Services to School Children.
In the early 1900s, health and education officials began to concern themselves with the health of children of low-income families living in the city’s crowded slums. The Board of Education started giving students medical and dental examinations and treatment in 1910. In 1917, the Department of Public Health took over this service. The school health program was expanded and still operates today.


When the department began school dental services in 1910, a sampling of twenty schools revealed that 97% of children had “defective teeth,” with five to ten cavities being common. The “tooth brush drill” and other methods of teaching children how to look after their own teeth were introduced as critical components of the school health service. By 1925, the situation was much improved, with only 66% of students overall having dental defects, and even those students had fewer cavities than before.
Four girls stand on the grass with mugs in their hands, brushing their teeth, while a teacher helps one of them.
Teeth brushing, High Park Forest School
August 20, 1913
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 11, Item 101


The aims of the school health program were to control communicable diseases, identify and correct health problems, and teach children how to look after their own health.

The cornerstone of the program was a regular health examination of each student. The examinations included complete medical exams, dental checkups, and eye and hearing tests.


A doctor listens to a boy's chest with a stethoscope in a corner of a room with illustrated posters about healthy habits all over the walls.
Health examination
February 26, 1923
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 682
A girl stands at one end of a room, while at the other, a woman points to an eye examination chart.
Eye examination, St. Helen’s Separate School clinic
October 31, 1919
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 609


Two women who are dentists stand over a girl in a dentist's chair.
Dental clinic, Kimberley School
September 17, 1930
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 837


Children line up in front of a nurse at a desk.
Children re-entering school
March 1, 1923
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 691b

Children who had been absent from school due to illness were examined by a public health doctor before they could return to the classroom. This process also informed the public health nurse assigned to the school that she should keep an eye on the child’s condition.

Other examinations, such as psychiatric tests, could be arranged if a teacher or parent thought a child could benefit from them.


For poor families, with little means to pay for the care of doctors and dentists, the examinations and subsequent treatment were of enormous benefit. Their children received free vaccinations to ward off disease, making it possible for them to reach adulthood.
In a medical office, a woman in a lab coat opens a boy's mouth with a tongue depressor.
Scarborough public health nurse doing health examination
ca. 1955
Photographer: Unknown
Series 831, File 7


The department also worked with the Board of Education to accommodate children’s special health needs in the schools. One such attempt was the outdoor forest school, where vulnerable or undernourished children could be exposed to fresh air, receive hot meals, and an education at the same time.


In a clearing in the trees, children sit at desks in front of a blackboard.
Mr. Brown’s class, forest school
June 13, 1917
Photographer: John Boyd Sr.
Series 393, Item 14222


The idea for open-air “forest schools” came from the conviction that fresh air is essential for children, especially those exposed to tuberculosis. The schools started in 1913, and were run jointly by the Department of Public Health and the Board of Education. The classes were later used to boost the health of children who were “below par physically” because of “faulty nutrition, emotional upsets, or social aberrations.”


There were two forest schools, one in High Park and one in Victoria Park. The term ran from May to October, giving students almost as many hours as a regular school year. A daily nap was one of the benefits of being in a forest school. A hot lunch, two substantial snacks, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, doses of cod liver oil, and instruction in healthy habits were also part of the program.

Most students gained weight and improved their health after one term in the forest school, and then they returned to the regular classroom. The forest schools were closed in 1963.

Girls fold blankets over cots outdoors under some trees, while a girl sleeps in a third cot.
Students making beds, High Park Forest School
August 14, 1952
Photographer: John H. Boyd
Fonds 1266, Item 148046


The department was concerned that eye strain could cause vision problems, so “sight-saving” classes were introduced. The classes featured glare-free blackboards, proper lighting, restricted lengths of reading time, and other measures.

After it was discovered in the 1950s that nearsightedness was mostly hereditary, the students were prescribed glasses and returned to regular classes.


Children read books in a classroom with large windows and slanting desktops. Some are wearing glasses.
Sight-saving class
ca. 1947
Photographer: Arthur S. Goss
Series 372, Subseries 32, Item 934


Vocational classes were provided for developmentally delayed students. The aim was to “give them training that will enable them to be self-supporting and respectable citizens, and to prevent their becoming charges upon the state through dependency or delinquency.”

“Orthopedic” classes allowed children with physical disabilities to get educated while also receiving their medication, treatment, or physiotherapy.

The children in the class below learned to manage their diabetes by eating a healthy diet, using insulin, and testing their own blood sugar. The class was taught by a doctor or nurse, quite likely provided by the Department of Public Health.


Children study an illustration of "the foods in the diabetic diet".
Class for children with diabetes, Hester Howe School
January 27, 1948
Photographer: John H. Boyd
Fonds 1266, Item 121919