3rd Grade Inquiry: To Work or to School?


Are children better prepared for adulthood by working or by going to school?

This inquiry kit is designed to work with Where I Live: Connecticut, a third/fourth grade social studies resource about Connecticut. Click HERE for information on how to access Where I Live: Connecticut

This Inquiry Kit is designed to allow kids to weigh the value of work and school to their future success. It uses evidence of the past to evaluate their choices in the present.

Historical Background

From the colonial era to the early 20th century, children were considered to be important workers in the home economy–and later in the wage economy working as farm laborers or in factories, sometimes right alongside their parents. Children were apprenticed to a blacksmith or other tradesman to learn a trade.

Parents were some of the most vocal opponents of ending child labor. At the same time, the quality of schools in Connecticut in many places was poor. Access to quality schools for African Americans was even more challenging.

Children were sent to work in factories and in the streets trades until the 1930s. For decades reformers tried to end the practice. Laws expanding education and restricting child labor finally eradicated child labor by the 1930s.

Supporting Question #1:

What was school like in the 1800s?

Source #1: Article about schooling in Connecticut, 1700 – 1900 (written for third grade readers)

“Educated in One Room,” Where I Live: Connecticut

Inquiry Activity 1: Closely read Source #1 to answer the first supporting question: What was school like in the 1800s? Make notes of written and visual evidence you find in the documents. This may be done in small groups.

Supporting Question #2:

What jobs did children do in the late 1800s and early 1900s?

Source #2: Article about child labor in Connecticut (written for third grade readers)

“Child Labor,” Where I Live: Connecticut

Source #3: Lewis Hine photographs of children working in Connecticut

Inquiry Kit: Child Labor in Connecticut

Inquiry Activity 2: Closely read Source #2 and the primary source photographs in Source #3 to answer the second supporting question: What jobs did children do in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Make notes of written and visual evidence you find in the documents. This may be done in small groups.

Source #4: Your School

Think about your life today. Do you have a job to do in your family? How is school different today from the 1800s? You’ll use these observations in your final activity. This may be done in small groups.

Communication/Action #1

Debate Prep
To prepare for the final communication/action, based on the readings, including the photo captions and observations made from the photographs, create a T-chart listing the advantages of an education vs. the advantages of learning a trade. Make a second T-chart listing the disadvantages of schooling and working in the 19th century.

Communication/Action #2

Stage a Debate
Divide into two teams and a panel of judges. Each team will take a position. One side will argue that children should be allowed to work instead of go to school. The other side will argue that children will be better prepared for adulthood by getting an education.

Prepare 3 reasons. Back them up with evidence. Be prepared to defend them.

One side will present its first reason. The other side will have a chance to challenge it. Then the other side will give its first reason and hear it challenged. Repeat for all three reasons.

The judges will take notes. They’ll decide which side was more persuasive and will need to provide examples and evidence from what the teams present to back up their decision.



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