Home Economics in Ontario Secondary Schools

This month, the OHEC display features the history of home economics in Ontario secondary schools.

The home economics movement in Ontario began during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the forefront of the movement was Adelaide Hoodless, who became a champion for both women’s education and household issues after her newborn son died of foodborne illness. In 1898, Hoodless penned the book Public School Domestic Science, which became the first home economics textbook in Ontario and a mandatory part of the high school curriculum in 1902. In her book, Hoodless describes home economics – known then as domestic science – as a way to help students learn the fundamental principles of correct living.

Early home economics courses were intended for young women, and were meant to work alongside an academic curriculum. By 1912, home economics was described by the Ontario Department of Education 1912 Bulletin as both a training course for home activities and a way for girls to gain “a good English education”. Subjects of study ranged from topics in Household Science itself (comprised of subjects such as Cookery, Hygiene, Household Emergencies, Bacteriology, Sewing and Handicrafts), to academic subjects including Anatomy and Physiology, Arithmetic, Civics, Chemistry and Laboratory Work, English, Freehand Drawing, French, History, and Geography. Women often used home economics courses as a gateway to university education, such as the Household Science Program at the University of Toronto founded by Lillian Massey Treble in 1906.

A guide from Home Economics 1 (1968) on buying apples is an example of “Shopping Cart Know-How”.

During the 1950s and 60s, the postwar boost in the North American economy shifted the focus of home economics towards consumer education. Buying food became a major focus of textbooks like Home Economics 1. Students learned “Shopping Cart Know-How”, or how to buy groceries on a budget while also paying attention to things like nutritional value, flavor, and shelf life.

Another major topic of commodification was the home. Textbooks such as House and Home (1968) discussed the different types of homes available in Ontario, the benefits of renting, buying, or building a home, how to finance a home, and how to renovate and decorate it.

A page from Food and Textiles (1964) encourages girls to choose dress patterns based on their body type.

Textiles were also a major part of the home economics curriculum. Books such as Food and Textiles (1965) not only taught girls how to sew and how to care for fabrics, but also included chapters on clothing and appearance. Women were taught to dress based on body type, and to conceal their “flaws” in height or weight by wearing clothes with certain patterns.

In 1973, Ontario renamed home economics as Family Studies. The Ministry of Education acknowledged that the roles of family members were changing, and that both boys and girls needed to learn basic skills that contribute towards family living. While textbooks still taught cooking and sewing, they also taught self-image, how to make friends, and how to deal with frustrating emotions. Books like This Is the Life! (1977) taught students how to develop personal values, and covered topics ranging from dating and sexual identity to how to navigate conflicting values with parents.

This page from This is the Life! (1977) asks students how they would react if they saw friend shoplifting.

Today, Ontario high school students at some schools can take family science as an elective under Social Sciences and Humanities. The courses offered emphasize family, school, and personal relationships.

These books will be on display in the glass table on the ground floor of the OISE Library through the end October. Also stop by to check out some classic home economics recipes!

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Typewriter Tuesdays

The OISE Library is excited to offer Typewriter Tuesday again this semester. Starting next Tuesday, stop by the ground floor of the library to have some typing fun with our 2 vintage typewriters!

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New Titles : October reading pile

Benny Doesn’t Like to be  Hugged  [by Zetta Elliot; Illustrated by Purple Wong] is about the difficulties kids with Autism can experience. The book is written from Benny’s friends’ perspectives. Vibrant images depicting kids with autism interacting with friends and the acceptance of these friends of autism are illustrated by Purple Wong. The story will help young students to understand what autism is and to accept and befriend fellow classmates with autism. This is an easy-to-read book with each page containing only a few sentences and colourful illustrations. The author Zetta Elliott describes why she wrote this book at the end and provides helpful links for teachers and parents wanting to learn more about autism.

On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty [by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap; Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs] is a great resource for students in elementary school learning about what poverty is. This book provides illustrations, photographs and facts from reputable resources. Teachers will be able to use this book to help children understand what poverty means and what questions they should ask to find out more information about poverty. It helps children become more aware and compassionate towards their fellow classmates and see what people in poverty go through in daily life.

How to Think Like a Coder Without Even Trying [by Jim Christian] is an excellent resource book for young students to learn coding. The basic terminology for coding is covered in this book. Teachers can also use this book as a resource to teach younger students. With illustrations and activities included, enticing kids to learning this new language will be easy. This resource is a great way to start young kids on the language of coding, especially in this technology era!


Creating A Culture of Support for Teacher Leaders: Action for Change and Hope [by Rosemary Gornik and Wendy L. Samford] discusses how teachers help shape our youth by the type of environment they bring to the classroom. This book is a compilation of various essays by scholars in the teaching field, either K-12 or University/College. Each essay features a story about teachers, their leadership experiences and how they have incorporated these leadership skills into their practices. This book is inspirational in supporting teachers to hone their leadership skills in classroom settings. It also provides a way for teachers to share their leadership stories with others.


“Because who we are shapes how we learn and the ways we teach…” A Primer for Teaching Environmental History: Ten Design Principles  [by Emily Wakild and Michelle K. Berry] offers suggestions on teaching Environmental History. This book also considers a student learning perspective and ways for teachers to adapt to this while creating a more conducive teaching environment. This book is a great resource for teachers to create a curriculum on Environmental History in science. Through a series of in-depth exercises on how to teach environment, Wakild and Berry go to extensive lengths to make environmental history enjoyable for all!

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Featured Activity Kit: Color Mixing Glasses

Looking for a creative way to increase a young student’s interest in Science? Introducing, Color Mixing Glasses. This activity kit will create excitement, interest and learning in your classroom!

Colour theory is taught through a variety of interactive colour glass lenses. The Color Mixing Glasses kit comes with 8 lenses: 2 blue, 2 red, 2 yellow and 2 colourless (clear). Students will intuitively learn how secondary colours are created when combining primary lenses in the same eye slot. The clear lenses allow students to see the world as insects see it. Included in the kit is a color mixing equations chart.  With this chart students can pick the colour combinations to see through the glass lenses.

This activity kit is recommended for students of the age of 3+ or students that are in Pre-Kindergarten +.

Want to try it out? Color Mixing Glasses activity kit is currently on display on the ground floor of the OISE Library, next to the Circulation Desk-OISE students. For more scientific experimental games similar to Color Mixing Glasses, please check out the OISE Library K-12 Manipulative Database or browse the 3rd floor of the Library.


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New Titles: Identity and Education

Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee
This book introduces children to gender as a spectrum by talking about how individuals experience gender differently. By assuring children that it is okay to talk about how we experience gender through our body, our expression, and our gender identity, Pessin-Whedbee hopes to bring an understanding that gender is individual and it is something that connects us to the people around us. This book encourages children to be who they are, and explores how gender identity can be expressed through feelings, through what you like, how you likes to dress, and how you act. Included in the book is a guide for grown-ups with an additional list of resources for reading with a class or any group of children. The back of the book also includes a page-by-page guide to key concepts and discussion points. The book also comes with a three layer simplified gender wheel that can be used to help children express their body, identity, and expression.

The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids: A Guide to Exploring Who You Are by Kelly Storck
Uniquely created with thirty-seven fun activities, this workbook is created to provide information about gender that reflect the experiences of gender-diverse children. The author hopes that this book serves as a guide with aims to support a happy and healthy life for a growing child. Storck suggests that the best way to use the workbook is to allow the child to take the lead in uncovering their gender experience. The workbook is divided in three sections: “Understanding Gender,” “Understanding Me,” and “Being Me.” These sections are intended to help the child learn more about gender, more about their unique gender, and how to be the happiest, healthiest, and truest version of themselves. The workbook is meant to be fun and inclusive to support all gender-diverse youth with their journey of self-discovery.

10, 000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
This beautifully illustrated picture book written by Marcus Ewert tells the story of Bailey, who dreams every night about magical dresses made of of crystals and rainbows, flowers, and dresses made of windows. Bailey is able to dream of up to 10, 000 dresses, but  Bailey’s family members does not want to hear about these amazing dresses and reminds Bailey and she is a boy. Bailey’s dream of making beautiful elaborate dresses eventually come true when she meets an older girl who loves Bailey’s imagination and creativity. Readers are brought onto this journey with Bailey as she discovers an outlet for self-expression, friendship, and acceptance. 10, 000 Dresses is a picture book that can be used for in-classroom reading for empowering and inspiring other children who are struggling with gender expression.


Bright Ribbons: Weaving Culturally Responsive Teaching Into the Elementary Classroom by Lotus Linton Howard
After spending four decades teaching in diverse classrooms in inner-city schools, Howard’s growing passion for social justice and the educational rights of all children inspired the development of this textbook. Focusing on culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices, the author aims to create a curriculum that builds on relationships with students while creating a community where every child can thrive. This is an instructional textbook for educators interested in how to use CRT as a philosophy that infuses every aspect of the school day, strategies using the weaving strategies of the seven principles of CRT into all lessons and activities, and how to be more self-reflective in unlocking students’ individual uniqueness.

Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education by Paul C. Gorski and Seema G. Pothini

This is the second edition of a text that aspires to challenge  educators to  consider their teaching in light of the “sociopolitical context of schooling” (Introduction), in other words: the relationship between inequities  in the education system and those in society. The authors feel that the case method strengthens efforts to prepare educators to “think, teach, lead and advocate more equitably and justly” (Introduction), by providing opportunities to identify biases and ideologies and to practice in-depth analysis and problem-solving skills. Scenarios present school/classroom injustices based on issues of racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, heterosexism, socio-economic status, religious, linguistic  and ethnic differences.

These can all be be found in the New Titles shelf of the OISE library, close to the seating area against the west window near the Circulation Desk.

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