Barnehage is the Norwegian term for kindergarten. Unlike the US kindergartens, this is where children age 1-5 spend their weekdays. In Norway all mothers are granted 1 year paid maternity leave so there is no need for infants to be in a day care. At the same time, it is expected that after that one year time with their mothers, all children begin to spend at least part of their week at a Barnehage. I have read that this is to make sure all Norwegian children are properly socialized (not in the economic/political way, but the social way).
There are over 30 barnehages on Tromsø island and they are all full with waiting lists. We were lucky enough to have a great helper from INN (basically the equivalent of the Chamber of Commerce but only for international workers in Norway) make up fake person numbers for us to allow the kids to enroll in barnehage before we arrived in Norway. Apparently that is not at all illegal contrary to what one may reasonably think. So, Odin and Adelheyd have been attending Strandkanten Barnehage since March 1st. If you ask them what they do all day at school they tell you that they play. That is pretty much the truth, but read on the find out what they really learn in Norwegian barnehage. Walking around the barnehage you will first see at the entrance about 15 strollers – fully insulated bassinet style stroller because Norwegians walk alot and their kids just sleep in the fancy strollers. On a little side note, you will even see these strollers parked outside of a restaurant or coffee shop. The baby is sleeping and the parents are just inside (usually just on the other side of the window of the shop) enjoying a coffe or meal. Inside is the kids clothing area where there are one piece snow or rain suits and rubber boots everywhere. No shoes inside. The next room is where the kids have their lockers and store even more layers of clothing and their backpacks. You pass through another door and find the main ‘class room’ It consists of an art area with coloring papers, beads, etc, a big room with pads on the floor where kids seem to practice gymnastics or just roll around, a lego room filled with thousands of legos everywhere, and a good sized outdoor playground. There are about 15 kids age 1-2 that stay in their own side of the barnehage and another 20 or so kids age 3-5 on the side with Odin and Adelheyd.
Most of the kids are Norwegian, but Odin and Adelheyd have befriended a couple of the other international kids, sharing in the fact that none of them have any idea what the other kids are saying. Aina is a friend from Spain, Lilliana is from Ethiopia, and Peter is from Guatemala. In recent weeks it has become more apparent that the kids can understand Norwegiain, but they aren’t speaking too much…yet. They have a few songs they sing in Norwegiain, they can count and say some of their colors, and basic manners. They seem to like school and are always reluctant to go home at the end of the day. So what do they do all day?
There are specific daily routines that are followed but in between is just play time. A typical day is as follows:
We take a nice walk along the water (we live on the water and the barnehage is on the water so we just follow the coastline (life on an island). On snowy days I pull the kids on a sled, other days we take the Chariot.
Arrive at school at 8ish (anytime after 7:30 is acceptable).
School breakfast at 8:30 then Play
School lunch at 11:30 then Play
School snack at 2:30 then Play
Pick up before 4:30 but most kids are gone between 3:30 and 4:00 (the Norwegian workday ends at 3:00:)
Pretty rough life for a kid at barnehage. Parent pack breakfast and snack, lunch is provided by the school. It consists of open faced sandwiches that the kids make using an assortment of spreadable cheeses or one of two varieties of Norwegiain cheese, Brunost (brown cheese) or Hvitost (white cheese), salamis and meats, butter, leverpostei (liverworst…mmmm – our whole family actually does love it!), and a cup of milk. No PB&J, no closed sandwiches, no chips, no hot lunches. They will serve hard boiled eggs, carrots, cucumbers, apples and grapes. We were sternly told by one of the teachers in the first weeks that kids DO NOT bring sweet things in their matboks (lunchbox) and a healthy meal is required. We were then informed that if the food we packed was not appropriate we would immediately be informed. Whew! Sorry kids…no more cookies and gummies at school! On top of that the kids all sit at a big table together and ask each other to pass what they need to add to their sandwiches. They cannot get up until everyone is finished. No sweets and manners? What are the teaching these kids?
For play time, outdoor play is emphasized…no matter the weather. The goal for the day is to spend at least 2 hours outside playing. When I pick the kids up from school, everyday the teacher tells me how much time they spent outside. I recently filled out a little survey on the quality of the barnehage and there were no questions about learning anything other that social skills and many questions were in regards to whether the children were getting adequate ourdoor play time and if the teachers properly greeted the kids in the morning and said goodbye at the end of the day. You know, the important stuff. It was pretty funny to watch the kids on the playground during the snowy days. The 1-2 year olds get out there with the big kids, all in their one-piece snow suits and balaclavas (a must), rolling around in the snow, learning to walk…in the snow. It is just part of what they do.
That brings me to the next topic. Clothing is important at the barnehage. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing. We thought we had the cold weather clothing covered given that we were coming from Montana. We were better prepared that the kids from Ethiopia and Guatemala, but we were still given a lesson on making sure we packed the right clothes for our kids. One day I picked Odin up and his teacher told me he had to wear Adelheyd’s pink penguin hat outside because I did not pack him a balaclava or hat that properly covered his ears and neck. He was not happy with me. Regular beanies do not cut it. I was also informed that the kids MUST wear a thicker layer of wool or fleece under their snowsuits if they want to go outside. Polypro Capilene does not cut it. There are huge mitten and sock dryers that all the kids put their gear in when they come inside, ready to be worn should they want to go out again. You will see that most of our recent winter pictures have Adelheyd in the typical one piece snowsuit with a balaclava or neck warmer. Odin only wears his at school:) As rainy season approaches there is a whole second set of clothing that has to be purchased – moving from one piece snowsuits to one-piece rubber rainsuits, rubber hats and rubber mittens…no joke. I am actually growing quite fond of this new system of dress – the kids almost never complain of being too wet or cold, they can climb snowy hills or stomp through puddles without me caring one bit.
Here are some pictures where Adelheyd is in the typical outdoor gear – one piece snow or rain suit, neck warmer with hot that has ear flaps OR a balaclava. Odin wears the proper hats at school but prefers his beanie when out with the family.
So the kids say they play all day and don’t have to learn anything, but little do they know they are learning some of the most important long term lessons of life.
1. Dress for the weather.
2. Eat healthy balanced meals.
3. Use good manners at the table.
4. Get outside and be active.
5. Use your imagination.
6. Be social.
Good job Norway for sneaking that into an early childhood education.