Norwegian approach to sustainability


Use of loose parts to create inviting play/learning spaces while using recycled materials !

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting Vestlia Barnehage.   Barnehage is the Norwegian word for kindergarten.  Not to be confused with our kindergarten as Norwegians kindergartens serve children from 12 months of age up to age 6/7.  Parents spend the first year at home with their child on a paid leave, so that is why barnehages begin enrolling children at about 12 months instead of at younger ages.

What was very special about this visit is that two American students from the University of Washington are here at Queen Maud for one semester. They have been doing their field practice in this barnehage for several weeks.  Marit, their instructor from Queen Maud, asked them to give me a tour – so I had the opportunity to have them show and tell about their barnehage and what stood out to them.

This particular barnehagen had many ‘loose parts’ that were used to create inviting, interesting learning spaces and activities. Sustainability is highlighted in the Norwegian Barnehagen Framework, and these are examples of the re-use of materials. I observed many loose parts being used by the children. Just today, I forward my students at Bethel a great article on the value of using loose parts. It is worth reading.  It incorporates many concepts of what can be taught and learned both directly and indirectly from using re-cycled materials.  Here is a link:


See this several artistic display  –mostly from found materials.



 Risky Play: Both Kieran and Ryn noted that children are allow to move about freely – climbing, running, and jumping. To illustrate this, the picture below is one of the climbing structures on the playground. I asked Kieran and Ryn to be in the picture so you can get a perspective on the height of the structure.  As you can see, it is very high.  While it has some ‘sides’ to keep children from falling, in other places it has open areas.  Few accidents happen as children are have acquired both the motor skills and knowledge of how to approach these activities.



The Outdoor Environment: Another outdoor feature was a climbing structure that could also serve as a shelter or play area for children.  Observed several little girls running up the steep sides, sitting on top and then sliding down the other side. It took strength and coordination to get up. Another example of the opportunity to develop physical skills through the opportunity to use challenging equipment.



This barnehage also had small, round outdoor building.  This building is used to have outdoor groups – lunches, etc. This is a picture of the middle of the building, it is a fireplace (you can see the wood is stored under the benches). This allows the children to be more or less ‘outdoors’ and enjoy shelter and the warmth from the fire.  I was told (at the first school I visited) that sometimes the lunch is cooked and served outdoors in this little building. How cool is that?



The Barnehagen (Kindergarten) Framework Plan (revised in 2017) has very specific language around incorporating nature into the curriculum. These ideas/values very powerful and I can imagine a better cared for environment worldwide if all preschools could incorporated these values. In part is says,

“Kindergartens shall foster the children’s ability to think critically, act ethically and show solidarity. Children shall be given opportunities to give care and to look after their surroundings and the natural environment….The children shall be given outdoor experiences and discover the diversity of the natural world, and kindergartens shall help the children to feel connectedness with nature.”

Connecting with nature means having the right clothing! Kieren and Ryn also pointed out the chart of clothing that children muse wear almost every day.  It always includes waterproof pants and boots…a fleece layer under the jacket, hats, mittens, socks, etc. It is a process in itself to get ready to go outside or come in. Children go out every day for significant periods of time. Again, I noted the babies taking their naps outdoors. When a child is, about three naps are taken indoors on a mat or a cot similar to what is typical in American preschools. These babies are outdoors taking naps in their stollers – which is done so that children get fresh air and rest well.



Communication With Parents Another item pointed out to me was a newsletter created by the teachers that is sent to the parents.   In some schools, this is sent weekly in others a bit less frequently. On the wall you see below are the printed out pages from the most recent newsletter. (the letter is sent electronically to the parents)  The pages were printed out and displayed here so that the children themselves could see the pictures in the newsletter and it served as a conversation focus while the children dress/undress.  The teachers capture what happened during the week and include pictures of every child. Teachers encourage parents to talk about the news of the week with their children.


An American Thanksgiving Art Project: During my visit, Kierin and Ryn were leading the children through an activity – making a turkey using an outline of the children’s hands. The children were very engaged and below you see some of the final products. Kiern and Ryn  are also planning on making some traditional American Thanksgiving dishes for the staff and children at this barnehagen. What made the final list? green bean casserole and mashed potatoes!






3 thoughts on “Norwegian approach to sustainability”

  1. I am so enjoying this blog. I love their philosophy of learning and growing by being in nature and using their physical motor skills. The pictures are wonderful too. Jan Heinecke


  2. Hi
    I have been following you! This entry today reminds me a lot of what I saw in schools in Bristol, England. They can earn awards for how effective play is in their schools. I’m so happy you could have this experience! Linda


  3. Jolene, I keep thinking how lucky your future students are that you are going to be able to share all of this with them. I know it will stimulate their thinking about how we approach things. I am so struck by how wonderful it is that they are not so worried about using things that could potentially cause a splinter, and they trust children are in charge of their bodies and won’t get hurt even from higher heights or near hot things. What a delight for these children to have this experience!


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