Friday, 15 August 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Guest Post 4 - A Visit to Norway.

This time round my guest post is from Andy Mitchell, one evening we starting chatting on Twitter about a shared passion for outdoor learning opportunties in schools. I have enjoyed watching Andy on his journey this past year to become a teacher, when I saw he had been fortunate enough to visit a kindergarten in Norway I asked him to contribute a guest post for the blog. He very kindly agreed & here is a little background to his visit to Norway to spend a week at Birkebeiner Outdoor Nursery.
"I’m a mature student who only returned to education in 2010 with the intention of training to become a teacher. I won’t bore you with the details but I graduated from Edge Hill University with a First Class Degree in ‘Children & Young People’s Learning and Development’. You need a degree just to recall the title!! Anyhow, throughout my studies, I had become increasingly interested in the use of the outdoors in young children’s learning and development. I realised that there seemed to be a great deal of literature espousing the benefits of outdoor teaching and learning. However, what I was seeing in practice, was very little use of the outdoors to promote children’s learning and development. On the very first day of my Early Years PGCE, one of our tutors explained that we had to arrange 10 days of voluntary placement. They explained that the 10 days should be somewhere different. Not a mainstream primary school. Perhaps a special needs school, children’s centre, library or museum. I immediately thought of Norway. I had heard lots of different things about how they approach early years teaching in Scandinavia and set about arranging a trip!
The staff explained that the kindergarten building is only rented and was original built to house the press office for the 1994 Winter Olympics. My initial impression was that it looked just like an office building with viewing platforms, where the press and supporters would watch the skiing events! Once I was taken onto the site it was clear to see how it had been adapted into a pre-school/ nursery.
The outdoor area, still with some areas covered by snow and ice, but I could see seating areas, sand pits, a slide, wooden horse and lots of storage areas.
The area which is set aside for the children to sleep in their prams as and when required.
I asked about the extreme weather conditions which they can have in Norway and she assured me that the children will sleep inside if the mercury dropped anywhere below -15 degrees !
One staff member explained how the children enjoy sleeping in the fresh air and don’t feel the cold as they are kept warm and dry by the appropriate equipment and blankets. Therein lies the real secret to their philosophy as I see it……the children will be given every opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, whilst also being safe and protected by appropriate clothing and equipment but more importantly they are supported and encouraged to spend time outdoors, taking risks that are developmentally appropriate for the individual.

The children arrived up to 9.30am and casually go about their routines. I noticed that they were all very calm and behaviour management was not an issue. Everybody seemed very aware of the routine and the children are really relaxed. In the other room there were three members of staff and everybody was taking part in a circle time activity. It was very lighthearted and I suspect that everybody is sharing their ‘news’. It was noticeable that all the children were very comfortable with male staff (there were 3 men in the room). I guess I only made this initial observation because it is unusual in England.
The children spend the day at the Lavo which is essentially a wooden wigwam in a nearby forest. I was intrigued to see the children getting themselves changed into lots of winter clothing. They’re clearly used to dressing themselves in waterproof trousers, coats and boots etc. The overall atmosphere was one of calm. There was no rush or panic to be anywhere and this seems to help everybody to stay relaxed. I couldn't help but imagine a similar situation in a Reception class at home where staff would be helping children, rushing them to get changed and then asking them to ‘LINE UP’.
Once we walked into the forest it was clear that the children were right at home. It was beautiful. I lasted about five minutes before falling over !! In all I fell about 4 times. The children were free to choose their play and went off in different directions, without ever being out of sight. A member of staff generally accompanied the children to observe what they were doing / learning. They take every opportunity to point out birds/insects etc. to the children. Lots of the activities in the forest have been ‘built’ by staff and parents and they generally consist of climbing, swinging, balancing and sitting upon wooden/rope equipment. The children did fall and slip but were unfazed and they jumped up to repeat/continue with whatever they’d been doing.
I did have to fight the urge to intervene when I thought the children were faced with too great a challenge !! The truth was, they were very resilient and worked together brilliantly.
Some were sawing, axing, climbing, den building, role playing, swinging and some were casually sitting in the snow, chatting. The whole environment was very sociable and the children were all very happy.
Another day was filled with the children playing around the barnehage. Whether it was bikes, in the sand (with water) or inventing games using all sorts of things, then the children were happy to go from place to place as they so wished. Just occasionally, staff, and I, would go and play alongside certain children to see what they were doing and to help I, but only if invited or needed.
Some of the children encouraged me to try some of the equipment that they use in the snow. You didn’t need to understand Norwegian to know that they were having a good laugh at my incompetence!
I hope that the reader can see the type of approach taken in this particular kindergarten and that my thoughts and ramblings make some sense. I hadn’t approached the trip with the idea of sharing all my experiences but I fell in love with the philosophy and way of life in Lillehammer. The cost of a pint of beer may well be off the scale but they certainly know how to provide children with the opportunity to develop as young people before burdening them with concepts that are beyond their understanding. They let their children be children and allow them to develop physically, socially and emotionally in beautiful natural surroundings."
Thanks to all those who took the time to link up in the last Outdoor Play Party, my featured post from the last round up was from Still Playing School with their brilliant outdoor water feature from cooler bottles.

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!
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  1. Wow, what a wonderful experience that Andy had. It sure highlights the differences between education in Norway and education here in the United States. My youngest son is starting kindergarten this fall, and now I want to move to Norway.

    Mommy Crusader

    1. Hi Deborah & thanks for joining in with the link up & taking the time to comment.

  2. Funny to see winter in the middle of our summer. Love the activities going on here

    1. True! Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of the other seasons ;)

  3. What a wonderful place for children to go to preschool! I taught preschool for 5 years and our outdoor time was the best time of the day.

    1. Hi Keitha, thanks for commenting & I agree my favourite time is outdoors too x

  4. Loved to read this post! And naturally it reminded me of the "Rain or Shine" nursery schools in Sweden that work with a very similar approach. Now, if only we could get this approach to take hold in North America!

    1. I found it amazing that this account sounded so like my time in Norway 6 years ago so I guess nurseries in Norway & Sweden have got their approach just right.

  5. I love hearing about peoples experiences over in Norway. The kindergartens sound amazing. If only we had more here! Your blog should be on the assigned reading list for all new teachers!

  6. Thanks so much, Andy, for sharing this with me on Twitter. I am delighted that you have continued to follow your beliefs, following your graduation, about what really makes great learning for young children. Your visit sounds amazing, and it has given me a hunger to do something similar. Carry on spreading this great practice - children will benefit hugely. Keep in touch. Zena

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