I have spent the past week in Oslo, Norway soaking up the culture, exploring and celebrating the children.
Whilst there I had the pleasure of going to a Norwegian Forest Kindergarten. I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life. I am extremely passionate about children being allowed to be children and I feel as though being in the natural environment allows children to prosper.
I could not praise the Norwegian school system enough. Everything about it sounds appealing to us Brits. Although not compulsory, children may attend Kindergarten from the age of 1 to 6 before beginning formal school aged 7. Kindergarten must be paid for but the Norwegian parents see this as an investment in their child’s future and therefore the majority of 1 to 6 year old son attend some form of preschool. Schooling for 7 to 13 is provided for free as is University.
What impressed me the most about the forest Kindergarten was the level of independence the children had. I observed a group aged between 3 and 6 year olds and it was astounding to see how able they were. Yes, there were teachers around but they weren’t teaching the children they were simply observing them and playing with them. The children were active in there learning. The children were able to explore however they wished and how far they wished. Unlike the British forest school I attended, there were no barriers. The children were able to simply explore the forest as they desire.
The ground was not cleared for the children but rather left uneven and natural resulting in the children having the negotiate some branches and tree stumps.
The level of trust the teachers and supervisors had for the children was eye opening. The children were allowed to wander off and explore. There were many points throughout my visit where I couldn’t even see some of the children as they were hiding behind a tree stump or had wandered off into the woods. But, the teachers did not worry, they knew that the children would return. They just accepted the fact that children do explore and enjoy having some alone time to gather their thoughts.
The children were also very sociable and it was clear that they looked out for one another. Although the language was obviously a barrier as I spoke no Norweigen and the children spoke no English, it was evident that the children’s language skills were highly developed. The remote location allowed for little noise meaning the children could really hear one another and could listen to the sounds of nature. Below is a picture of two little boys fishing in the stream that ran through the forest.
There were no toys in the forest as you would expect to see in a ‘normal’ nursery/pre school but rather the children made their own entertainment. As you have seen above the boys enjoyed fishing, the children enjoyed climbing trees and had even built a tree house, the children also used a mossy slippery area as a natural slide and used the broken tree next to it as steps up to their slide. The children also seemed very immersed in the natural environment. The manager of the kindergarten explained how the children knew which wild mushrooms and berries were safe to eat. The children themselves seemed to love touching the insects and learning about them. Below is a picture of a frog.
I spent some time with a little girl who was investigating ants. She spent a large proportion of time just watching the ants, picking them up and then using a stick to pick them up in order to get a closer view of them. It was a delicate process in which the ant would fall off the stick but she persevered and you could see the pride in her eyes when she finally managed to pick up the ant using the stick.
The children seemed genuinely happy and we’re full of life and laughter. Although the learning was not formal it was clear to see how developed the children were physically, socially and mentally. They were children being children. A rare sight in the UK and America where rigorous testing begins at such a young age. Seeing a proper Norweigen Forest Kindergarten has truly opened my eyes to what is out there and how happy children really can be.