Monday September 17, 2018
If I lived in Iceland, I think I would enjoy living in Akranes! It is a small town (40 minutes) northwest of Reykjavik with beautiful vistas (see below). There are 4 kindergartens in this community. Anney , who is the director of the Akrasel kindergarten program has enormous devotion and enthusiasm for her work. (NOTE THAT IN ICELAND, KINDERGARTEN SERVES PRESCHOOL AGED CHILDREN)
PROGRAM VISITED TODAY: Akrasel serves 148 children and their parents from ages 2-6 and employs 40 staff. Truly in Iceland no child is left behind! 96% of the children 3-6 attend kindergarten. The national system supplements the low fees paid by parents to attend kindergarten. Fees and grants make is possible for every child to attend a kindergarten in their community. This includes the many immigrants who are here working because they can find better employment here than in their country of origin. All of the buildings were specially designed to serve children.
In addition to early childhood teachers and assistants there are specialists in early intervention, speech and physical therapy, and on-site cooks who are part of the school team. They are equipped to serve the need of every child – thus offers an inclusive setting. They also collaborate with the other kindergartens in town. One of the other kindergartens has staff who specialized in working work children with autism and uses ABA therapy. If a child with autism enrolls in any of the kindergartens these specialists stand ready provide consultation to the staff at the other school.
The kindergarten highly values social emotional development and well-being. Not only for the children but for all of the adults working in the program. To support this, staff have planning time and enjoy events together outside of work. This Friday they are going to go bowling. The teacher’s lounge, like the rest of the school facility was well designed and coffee and water is available at all times. Teachers have break and planning time.
There are big hearts on the wall, and Anney explained they have one for each staff and others write a positive word about that co-worker. I heard the notions of belonging and emotional safety being high priority for everyone. The bottom line? Anney wants her school to be welcoming and encourages staff to always present their best version of themselves. She wishes for her staff to be non-judgmental towards parents – and if they encounter issues to ‘kill the other person with kindness” and ask for her help to intervene. It touched me deeply to hear such an intentional approach to treating others. In also wanted to show you the bright open rooms which are also a part of the planning for health and well-being for staff and children.
CURRICLUM: Akrasel has been accredited as a Green Flag school Their school theme is Nature, Environment and Well-being. Today I learned that each kindergarten in Iceland has a theme and parents chose the school based on the theme ( if space is available in that school). What is a Green Flag school? This status is earned by joining the initiatives of the Eco Schools organization. This international program is working in 67 countries. It is designed to help children, beginning in their pre-school years, to learn how to care for our planet. It is something, I believe, should be part of the curriculum in every school. I hope you will follow the link above and learn more about this critical initiative.
Arna, one of the teachers who was my hostess today explained one of her children attends the Music Kindergarten because there was an opening when she needed it for her child. Arna described the many ways in which music is woven into the curriculum for example the children interpret the music, the children play instruments and have performances. Some of the teachers in the music themed school are specially trained in music. The other kindergartens in Akarnes had these themes: Music, Mathematics, Healthy Environments. Each and every school has a full early childhood curriculum but has also a special emphasis.
As you can see in the pictures below, there outdoor area is very large. Rather than having a ‘sandbox’ as we might have – they have a whole area devoted to sand. Children and teachers in Iceland go outdoors everyday – it is a high priority to have time outside in nature. Given the climate (mind you it has been warm and sunny everyday for me so far) they have specialized clothing so that they can go out every day. Children and staff alike have clothing at school for all weather. I asked if I could take a picture of the heavy snowsuits I have seen at each school I have visited. Every kindergarten teacher is issued one of these suits so they can be outside no matter what the weather is like. This area of Iceland does not get a lot of snow that stays but rather sleet, high winds and cold rain in the winter and there is very little day light during the winter.
INTERNATIONALISTS: I am also learning that Icelanders are travelers and love to learn from others. Example, Anney has lived in Boston, MA and Tulsa, OK, Denmark and has attended/presented at international conferences in Europe. They collaborate with many other countries around early childhood initiatives (Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, etc). The Icelandic state system and teachers unions (along with funds through the EU) support kindergarten teachers to attend conference outside of Iceland every 2-4 years. One of the faculty at the University of Iceland pointed out that because they are a small, isolated country, travel abroad and study abroad becomes very important.
CARING ABOUT OTHERS: On the wall at this school I noticed a world map and a town in Philippines was marked – and there was a photo of young child. Akrasel ,as a school body, supports the schooling of this child. Parents, children and staff make contributions The children learn about the location of the child’s country and about school this child attends.
FINALLY: I happened to visit on the day when staff bring treats to share. Oh my! What an amazing buffet I was invited to share in. This another intentional way the staff build relationships with one another.