Saturday, September 10, 2011

Camp week for 3-year-olds

Greta attends a private friluftsbarnehage, which essentially is a daycare that focuses on outdoor life and activities. (To tell you the truth, I had no idea it was a private barnehage until we were about 3/4 of the way through the year! I honestly don't know what difference it makes. . . perhaps I'll learn that this year.)
There are dozens of barnehages in Lillehammer, and most families choose to have their child go to the barnehage that is in their neighborhood. We registered for barnehage before we even moved to Lillehammer and had no idea where we would be living, and were randomly assigned to the Birkebeiner Friluftsbarnehage. It just so happened to be the barnehage that was closest to the house we rented all of last year. Despite moving about 15 minutes away from the barnehage (instead of a 10 minute walk), we've decided to keep Greta at her barnehage instead of moving her to one in our new neighborhood. One might say we've grown a little attached.

Greta attends the barnehage 5 days a week, and for that we pay approximately $400. This is amazing for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Norwegian Krone is generally in the range of $1 =  5.5-6 Kroner. Everything in Norway feels like it is about 2-3 times the cost of what it would cost in the US, so if that were the case, we should be spending about $2000 a month, or 13000 Kroner. We paid more for a month of part-time daycare in the US than we do for full-time barnehage in Norway, and our US daycare was relatively cheap ($45 a day)! Norwegian barnehages are heavily subsidized by the government and most of them are run by the local municipality. They are the one thing in Norway that is cheaper than in the US!

But what is additionally amazing about the cost of childcare is also the the quality of care that she is receiving. The child-to-teacher ratio seems about the same as it was in the US, but there are a number of teachers at her barnehage who have master's degrees in child pedagogy. Even the assistants have had specialized training to work at barnehages.

Because of their focus on friluftsliv, literally translated as "free air life", the teachers at the barnehage decided this year to have a "camp week" for the 3, 4 and 5 year old kids to focus on fall (it's fall here now) and outdoor fall activities. The barnehage has a lavvoen, or tee-pee kind of tent, that is located about a half kilometer away from the barnehage in the woods. They have an outhouse, a campfire pit, rope swings, lots of trails and rock to explore, and a playground of log see-saws and fortresses--all rather roughly made. Parents delivered and picked up the kids directly to and from the lavvo, meaning that they kids would be essentially outdoors from 8am until 4pm. Backpacks were packed with several pairs of extra wool socks, layers of fleece, extra wool long underwear, and waterproof rainpants, mittens, jackets, boots and hats. It literally was like packing for camp. It was rainy the first two days, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits, no pun intended. . .

They filled the week with fall-themed activities, songs and food. On day one, they built and learned how to shoot a bow and arrow. On day two, one of the two male teachers brought his hunting dog and demonstrated how she can track birds. Along with this dog--as if a dog at the barnehage wasn't exciting enough!--he brought  a bird that he had hunted, and they proceeded to dress the bird, identifying parts like its heart (yikes!) and then cook and eat its meat! That afternoon Greta declared to me, mixing together her Norwegian and English:  "Mamma, you know what's inside fugl?  Fugl kjøtt!" (translation: You know what's inside a bird? Bird meat!"). It obviously had made a big impression.

The rest of the week included glorious sunny, warm days, so to be perfectly honest, they probably didn't have to plan anything for those days, everyone was so happy to be out in the warm sunshine. But, they also went on a jakt (hunt) and tracked and "shot" wooded cutouts of a fox, deer, and moose, learned about different kinds of animal droppings, picked berries in the woods, sang fall songs, made vegetable soup for the parents, and seemed to eat and drink a fair amount of "camp" related food.

Greta seemed thrilled by the whole week, and it definitely struck her as being different from day-to-day barnehage. We would off-handedly say to her, "at barnehage tomorrow. . . " she would adamently correct us and say, "Not barnehage! We're going to the lavvo!" Erik and I have been really happy with her barnehage before this whole experience, but this week really impressed us. The amount of energy that went into planning--and pulling off-- a week like this for fourteen 3, 4 and 5 year old kids demonstrates the level of commitment they have in making the barnehage an enriching experience. A fellow Minnesotan-in-Norway blogger recently wrote (and I paraphrase), "Barnehage is Norway at its best. It is a combination of preschool, daycare, and summer camp all rolled into one." I couldn't have said it better myself.

The staff has already planned for a "winter camp" week, in which the kids will spend the whole day at the barnehage's small cabin located off the ski trails in the Birkebeiner ski stadium. They are planning this for the third week in March, when the days are sunnier and warmer, but there is still plenty of snow for skiing, sledding and playing. Here's crossing our fingers that it's as much of a hit as the fall camp week.


  1. Winter camp! Sounds AMAZING! Doesn't it feel good to have some truly dedicated and enthusiastic people taking care of your kid during the day?

  2. I was just telling Colin that we should move to Norway. :) What a fabulous experience for Greta.

  3. That is so cool! Im adding this to my list of reasons Norway is awesome.

  4. I posted a long comment and then accidentally deleted it. :( Here is the short version: HOORAY! So happy you found this very positive side to life in Norway, and I wish the US would prioritize children the way that Norway does.

  5. I agree with everyone here---what a fabulous experience for the kids! Except for the hunting thing, but that's my personal bias. Not that I'm against hunting for food, I think that's fine, but, I don't know, couldn't they just teach the kids about animals without play-killing them? Again, my personal bias, no biggie.

    Barnehage must be one of the most fantastic things for parents and children in Norway. Totally agree with Jena that it's super that the government makes such an effort to prioritize kids.