"The Children's Hour" was included in the Birds of Passage section at the end of the 1863 collection Tales of a Wayside Inn. Longfellow's publisher James Thomas Fields was enthusiastic about the poem, noting that it would be adored by "the parental public". A group portrait of the three Longfellow daughters by Thomas Buchanan Read was widely reproduced and distributed along with the poem. A copy of the print was found near the body of a soldier at the American Civil War Battle of Gettysburg after the July 1 – July 3, 1863 battle, now held by the Maine Historical Society. In 1883, a year after the poet's death, a tableau vivant was staged titled Longfellow's Dream and featured his life and works, including "The Children's Hour".
By the early 20th century, "The Children's Hour" became one of the poems most frequently taught in American schools. In 1924, for example, one study noted it was often taught in grades 3 to 6. Educator R. L. Lyman, who conducted the study, found it problematic, writing that the poem, "in vocabulary, allusion and atmosphere," was not an appropriate choice and concluded, "'The Children's Hour' is a true poem about children; it is not, as we have assumed, a poem primarily for children." "The Children's Hour" has remained one of the most frequently cited favorite American poems.
More recently, the poem has been called overly-sentimental, as have many of Longfellow's works. Scholar Richard Ruland, for example, warns that modern readers might find it "not only simple and straightforward, but perhaps saccharine overly emotional", though he concludes it is a successful poem. Scholar Matthew Gartner, however, uses the poem as an example of how Longfellow invited his readers into his private home life in New England to refine them and teach them lessons in virtue.