Mia, my youngest child, started kindergarten a few weeks ago and I spent a few days there with her for the week getting her settled in. I had a lot of questions (as usual) because both my older kids went to pre-school in England before we moved full-time to Norway. Fortunately I am always surrounded by very patient people who are happy to answer my endless questions.
It occurred to me that many people wonder what kindergarten is like in the Nordics. I see a lot written about it and it seems to be a popular talking point in various forums online with many private kindergartens throughout the world aspiring to something along the lines of Nordic kindergartens and schools. So along that theme, I thought it would be insightful to share my own experiences with you.
Of course, things vary slightly from region to region and from county to county, but schooling is very carefully and strictly regulated in Norway to keep consistent standards throughout so you can pretty much expect the same thing everywhere.
All children are entitled to a kindergarten place from the August after their first birthday.
Provided you apply before the 31 march deadline, you will be assured of a kindergarten place for your child. All kindergarten places are paid for by parents unless their household earnings are below a certain amount and you can choose from a state kindergarten or a private one.
Kindergartens are spacious and well appointed. There always seems to be more space than the kids could ever use and there are plenty of opportunities for them to scamper around and not be crowded up together.
The hours are very flexible. This is something I found the most surprising. Kindergartens are open from about 7.30am until 4.30pm, but the hours you choose to send your child are pretty much up to you as a parent. At Mia's kindergarten the older children do an organised activity from 9.30am until 11am and so they like the children to be there then, but otherwise the choice is yours.
All the children eat lunch together and it is made by the kindergarten. This is nothing fancy, just a few slices of bread with something on it like cheese, ham or fish pate with a glass of milk and then some fruit in the afternoon. It's included in the kindergarten price and the children eat together at a table with their teachers or if the weather is dry they frequently eat outside.
We have to pay for kindergarten, Unless your annual household earnings are below 550,000 Norwegian kronor (about $55000) you can expect to pay for kindergarten. Its much less than many other places though at a maximum of 3000nok (about $300) a month
The kids need ALOT of clothes. The focus at most kindergartens is on play, and play outside. So as you can imagine the kids need clothes for all weathers. Rainy weather waterproofs are needed for all year, and a warm winter snowsuit, gloves and hats are needed when there is snow. Changes of clothing are also good, in case the kids get wet. As is usual here no outdoor shoes are worn inside, so the kids also need indoor shoes or slippers.
The emphasis is on play. Kindergarten is most definitely a fun place to be. Some time each day is spent on a structured activity, but the rest of the time, the kids play together outside, or in the kindergarten building.
Friendships and kindness to others is very much a focus. This is a focus of most kindergartens and primary schools here in the Nordics. Kindness, tolerance and gentleness are very important and learning that is something that starts young.
The younger children sleep outside in their pushchairs. Pushchairs are a crucial part of kindergarten equipment if you have a very little child. When the smallest children nap at kindergarten they are put in their pushchair or pram, cosied up and put to sleep outside. Of course, it's always safe and secure, but it's only what the parents would expect and what many people do at home anyway.
Is this what you would expect from kindergarten and is it something that you would want your own kids to attend?
I hope you've enjoyed this little journey to a Norwegian kindergarten. I'd love to hear what you think about kindergarten here in Norway and how it differs from wherever you live. It's certainly very different to kindergarten where I was brought up in England.
For more Nordic living and for a glimpse into the life of me and my family in southern Norway, join me in the Living a Nordic Life Facebook group. I'd be delighted to see you there!