Open-air schools were first established in the early 20th century as a response to the spread of tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses. By providing students with access to fresh air and natural light, these institutions aimed to improve their health and well-being and protect them from the harmful effects of crowded, poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.
Fresh air for wellbeing
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, public health professionals emphasized the importance of fresh air, natural light, and outdoor spaces for promoting health and well-being. This was partly due to the work of Florence Nightingale.
Open-air schools were institutions designed to provide children with an alternative to the cramped, stuffy, and often unsanitary classrooms of the time. They first appeared in Europe in the early 20th century and gained popularity as a way to combat the spread of tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses.
Many of these schools were located in urban areas, where overcrowding, pollution, and poverty made indoor learning environments potentially dangerous.
One of the pioneers of open-air schools was a German doctor named Bernhard Bendix. He founded the Waldschule (Forest School) in Charlottenburg, Germany, in 1904. The school was located in a forested area outside of Berlin. It featured outdoor classrooms, covered porches, and other open-air spaces where students could learn and play.
The Waldschule quickly became a model for other open-air schools in Germany and beyond. By 1914, there were over 40 open-air schools in Germany alone. Soon, the movement spread to other parts of Europe and North America.
US open air schools
In the United States, open-air schools first appeared in the early 20th century. This was a response to the spread of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. One of the earliest examples was the Outdoor School for Crippled Children in Providence, Rhode Island, which opened in 1907.
The school was located on a hilltop overlooking the city. It featured open-air classrooms, outdoor play areas, and a greenhouse where students could grow their own vegetables. Despite some initial skepticism, the Outdoor School was successful in improving the health and wellbeing of its students. As a result, it became a model for other open-air schools in the United States.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the popularity of these schools began to decline. That’s because new treatments for tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses became available. However, the idea of using fresh air and outdoor spaces as a way to promote health and wellbeing continued.
Today, some schools around the world still incorporate outdoor learning environments into their curriculum. Some argue that it can help students to develop a deeper connection to the natural world, improve their physical and mental health, and enhance their academic performance.