Freedom at six

I have already told you about the first overnight stay at the barnehage (kindergarten) for our 5 year old. Things moved swiftly from there. After that, he had en orrleiktur which was an overnight trip to the wilds to see grouse or orrleik.  For those of you who don’t know, orrleik are very handsome game birds.  The adventurers slept deep in the forest somewhere, up at dawn to see them.  Early morning is apparently when the orrleik feels sociable and is ready for some admiration by a group of barnehage kids. And before you ask, they weren’t allowed to shoot them or bring any home.

And then there was skiskole, or ski school. Because kids don’t go to school here until 6, the year before that in barnehage is almost like pre-school elsewhere where they have some classroom activity with puzzle books and the like, mainly focused on getting them to figure things out and and sit down for more than 5 minutes at a time while they are doing it. In our barnehage, they also upped the ante when it came to physical endurance.

The pre-schoolers formed a wilderness group or Villmarksgruppe with a special calendar of activity. On a Monday they would go on long walks to the local scout base or other forest locations. These walks were much further than the standard trails.  Monday night bedtime was never a problem in this house.

They were effectively in training for skiiskole in late wintertime. They were going to stay overnight for 2 nights in a chapel building north of Oslo. They were going to learn the basics of skiing. And wait for it, they were going to walk 7km there and back, much of it uphill. These were 5 and 6 years olds.  Included in this group would be the same boy that I would have to drag home from the shops (maybe a half a kilometre at a stretch) when we arrived here. He would normally have to stop, complain, roll around on the ground sometimes for extra effect because he was “too tired” and just plain old annoyed that his sister got to sit in the buggy and he had to WALK!

Now they were going to get him to walk 7km up a snowy hill?  And back down again 2 days later.  I was filled with admiration for their ambition. Like last time, I didn’t ask too many questions, they had done this before. This seemed like a coming of age thing, the teachers all smiled knowingly and said kids loved it, it was great for their development, it gave them an enormous sense of achievement and independence. So I was still learning the standards of these wonderful not so crazy outdoor Norwegians. It couldn’t possibly be turning the boy in to a man, could it. This was going to have to be another exercise in blind trust.

So after all of his Monday training sessions, ski school Tuesday finally arrived. I had packed his toothbrush and pyjamas and spare clothes. And his skis and poles and ski boots. And his Super Mario soft toy because you never know when he may be useful. They were going to sleep in a lodge where there was a kitchen and living area and bunk beds.  My husband and I had seen the photos, it looked like timber lodge heaven in the snow.

The excitement was at fever pitch at the barnehage that morning.  There was an advance car leaving with ski equipment, food, overnight bags and other supplies. The kids just had to carry their backpacks with matpakke or lunch and water.   We gave him a big hug and left them to start their journey on a bus to get to the trail.  There were about 12 kids with 3 teachers on the great adventure.

In the late afternoon, we got an update with some photos, they had arrived safely and had walked the walk, no problem. There were 2 male teachers in their 20s who were leading the trek and I knew that they would ensure that each child was propelled forward by self-determination, singing and gentle encouragement.  We got photos of them cooking on a campfire and generally looking well and pleased with themselves. The next day dawned and of course I was keen to get an update asap in the morning.  How had the night been. Did he need Super Mario. Did they get any sleep. Were they ready for their day skiing.

That day was funny because there was no information forthcoming from the barnehage.  From their perspective, we knew the kids arrived and they were in good care.  One of the non-Norwegian teachers said to me wisely, “Don’t worry, this is Norway. This is about teaching some independence to the kids and also to the parents.”  Translate this to, “the kids are in good hands and you will get daily updates at the end of the day but nothing more than that unless there is a crisis.” The ethos seemed to be that you need to train the parents to let the kids push boundaries as well as showing the kids what they are capable of. I was firmly back in my box, mouth opening and closing but no sound.

There is an interesting balance at play here. Kids don’t starting school until they are 6 so as to give them the chance to be kids for longer without the pressures of school. But this isn’t about molly-coddling them for longer or closing their zips for them until they are 6.  Even though they start school later, kids are taught to be independent from a younger age that I am used to. This is from using sharp knives to climbing rocks and trees to putting on layers of clothes themselves and having overnight trips like these.  There is no contradiction, it is a care-free childhood while giving them chances to be tough and independent from Mamma and Pappa and part of a team.

So it has changed our style of parenting as well.  This is a brave new world for us.  Of course, we want the kids to be strong and independent, what parents don’t. It means I have near heart attacks sometimes when our 3 year old is balancing on top of a high rock but she is stronger and more capable than I realise. I take a deep breadth and silently pray to whoever is listening, it works every time. My husband reckons that he is fine, not nervous at all. I am sure I believe him.

My son has played in playgrounds away from the house with his friends since he was 5, no parent in sight. We made a decision to take the lead from Norwegian parents that we know and trust, instead of imposing our fear of danger and bad people lurking everywhere. This is surely important to allow the kids to integrate.  There are some rules and boundaries of course but he thrives on the independence, we can see that it’s good for him.

And on day 3 of skiskole they all walked home again, very tired but each one as proud as Punch. Some chocolate cereal appeared at some point with bananas to give them a boost of energy.  The parents were waiting eagerly at the barnehage as they came tumbling around the corner 2 by 2. It was quite a sight.  My son loved the trip and the shared experience with his buddies.

And in so far as I could get anything out of him until I got the standard “Mom, you are bugging me now with so many questions”,  I got the impression that he wouldn’t forget this experience in a hurry.


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