The Connection: School Days

The six-year-old son of Amish friends just started attending school a little over a month ago.  I’ve known them since he was in a cradle, and have watched him grow up incrementally (seeing them roughly every six months for the past five+ years).

When I last saw them I remarked that this would probably be the last time that he and I wouldn’t be able to communicate freely.  Til now we have gotten by with my sparse PA German vocab, and with the little English he knew.  It will be strange to hear him speaking and understanding more English when I see them again in February.

Connection School Days Milford IndianaSome Amish children pick up on English faster than others.  For example I was able to communicate in English fairly well with the three-year-old son of other friends. Children of parents who have businesses dealing with the public likely pick up English quicker.  Some children may even prefer speaking English amongst themselves.

Speaking of school, the Connection magazine carries a “School Days” feature in each issue.  Below is a sample featuring the West Hastings School of Milford, Indiana, with some comments from teacher Wayne Hochstetler.

I remember when school always started in September.  Going back in August?  Way too early.  A good ground rule: if the leaves are still green, keep the school doors shut.  And year-round school, well that was a concept that struck terror in little boys’ hearts.

West Hastings Amish School




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    1. Brenda Henry

      As I write this, I see six of my Amish neighbors children walking the 3 miles to their school this morning, each with their lunch box in hand. Our little community has 30 scholars in the little one room school. The third Thursday of April is the annual Amish school fundraiser, which is a consignment auction and bake sale. People come from far and near. I believe this coming April will be the 9th year. What an event it is!

    2. This resonates with me. When Hutterite children start school, they too know little to know English, since we speak a German dialect we call Hutterisch. And like your Amish friends, here some families are exposed to more English, so those children will be able to say some things in their second language.

    3. correction

      Hmmm, seems my English needs some work as well. (-: That should say: ‘little to no’ English.

    4. LeeAnn

      I think the newspaper that was started up at the school is a great idea. It helps the kids to learn and grow, can help them with future jobs, and brings in the necessary funds for fieldtrips that are either educational or just for fun for the kids.

      What a wonderful thing to have these kids involved and learning about getting a paper out, etc. Smart teacher there.

    5. Alice Mary

      Ah, school days!

      I LOVE the Connection, especially the school days section, as I like to share it with my teacher-daughter. I’ve only subscribed to it for about 5 months, but I’m trying to read it cover-to-cover for some “authentic” Amish goings-on (I’m running behind, only up to the August issue).

      I don’t think I’ve heard of a “school newsletter” among the Amish—is this a unique idea at this particular school? It looks as though someone types it—I’m guessing on a typewriter? Even that much “technology” seems like it wouldn’t be embraced by the Amish. (But what do I know?)

      Still, most of the photos could be of my daughter’s classroom, with the students’ work, decorations, bulletin board displays, etc. Just the lack of electrical lighting and the SmartBoard make it seem somewhat different.

      My daughter’s school district starts in mid-August, which is earlier than the other districts around here which start later in August. I’m with you, though, Erik—school shouldn’t start until Sept.! But my daughter’s district is “out” that much earlier in the Spring—mid to late May, the earliest around these parts.

      That Amish children can learn English so quickly (after growing up speaking only PA “Dutch” for 5-6 years) just proves how much easier it is to become bilingual very early in life. I’ve tried to learn other languages, but not a whole lot “sticks” at my age!

      Alice Mary

      1. Interesting observation that this could be your daughter’s classroom Alice Mary–this is probably a more “mainstream” school to begin with to be participating in the column. I like how the newsletter also gives the children some practical business experience and I bet a solid sense of accomplishment. Great idea.

    6. Carolyn B

      School Days

      As the daughter of educators now retired, I feel English school shouldn’t start till the Tuesday after Labor Day and should end the Friday before Memorial Day. You have to give older kids a chance to get a summer job to help pay those car expenses, etc.

      Erik, I was really surprised to have a male schoolteacher mentioned. From Amish fiction, I’d received the impression that only single women were teachers. Would you please expound on this either here or in another post as to the requirements, educational & social, to be a teacher for Amish/Mennonite kids? Thanks so much.

      1. Amish teacher qualifications

        Carolyn good question…You are right this topic probably deserves its own post. On the men, it’s uncommon, but men do teach. I’d estimate males to comprise under 10% of Amish teachers. The credentials required would vary among schools–the basis would be to have finished the 8th grade, but some Amish teachers might undergo further training in various venues.

        On this topic I always point people to Karen Johnson-Weiner’s Train Up a Child. She really does a good job of explaining how different affiliations prepare their children in different ways for different work and social outcomes. For example there is a marked difference in curriculum and probably teacher ability/preparedness in Swartzentruber schools vs. mainstream to “progressive” Amish schools where Amish children are likely to be interacting a lot more with the non-Amish world in their future careers.

        Socially speaking, it’s near-unheard of that an Amish woman with small children would be a teacher. The typical demographic is the young Amish female, pre-marriage. Some go on to teach for longer if they don’t get married, however.

        1. Carolyn B
    7. Marilyn in New York

      The Connection School Days

      When I lived in Florida, the public schools there would start in August, but they got out earlier than the northern schools do like in May. I volunteered for my sister-in-law who was the school librarian and it took me getting use to. When I first came back up north it seemed funny to have the schools starting in September and ending in June. Now, I am use to it.

    8. John

      What do Amish kids eat for lunch at school? Is is something like pbnj or something else?

      1. Brenda Henry

        School Lunch

        John, I asked my Amish neighbor about your question, and was told the usually have things like canned homemade bologna sandwiches, sometimes a piece of cake, or some left-overs from supper the night before. PB & J sandwiches are also common. On a very rare occasion, the may be rewarded with chips. We live in West Tennessee, and I suppose it may vary by area. I do know on the last day of school, before summer break this year, most of the mom’s prepared a dish, and took to the school, so they had a delicious potluck lunch that day. I know it was delicious, because I was invited and attended!

      2. Barb Zimmerman

        School Lunch

        I’m near the Hastings School in this picture. Around this area are a lot on Amish schools this size or smaller. Mostly the Amish kids carry a lunch to school. But sometimes the women get together and take in hot soup and a hot meal at times during winter. They also make ice cream to take to the kids on hot days.

    9. Katrina

      Question about Amish schools

      I grew up near Milford- it is a charming small town. Do Amish children typically attend kindergarten, or do they start school in first grade? In many states, kinder is optional- laws usually state the child must begin attending a school at the age of 6.

      1. Brenda Henry


        Katrina, As far as I know, there is no Kindergarten in the Amish schools, at least here in Tennessee, there isn’t. They always begin in first grade at age 6, on the first Monday in October, and ‘graduate’ at around age 13-14, in the 8th grade.

    10. Barb Zimmerman

      Hastings School

      I live near the Hastings school. It’s a beautiful location, and I love seeing all the bicycles lined up outside when I drive by. It’s about twice the size of the Amish school a mile from my house. It, too, has a Milford, Indiana, address, but I think it’s called the Gravelton School. It used to be full of students, but I’ve heard that there are only about a dozen this year. I think that’s because the Nappanee schools are close and more convenient.

      Amish kids here start around age 7 or 8 in first grade. There is no kindergarten. They go until age 15 and leave, regardless of whether it is the Amish school or public school.

      At age 15 the Amish kid is considered an adult and can choose to leave or stay in school. Most here will leave school for jobs in manufacturing or carpentry. A few stay in school, having pretty much decided not to follow the Amish way of life. But education continues the rest of their lives.

      An interesting conflict has begun in the state over having Amish kids work in the family businesses. By law, a person has to be 18 to handle machinery, but Amish kids are using the machinery long before that age. The bishops have been pointing out that the kids are learning a skill, as in the industrial skills classes in schools, but because they are working with family members, they are getting more personal attention. So far the state has refused to press the issue, but it could become an issue one of these days, the same as the federal government trying to limit farm kids from operating farm equipment.