind of work that coincides with the current times. People need to relax.

We learned as kids..

Shoot and dress a deer, keep chickens/ducks/geese , and rabbits and also dress those. Till the garden space, plant it keeping it perfectly weeded (or else!) and then can the produce in the fall. We also helped our folks to seine smelt with a net out of a river, and process the HUGE garbage can full we caught, for the freezer.The girls did all the yard work as well as the laundry, ironing, cooking the meals, and shoveling the snow. For some reason, the boys had no household chores to do! We made the bread every Saturday morning, and did the general housecleaning then as well. We darned socks with a wooden egg as the base, and "darning cotton". I especially liked hunting, and even though I am a grandma now, I am still out there every fall. I taught both grand daughters to hand dip candles, grow a small garden space and harvest the vegetables. They gather eggs while here, and are learning to sew.

What Every Farmer's Child Should Know

Some of the comments about today's youth are pretty harsh. First of all, this article is about FARMER'S children; this has nothing to do with urban or suburban children. It's comparing apples to oranges. Secondly, it is exactly because life on the farm was so difficult that parents wanted an easier life for their children. They wanted their children to get an education so they could have options other than farming, or other physically demanding labor.
So, if you need to blame anyone for today's soft, entitled, "snowflakes" look in the mirror. Today's youth didn't get this way in a vacuum. They are the result of decisions made by previous generations.
Apparently, there is still a great division between country and city folks. We need to value the farmer's old ways of hard work, self sufficiency, and caring for our neighbors, while also respecting the advancements that have been made, in many cases, by those who moved into the cities and got higher education.
Life is challenging enough without having to endure the judgement and denigration of others.

Times change

150 years ago is a long time. Things change. I've read these comments. Why are children in 2019 judged for not knowing how to do some of the things their great-great grandparents had to do? I'm a grandmother now myself but recall my parents, both children of farmers, worked hard all their lives. Both wanted their children to have lives better than theirs were. My father taught us to hunt & fish & forage before we were five. Mother taught us to cook, sew, clean and put up vegetables from the garden. But they wanted us to get a good education so we wouldn't have to work as hard as they did. My mother always said we should be able to play, enjoy childhood while we could, as we'd spend the rest of our adult lives working. From age six my mother worked her fingers to the bone, helping raise her nine younger siblings, helping work indoors and out. Never had the chance to go to school ( past 5th grade) in the 1930's. At age 95 she still regrets that she didn't finish school.
The values they taught my siblings and myself were to treat others the way we'd like to be treated. And to judge not, lest ye be judged. The world's changed a lot. Judging todays' children by standards of 150 yrs. ago isn't really helping anyone.

Some change is good.

I agree, partially. A lot of the things kids used to do and what was expected of them was really great, and made them into more solid citizens. But along with knowing how to do those things it seems there was more innocence back then too. Kids now know a lot more about things they shouldn't from a young age, but it is not their fault. It is the fault of "progress" and growing up in the information age. I would love to at least see Home Ec taught in schools again, classes with real life skills, including some physical stuff too. Kids today don't have to work really hard physically like in days of old. In some ways it's awful but in other ways quite fortunate. Just tour any old graveyard and see the headstones of many children who died much too young. We always assume they died from illness, but I'm betting many of them died by having to work around heavy machinery or any other thing us "modern" folks would never let our young children around today.

Kids Today

Young kids need to learn to TEXT with both thumbs.
Early teens need to be able to do above while walking especially while crossing the street.
Mid to later teens need to be able to do above while driving a car.



Kids today


What kids did

I could wind a watch, make my bed properly, clean...meaning baseboards, too, every week. I had to learn embroidery, set a proper table, sew, cook and bake. Also, I had to figure change and sums in my head for transactions, shovel snow, mow grass, help with canning, as well as picking. And, I worked, earning my own money: half of which had to go into savings, go camping and learn how to cook on an open fire. C: 1950s

What I had to know as a kid

I was born in the early 50s and grew up on a farm. By the age of 5 I knew how to wash dishes, clean floors and rake yards and hand tobacco, as I grew in age so did my responsibilities. I was expected to help (there were 4 of us kids) with all planting, hoeing, watering, picking, processing of all our vegetables. I was taught how to hunt and fish - rule you killed it you clean it and get it ready to cook or process for the freezer. Was taught how to process corn for feed for all the live stock, to water live stock and to kill, properly clean and process them for the freezer. I can drive almost anything. Rule at my house growing up - you have chores, do them right the 1st time and if no work no eat. Never work on Sunday except to cook and clean dishes - it’s the Lord’s day.

Are those sweet potatoes in

Are those sweet potatoes in that wagon?

Good question!

Read your question and had to take a second look at the photo. They do appear to be sweet potatoes, but wish we knew for certain as those are the largest sweet potatoes I believe I've ever seen!
When I hear that saying 'they don't make things the way they used to' ( which is So True ) now I think we don't grow things the way we used to either.

What I had to know as a kid ...

I had to know:
How to wash, dry, fold and put away laundry
How to mop floors
How to do dishes
Basically, all household chores
Mow, rake, shovel snow
How to negotiate for labor
How to drive a tractor
Bail hay
How to ride a bicycle
How to catch a snake
How to roll a newspaper
How to collect for delivery, reconcile my paper costs, keep a collection log
How to cast a fly rod
How to clean and cook fish
How to hunt, clean and cook small game
How to make sauerkraut
How to freeze fresh produce and can tomatoes
How to swim
How to ride a mini bike
How to build a tree house!

Good comments, below. A

Good comments, below. A recurring themes seems to be comparison of the current snowflake generation to the generation of 1867. Today's kids are too soft. Heaven forbid there is a national emergency with them in charge.

You are so correct

I too fear for our grandchildren and the future of our country. WORK??? That is the 4 letter word that Dobbie Gillis refused to say.


Please refrain from the term "snowflake". I know where that comes from and by using it I know your political leanings. We don't need to get political on a post about what children were like decades ago.


Sorry, but I don't see anything wrong with trying to determine which political party has turned kids into what they are today! Could it be the party that stands for accepting personal responsibility for their actions, or the one who coddles them and tells them nothing is their fault? We can tell by your posts why you don't like the term! Just let it go and don't try to police everyone's posts because you don't agree with them. Let the Almanac do that if they feel it's necessary.


What is a Snowflake? The only Snowflake I know usually comes down in the winter. What are you all talking about? This is a real question, for me. I don't know what you mean, nor its derivation.

What kids knew

1965. Make a bed army style, keep bedroom clean and neat, police the area around the house, for trash and clean it up. Write thank you notes and send them. Baby sit for others, earning money and keeping track of it. Purchasing clothing and other things with own money. Know how to clean dishes and do all housework. Know how to do general cooking. Fix your own hair. Make dresses from patterns. Help hang clothes on line and fold or iron when dry. Walk to school.

what kids knew

Read an old education primer from the 20's once. What kids had to know about American history put me to shame

What Kids Should Know -

We could mess this generation up if we cut off the electric and tossed the phones. They would not have the skills these kids were required to have. Not sure they could even write a proper business letter. :)

What Kids Should Know

From what I've seen on social media-both adults and children-none of them can form a complete sentence using correct sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Nor do they know the correct tense or use of words/contractions/homonyms.
Most posts are one long run on sentence.

What kids should know

Ironic comment considering your own imperfect use of grammar and punctuation.

What Kids should know...

The world would of turned out a whole lot different if we would have stuck with it.
Too bad we didn't

these boys would grow up to

these boys would grow up to be real men and never ever wear a man bun! sigh...alas no more...

How old are the children who

How old are the children who are supposed to do all this? I can understand by the age of 8 they should have been able to milk a cow feed chickens and collect eggs and gather fire wood. Girls should have known how to make beds, wash dishes sweep floors and do simple sewing. But using sharp tools making fires and other hazardous jobs shouldn't have been done by any child under the age of 10. I know children had to grow up fast back then but hopefully within reason.