Classrooms without walls in COVID-19 times – Learning from the past

More than 100 years ago a new form of preventative medicine gained traction across Europe and North America – the “Open-Air School”.  These day and residential schools, which were often located by the sea and the countryside were an offshoot of the anti-tuberculosis campaign that stressed the therapeutic value of fresh-air and sunlight. The programme consisted of free play outdoors, healthy food, long walks in nature, rest times on verandas and lots of soap and water. Tens of thousands of children benefited from attending such schools, which were variously referred to as health colonies, forest schools, outdoor nurseries and open-air schools. Whilst they were characterised by paternalism and a desire to civilise or ‘save’ working class children living in cities, health benefits were also recorded. They also provided important social support to parents (mothers) by giving them a break from their child-rearing duties made more arduous living in cramped living conditions.

Today, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school managers and educators throughout the world are struggling to come up with plans and strategies to safely open up early childhood education centres and primary schools to children after weeks of forced closure. Maybe it’s time to once again move our schools outdoors.  For sure, children will thrive with more outdoor play in nature.  Their teachers may also benefit.  There are lots of inspirational ideas and resources out there, including also from the Forest School movement– which is still thriving in many parts of the world, see below: on Apolitical

Open school in The Netherlands 1956.

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Classroom in the Netherlands 2015.
Photograph by: Arthur Krijgsman
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