I started writing this post during the last week of the 8 week summer holiday in Norway just before it was time to return to school. But as with a busy family, life got in the way and other blog posts seemed more pressing to write, so I am posting it now at the start of the calendar year instead.
The start of the academic year in August last year was a bit of a transition for my children as Brendan started "ungdomskole" and Millie began her final year of "barneskole". It was also the first time they had ever been at separate schools.
Schooling in Scandinavia is often hailed as being some of the best in the world and there is no doubt that it's pretty good and certainly very different to how schools run in my native England.
I had to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions when we first moved the children into a Norwegian school and my kids' teachers still patiently answer my barrage of seemingly basic questions about school culture and daily school life.
And so I thought you might be interested to hear a little about Norwegian schooling either for practical reasons or simply out of curiosity.
Children start school at 6 years old
In many parts of Europe school starts at an earlier age and in England it's perfectly normal for kids to start at 4 years old in what is called "reception" class. In fact Millie started at her first pre-school in England at 2 years 9 months, but believe me she was ready!!
In Norway grade one starts at 6 years old and children attend school full time until they are 16 years old. They start school in the August of the calendar year that they turn 6 and all state schools are free to attend.
The school year runs from August to June
The start of the school year is in the middle of August and runs through until the following June. The school year is 190 school days.
School holidays take place in October (1 week), Christmas (2 weeks), February (1 week) and Easter (1 week). Having said that there are lots of single holidays marking special days and May is a month that seems to be one day off after another!
The Norwegian version of kindergarten, barnehage is either state run or private, but either way parents have to pay for it. Children are eligible from 1 year old and up to the June before they attend Grade 1 of barneskole. It's usual for parents to enroll their children into barnehage at a very young age and I found I was questioned closely and frequently about why my youngest was not at barnehage from 1 year old.
Barnehage are generally very outdoorsy, with lots of outdoor space for the kids to run about.
Children start barneskole at the age of 6 in grade 1 and leave at the age of 13 when they have finished grade 7.
Schooling at this age is very general but I am always impressed with the variety of subjects the schools are able to fit it such as music, woodwork and science. A lot of time is spent outside and there are often weekly trips into the forest and to learn about nature and the world around us.
With both barneskole and barnehage the kids are expected to be outside for every single break or recess regardless of the weather. The only exception is if the weather gets below -15C. And so appropriate outdoor clothing is essential and gets daily use in the autumn, winter and spring.
This is the final stage of the compulsory part of schooling for children in Norway. They attend ungdomskole from the age of 13 until 16 years old. Ungdomskole tends to be more grown up and specialist in they way they approach the kids. They are given a lot more freedom and expected to take more responsibility for themselves. Grades are given right from the start of ungdomskole
A few other facts about Norwegian schools
No shoes inside
That famous Nordic rule also applies to school! Can you imagine 150 kids straight in from the snow in their outdoor shoes?? Need I say more! Outdoor clothes are deposited in the locker rooms to dry and kids put on indoor shoes when they are inside the school building. This keeps the place dry and clean and only adds to that feeling of cosiness that Scandinavia is well known for.
All kids get PCs
The one thing that always impresses me is that ALL children at school in state schools in Norway get a PC to use. They are lent this for the whole time they are at that particular school and can even use it at home and during the holidays. Parents have to sign an agreement that it will be taken care of and that if it's damaged they'll pay a small repair fee, but otherwise it's free to use.
Short school days
Normal school days start at abot 8.30am and finish at about 2pm. For the older kids at ungdomskole it's a litte later, but all schools finish early on a Wednesday. Although there is homework set for the children to do, there is also an acceptabnce that they have activities and a life outside school.
Most schools are secular
Despite Norway officially being a Christian country, schools are secular. There are very occasional visits to church (which they can opt in or out of) but there are no hymns sung and prayers said during school hours. In religious education the children learn about all the world's major religions in equal amounts.
Year 6 camp trip and it's free for everyone
Last year, my eldest Brendan was invited on the class "leirskole" (camp school) trip and one of the questions I asked was how much it would cost. I was quite surprised to learn it was free. All children in grade 6 in state schools in Norway are invited on a camp trip with their class. It is organised by the individual schools and must be for at least 2 nights and more than about 2 hours from the school. I can't testify to other schools but certainly the location that Brendan's school chose was incredible. It was up in the mountains and was as far from camping as I could imagine. The children were accommodated in modern wooden cabins and activities included hiking and survival skills.
But the question of cost nagged at me so I did a little research. In 2018 the Norwegian government changed the law to include a grade 6 camp trip as free for all children. Previous to this there had been lots of children unable to go because their families couldn't afford it and it was felt that this was a long way from the inclusivity that Norway prides itself on. It's even possible to borrow equipment for the trip like outdoor clothing.
Time for matpakke
I've seen a lot of articles and posts on Facebook about school lunches around the world and they often include Norwegian school lunches as something that the school provides. Well they don't! There is no such thing as a school-provided lunch here. Parents make the kids lunches and they take a "matpakke" (lunch box) to school, often with a few slices of bread and a topping like cheese or ham, or some kaviar (that strangely sweet fish paste that one finds here). Candy, chocolate, fizzy drinks and cordials are absolutely NOT allowed in school and if kids repeatedly take those for lunch the teachers have no qualms about letting you know it's against the school guidelines.
One thing I especially like about lunchtimes in Norwegian schools is that the kids eat in the classroom with their teachers. It's very organised, relaxed and instills manners at mealtimes that are so essential when they grow up.
There is a high ratio of teachers to pupils
The average ratio of teachers to pupils is particularly high in Norway with one teacher to every 16 pupils. Larger classes can be broken down into smaller ones, but usually they see two teachers assigned to one class.
School plays such an enormous part of our children's' lives that it's crucial to get as clued up as possible and I hope I've answered a few questions you might have had about school life in Norway. How does school in your country or region differ from Norwegian schools?
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