Open air classrooms opened at Fendalton Primary School – This week in history 24-30 July

The first open air classroom at Fendalton Primary School was officially opened on the 26th of July 1924 by Mr E.H. Andrews, a member of the Canterbury Education Board. Professor Shelley, who was Professor of Education at Canterbury College, also gave an opening address encouraging the school and committee to continue the project.

By the 1920s most parents were being guided by the Plunket Society to realise the benefits of fresh-air and sunlight for their children and the Christchurch Open-Air League had been able to persuade the Canterbury Education Board to build some open-air classrooms. The most common type was like this one at Fendalton School, Christchurch, where on sunny days, sliding doors allowed one whole wall to be opened to allow in fresh air and sunshine. Each pupil had a desk and chair which could be carried outside in fine weather. The porch on the right-hand side of the photograph served as a cloakroom and shelter-shed
A classroom at Fendalton Open-Air School, Clyde Road, Christchurch, 1928, CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0025

This first open air classroom was viewed as an experiment in the new educational philosophy that fresh air, good ventilation and sunlight encouraged good health for the students, as well as providing space for exercise.

The classroom was designed by the Headmaster Mr A.R. Blank, M.B.E. and Dr R.B. Phillipps, the Canterbury Schools’ medical officer, along with the architects Ellis and Hall. A new architecture for classrooms was developed to cater to the new philosophy and the Fendalton examples allowed the whole side of a building to be opened up. Using wood as an adaptable building material, rather than brick, was seen as important for this new architecture to enable adaption of the buildings over time to incorporate developing ideas in educational theory.

Photograph of an open air classroom, Fendalton School, Christchurch, taken circa 1924 by an unidentified photographer. Primary school children sit in rows at their desks, facing a teacher and a blackboard.
Creator unknown : Photograph of an open air classroom, Fendalton School, Christchurch. Ref: PAColl-8863. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23185726

Mr Blank and Dr Phillipps’ belief in the ideals of the Open Air movement was so high that they guaranteed half of the £400 cost from their own pockets, and secured the other half from Christchurch Rotary Club. By opening day £170 had been raised from the public and no money was requested from the Government or Education Board for the experiment. The Department of Education was reported as being skeptical of the potential benefits of this new educational philosophy, but Mr Andrews stated in his opening speech that the Education Board had been misrepresented as being opposed.

Through the 1920s, three additional open air classrooms were built at the Fendalton Primary School. The school was often visited as an example of how open air classrooms could operate including by Dr Truby King, the Department of Education and the British Medical Association.

The Open Air Schools League was established to continue to champion the cause, and they put out a booklet The New Zealand Open-Air School in 1928 using Fendalton as the example of what can be achieved.

If you have any images you would like to contribute to a community repository of Christchurch, please visit Kete Christchurch.

More Christchurch history

To see more of what happened this week in the past, visit our Christchurch Chronology.

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