In earlier centuries, troups of thespians traveled Europe presenting morality plays teaching life lessons. The Pilgrims and early Americans taught reading using the Bible, both in the home and at school. The McGuffey reader (the earliest reading textbook) also taught morals and manners at school.
As a child, I learned many lessons from simple children's stories. Jesus used stories like The Prodigal Son to teach important Biblical truths. When Josh was young, the Arch book series was a great presentation of these stories as well as character stories presented in rhyme. In my childhood, personal experiences of the older generations were used to teach important life lessons, always with the admonition, "I've already made this mistake so you don't have to."
I still remember the Goops books (Goops and How to Be One and More Goops) which taught manners and courtesy using both humor and rhyme. These were called morality stories and were part of our reading instruction. Unfortunately, many of these stories (such as Stone Soup) are missing from current elementary reading series. I used several of these in my classroom when I taught elementary students. One of my favorite morality stories is from Grimm's Fairy Tales.
The Old Man and His Grandson
by Brothers Grimm from Grimm's Fairy Tales
There was once a very old man, whose eyes had become dim, his ears dull of hearing, his knees trembled, and when he sat at table he could hardly hold the spoon, and spilt the broth upon the table-cloth or let it run out of his mouth. His son and his son's wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather at last had to sit in the corner behind the stove, and they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not even enough of it. And he used to look towards the table with his eyes full of tears.
Once, too, his trembling hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke. The young wife scolded him, but he said nothing and only sighed. Then they brought him a wooden bowl for a few half-pence, out of which he had to eat.
They were once sitting thus when the little grandson of four years old began to gather together some bits of wood upon the ground. 'What are you doing there?' asked the father. 'I am making a little trough,' answered the child, 'for father and mother to eat out of when I am big.'
The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and presently began to cry. Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth always let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.
Maybe the reason I like this one so much is the fact that it has a lesson for every generation. The grandpa learns how poorly he taught respect for age to his son. The parents learn that everyone grows old and the foundation for how they are treated in old age is built during childhood years. The grandson learns, eventually, how to treat his elders. What does it say to you?