Types of Schools During the Colonial Period in the United States

In a prior post, we looked at the three regions of the colony period and how they differed in their approach to education. This post takes a closer look at the different types of schools that were found in the American colonies. Furthermore, we will look at some of the teaching materials used during this period.

Types of Schools

Among some of the schools found in the American colonies includes the following

  • Parochial/Private schools
  • Town schools
  • Latin Grammar Schools
  • Academies
  • Colleges

Parochial/Private Schools

The parochial/private schools were found in the middle and southern colonies. The difference between parochial and private schools is that the former was religiously focus while the latter often was not. The focus of these schools was on reading. writing, and arithmetic, which came to be known as the “three R’s”. Parochial schools would always include a religious element to it such as memorizing sermons, singing hymns, or Bible study.

Town Schools

Towns schools were found in the New England colonies. These schools were locally controlled and conditions were not always accommodating for learning. The schools were often only one room and weather would affect attendance severely.  The primary goal was on memorization which was assessed by the teacher.

Latin Grammar Schools

Latin Grammars schools were in many ways a type of high school for the affluent. They were intended for those who were going to enter some form of profession such as medicine, law, or business. A boy (no ladies at this time) would enter the school at around 8 and complete their studies around the age of 16-17.

The focus of the curriculum was on the classics. In many ways, perennialism had its roots in this system. Students studied Greek, Latin, rhetoric, logic, and other subjects. This was a humanist curriculum and had much in common with education in Europe.


The origin of academies was in developing an educational model for those who were not going to college. Academies were invented by Benjamin Franklin. The curriculum focused on vocational skills and was much more secular in nature. Students would study history in place of the bible. The academies form the foundation for vocational curriculum later in American history.


Students who completed their studies at the Latin Grammar school often went on to college. College originally was a place to further train ministers of the gospel. Both Yale and Harvard were started for this purpose. The curriculum of this schools focused on the Latin, Greek, astronomy, ethics, natural sciences, and more. Colleges were not only for ministers but this was one of its main purposes.


There were different schools for different needs. From educating children occasionally to higher education that focused on the preparation of an educated core of leaders, education was highly diverse at this time. One concern was the lack of uniformity and control over the system. This is a problem that will be recurring throughout history in American education.

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