open-air-OG

Chicago’s Open Window School

In September 1909, two rooms were opened in the Graham school in Chicago to show what natural cold air will do for normal pupils. No selection of individuals was made except that as children entered the school for their first year’s work they were given their choice of entering a cold room or a warm one. Of course, some pains were taken to inform the parents in advance as to what it was expected the cold air would do. After several weeks of trial in which no bad effects followed, teachers, parents and pupils, seeing what had been done for those in the two rooms, asked for rooms in the other grades for the same sort of work. The school year closed with seven open rooms.

So satisfactory was the work that the school opened in September, 1910, with twenty cold rooms, merely retaining enough of the warm air rooms to insure a place in a warm room in every grade for pupils whose parents desired them to have it and also a place for teachers to work in warm air in case some of them feared that work in a cold room might prove too strenuous. The Board of Education also constructed two canvas-sided rooms on a roof of the Graham School to give the matter a more definite trial and to gather the results of the work of normal pupils in open air. The rooms may be duplicated anywhere for six hundred dollars each. They were completed too late in the spring for any tests to be made in them.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

Graham School in Chicago

Graham School in Chicago

The work in a cold room differs from that in a warm room. The pupils are exercised far more frequently and in the low grades the seats are removed so as to provide wide floor space for games and dancing. Common wooden chairs or kindergarten chairs take the place of seats and long tables of simple construction replace the old form of rigid desks. The children sit in the school room clad in the clothing which protects them on the way to school. They keep all that clothing on, if they choose, or lay aside their caps, mittens, overshoes and coats if they feel uncomfortable with them on. During the year no money was paid out for any sort of clothing to protect the children from cold, as it was found that whatever clothing would bring them safely to school was more than enough for protection in the school where games were frequent. In one instance when the weather outside was about zero, the principal went into a room to see whether he could find any children who ought to be given warmer quarters. He found six boys with their overcoats off. As he approached them without saying anything about his intentions, he was met by the stout assertion of one of them who had read his mind: “No, Mr. Watt, we don’t want ’em. We’re not cold.”

Of course, the weather outside is much rougher than it can be in the school room for we do not permit boisterous winds to enter and some heat will get in from the corridors no matter how careful one is to exclude it. At all times we had places where the children might go to warm themselves if they chose. But such places were not used except by three or four from a room and by them not four times each during the entire winter.

As the school is a public one and public opinion must be cared for, arrangements have been perfected for the year 1910-1911 to provide a current of warmed humidified outdoor air for each room so as to reduce the rigor of wintry weather and give the room a temperature of between 40 and 50 degrees in winter, preventing it from going so low as to alarm anyone. While it is the opinion of the principal that such air is not so good for the children as unwarmed air, he has conceded a point to doubters and has it understood that a cold room is somewhat warmed and is not so severe as outdoor air. He believes the time will come when parents will demand what many in the neighborhood of the Graham school desire, air for school without any heat at all supplied even in the most severe weather but warming rooms provided for emergencies.

Children play out of doors in winter without discomfort in the worst weather. If sheltered and kept from the dampness of melting snow, they are able to do the work of the school in equally cold weather with equally good results.

Fresh cold air cures diseases, increases the vitality of teachers and pupils and makes all more alert intellectually. Hot, dry air makes catarrh, grip, pneumonia and all the foul air diseases. It is peculiarly adapted to developing and spreading tuberculosis. Cold air checks and cures it.

Teachers in cold air rooms close their day’s work feeling fresh and well. Those in hot, dry rooms close the day often in a state of collapse. Children taught in fresh air learn with avidity and directly. They do not require the perpetual reviews and drills so common in our hot, dry schools. They are happier and grow more rapidly in cold air. The discipline of a school is reduced to a simple problem when the air is right. Merely humidifying the air in the Graham school and lowering the temperature of all rooms from seven to ten degrees lowered the number of cases of office discipline eighty per cent. It removed the sources of ordinary friction between pupils and between them and their teachers. A cool, humid air is soothing to the nervous system. We feel better and hence act better in right air.

After eight weeks of cold air work in the two rooms first opened for the demonstration, the school physician found that the nasal discharge which is very common in all primary schools in cold weather was entirely absent in the two rooms open to the fresh air. One child with catarrh was found in each room but both had been out of school and returned the day of the inspection. He found in two similar rooms where the air breathed was like that supplied in the very best schools of Chicago and other progressive cities that over forty per cent of the pupils had nasal discharge, although his examination was held before the severest weather had been experienced.

Those who fear that the written work of the schools must suffer because children in mittens cannot use the pen, find relief when they see that the pen is not used at all in the first grade, where the greatest number of children are. It is used very little in the second grade. But the cold air work does not seriously hinder the children in using pens. The ink has never frozen in one of our open air schools. The plants in the kindergarten, the only open-air kindergarten in the world last year, did not get a touch of frost during the winter. This shows that the room was not very frigid. It was rare that we could get the temperature low enough to make it worthwhile to look at the thermometer for a record. The house is warm, the corridors throw in heat at every open door and the bodies of the children are healthy little furnaces supplying a great amount of heat; all contribute to keep the temperature from running down to where it gets in the barn in the country where children delight to play, no matter what the weather may be.

Hot dry air is common in schools. It is not dry because water has been taken out of it, but because when its temperature is raised, it expands and its capacity for moisture increases. Few ventilating engineers seem to realize the necessity for supplying this needed moisture, although every text book on school management or warming and ventilating states positively that humidity must be supplied to warmed air to make it fit to breathe. Yet millions of school children are obliged to sit in the deadening and dessicating air of ventilating and warming systems in which not a grain of moisture is supplied.

Getting tired physically in the open air and having a period of rest immediately afterward is a sure way to become strong.

This has been explained to the children and they are as desirous of becoming strong as of learning. In fact, appearances indicate that they are more so. They are told that getting quite tired once a day makes them strong if it is done in the open air. Becoming strong means getting well or avoiding sickness. Being well and strong means good growth. It also means mental acuteness. The best minds are not always in the strongest bodies, but a good mind can do a great deal better work when the body is strong and well.

This has been explained to the children and they are as desirous of becoming strong as of learning. In fact, appearances indicate that they are more so. They are told that getting quite tired once a day makes them strong if it is done in the open air. Becoming strong means getting well or avoiding sickness. Being well and strong means good growth. It also means mental acuteness. The best minds are not always in the strongest bodies, but a good mind can do a great deal better work when the body is strong and well.

Fresh air work, both outdoors and inside, doubles the teacher’s power and the results in the pupils. By breathing Nature’s air, by dressing warmly, by taking much exercise, in school and out, the child is kept so much more alive than the ordinary school child that the mental and physical results are surprisingly good. So we have open air rooms to build up vitality and to fit pupils to learn. We make it possible for them to desire learning earnestly and to get it joyfully.

Source: The Western Woman Voter, June 1, 1911

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