Open Air School Movement

The open air school movement was created to prevent the development of tuberculosis in children. It required the establishment of schools that combine medical surveillance with pedagogy adapted to students with pre-tuberculosis. The new institution was established by doctors researching new prophylactic methods, and educators interested in an open air educational experience.

In 1904, Dr. Bernhard Bendix and pedagogue Hermann Neufert founded the first school of this kind: the Waldeschule of Charlottenburg, near Berlin, Germany. Classes were conducted in the woods to offer open-air therapy to young city dwellers with pre-tuberculosis. The experiment, conducted by the International Congresses of Hygiene, was immediately attempted throughout Europe and North America: in Belgium in 1904, in Switzerland, England, Italy, and France in 1907, in the United States in 1908, in Hungary in 1910, and in Sweden in 1914. The schools were called "schools of the woods" or "open air schools." Often they were remote from cities, set up in tents, prefabricated barracks, or repurposed structures, and were run during the summer. Some of the more noteworthy experiments were the School in the Sun, in Cergnat, Switzerland and the school of Uffculme near Birmingham, England. The School of the Sun used helio-therapy (1910)–doctor Auguste Rollier sent the children up to the mountains every morning equipped with portable equipment. The school of Uffculme, noted for its architecture, allowed each class to occupy its own independent pavilion (1911).

After World War I the movement became organized. The first International Congress took place in Paris in 1922, at the initiative of The League for Open Air Education created in France in 1906, and of its president, Gaston Lemonier. There were four more congresses: in Belgium in 1931; in Germany in 1936; marked by the involvement of German doctor Karl Triebold; in Italy in 1949; and in Switzerland in 1956. National committees were created. Jean Duperthuis, a close associate of Adolphe Ferrière (1879–1960), the well-known pedagogue and theorist of New Education, created the International Bureau of Open Air Schools to collect information on how these schools worked. Testimonies described an educational experience inspired by New Education, with much physical exercise, regular medical checkups, and a closely monitored diet, but there has been little formal study of the majority of these schools.

According to the ideas of the open air school, the architecture had to provide wide access to the outdoors, with large bay windows and a heating system that would permit working with the windows open. The most remarkable of these schools were in Amsterdam, Holland by architect Jan Duiker (1929–1930), in Suresnes, France by Eugène Beaudoin and Marcel Lods (1931–1935), and Copenhagen, Denmark by Kai Gottlob (1935–1938).

Later, the movement had an influence on the evolution of education, HYGIENE, and architecture. School buildings, for example, adopted the concept of classes open to the outdoors, as in Bale, Switzerland (1938–1939, architect Hermann Baur), Impington, England (1939, Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry), and in Los Angeles (1935, Richard Neutra). This influence is the major contribution of the open air schools movement, although the introduction of antibiotics, which increasingly provided a cure for tuberculosis, seemed to make them obsolete after World War II.

See also: Children's Spaces; School Buildings and Architecture.


Châtelet, Anne-Marie, D. Lerch, and J.-N. Luc. 2003. The Open-Air Schools: An Educational and Architectural Experience in the Europe of the Twentieth Century. Paris: Recherches.

Cruickshank, M. 1977. "The Open-Air School Movement in English Education." Paedagogica Historica 17: 62–74.