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Norwegian support for little babies and their parents

The Norwegian Baby Sang – (in English, Baby Sing)

In Trondheim, I learned about a special program sponsored by churches for parents and very young babies.  Siri, my hostess at Queen Maud shared her experience attending Baby Sang when her son was very young. She wondered if I might want to visit a session? Of course!  Siri made arrangements for me (and my two friends who have been travelling with me) to attend the Baby Sang she had been a part of.

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It was so much like a baby class in our Minnesota Early Childhood Family Education classes….(Renee, you would have LOVED  this!)  Babies arrived in their buggies at church …. As saw in the first picture and gather around the altar.

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Parents and infants came forward and participated by sitting on mats in front of the altar. As the name implies, baby sang, there was singing.  Not just light  children’s songs but lullabies that were deep and meaningful

The woman leading the Baby Sang had an amazing voice and all of the parents joined in the singing but her voice could be heard above all.  On the mats were some items we that we use  in ECFE in Minnesota in baby classes such as light weight see-through scarves and bubbles, egg shakers used to for a back-ground rhythm and  a pure tone bar.  Here are are two  samples of the music in Baby Sang: One sample is of the lighter music and one more somber. The babies were fascinated by both types of music.

What was so striking to me was that not only where there some familiar activities (peek-a-boo with the scarves, a song in which babies were tickled at the end, another song in which parents raised the babies up high) but some of the songs had a very different melody and pitch than tradition songs for children. In addition the parents and babies moved as a group following  the leader from the front of the altar, to walking around the altar, to playing with bubbles at the communion rail and finally  making a circle around the candles that are often lit in memory of a loved one.

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The session ended with the babies back on the mats playing with one another and parents having coffee and good conversation. The Baby Sang leader spoke about the importance of the coffee and conversation for parents.

As I wrote about previously Parents take one year off when their child is born.  That is why the barnehagen programs begin at 1 year of age.  This program, Baby Sang ,serves to support parents during their leave by providing a positive experience with other parents and shared ideas about child development and learning.

The Baby Sang leader shared her philosophy in a written document (in Norwegian).  The translation  revealed the conceptual framework of this particular Baby Sang. I asked my high school classmate Walter Welo­­­ and his Norwegian wife, Bibbi,  for help in translating the document so I could gain a better understanding.

What has become more clear to me is not all words and concepts translate well into English – and perhaps it is because the concepts and ideas are routed in culture and not entirely able to be translated. ( Thank you Walter and Bibbi for your willingness to translate this ‘on the spot’ as part of my visit with your family.) For those reading this, please note that I am sharing some of what I gleaned through the translation by Walter and Bibbi as well as connecting it to my observation.  I want to learn more and hope to perhaps be able to discuss this with the Baby Sang leader who graciously allowed us to visit her class. Therefore, what is in italics indicates it is a rough translation.

What was revealed in the document through a quick translation is that:  (all words in italics are translations from the document)

  • Baby Sang time is like church for little ones.
  • It is meant to be ministry to the babies and their parents  – a way to embrace them as new members of the church family
  • Through the movements, song and experiences it is intended they become familiar with church rituals

The Baby Sang leader also wrote about the fact when one plays with small babies (all of these babies were under one year of age, not yet walking) you learn words are irrelevant and visual effects, touch, and creative movements are meaningful for babies. She wrote about the importance of repetition giving children a sense of belonging and security.

Because Baby Sang is done in the church itself, it gives the experience a different dimension. (I felt this dimension very keenly as I observed.)  Like a church service, Baby Sang is done with predictability. It is preparing children to participate in the rituals and routines in the church service.  

About the movements around the church, it was explained that – when receiving communion, we move towards the alter, we stand and we kneel to worship God we go away with standing up in the world.  In Baby Sang movements around the church are used as well. She wrote we use the room and all of our senses going here and going there, rocking the babies, swaying with the babies…through the Baby Sang  movements we are connecting them to the church liturgy.  In church we move in time and space with one another and we listen. The  church service  is created by making time and space for one another and God.  It is something -that we do together.  If you are not used to it it can be like a game….not knowing how to move a person becomes passive and feels foreign. (Baby Sang familiarizes both children and parents to these rituals)  

When parents come to Baby Sang they get a positive experience by meeting each other think  and find it is fun to do things together with their babies She described that one  must completely  enter Baby Sang with your  heart and your mind. …This experience for the baby can be beautiful and fascinating for a child.  (it was both!)   We have to practice our faith to learn our faith. 

I was so impressed with the music and the rituals. What a fabulous way for the church to welcome newborns and their parents.  It is another way the Norwegian culture supports families starting with the very youngest.

Norwegian Special Education Services  

 

On October 8 I was invited to join the International Students from Queen Maud to attend a presentation by Statped.  Statped  is the organization that oversees special education services for  all children from birth through their school years. It is a  national agency managed by the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training. It is also a provider of special education services support  (reminded me of our ECSU model in Minnesota).   This is a picture of the building in which Statped is housed that has universal design making it accessible for all individuals and the opening slide of the first presentation by the director.

We traveled by bus – here you can see my two wonderful Queen Maud hosts – Rasmus (the only male in the photo)  and Siri (the woman with a red backpack) and the others are the International Students  from Australia, Slovakia, Spain, Italy and the United States. I enjoyed getting to know these young women and hearing what they planned to do upon graduating.

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The student from Slovakia actually holds a masters degree in education and came to Queen Maud to gain experience working with very young children. She hoped to be trained in ABA and would be only the 3rd person in her country to have this key training in working with students with autism. Each International Student had a background in working with children and was also assigned to a barnehagen site. 

In Norway, Declaration of the right of the children 1989(UN) changed the laws of Norway regarding childrens’ right to participate. These are some key points highlighted for us.

  • NORWEGIAN special education is grounded in the nation’s commitment to egalitarianism. Most special education takes place in regular schools, and kindergartens
  • One quarter of Norway’s teachers have additional training in special education. Cautions are given if advocacy for those with disabilities does not accompany normalization.

While we were at Statped, we were asked to ‘read braille’ use some signs (note the ones chosen!) and ‘listen’ to two presenters who communicated throughout their presentation through sign (with interpreters). It was a wonderful example of ‘walking your talk’ and giving us an experience of using alternative means of learning and communicating.

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Statped works in accordance with the Education Act and the Kindergarten Act to ensure: equivalent, adapted and inclusive education for everyone with special needs special education expertise in six specific areas:

  • deaf-blindness/dual visual and hearing impairment
  • acquired brain injury
  • hearing impairment
  • complex learning difficulties
  • speech and language impairment
  • visual impairment

There is also a national responsibility for services to Sami (Norways’ indigenous population). Sami children have the opportunity/right  to learn Sami.

There is a national early intervention outreach initiative that is in collaboration with the National Health Service, Norwegian Labor and Welfare organization, Universities and Governors and leaders in municipalities .

For example, all newborns have a hearing screening. If a problem is found, babies at as young as 1 month of age begin attending classes with their parents to work on alternative communication. This is also a chance for parents to process their experiences and feelings with. Parents do not pay any fees for these classes or services. In addition, siblings are offered the opportunity to learn sign. Parents are given time away from work to participate in being educated in how to work with their child. As children get older there are opportunities to go to special camps  to increase their skills. This intensive work with parents was very impressive.

This is an example of one of the posters used in outreach. So much like our Help Me Grow outreach work.

EI in Norway poster

On the bus ride back to Queen Maud, we discussed how impressed we all were with the support to the family and the very advanced use of technology to ensure all children can communicate and learn. Thank you to the Statped staff for an amazing presentation!

The Toddler Festival At Queen Maud: A special event for 1-2 year old children.

On October 18, 2018 the annual Toddler Festival will be hosted at Queen Maud University by the students.  This year 650 infants and toddlers (and their teachers) have been invited with an expectation that 550 or so will attend. When children travel with their teachers on ‘tours’ they always wear a bright vest – each barnhagen (preschool) has their own color. Here is a picture from the Toddler Festival website from 2017 showing children wearing their vests.

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For the Festival, the Queen Maud the entire outdoor  campus becomes a venue for the Toddler Festival.  Several indoor  are also transformed for the infants and toddlers to explore as well. This was an example of ab indoor activity from last year.

Toddler Stars

 

In the Queen Maud Website it says:

“The main purpose of the annual Toddler Festival is to give the toddlers an outstanding opportunity to visualize themselves as the socially active and interesting people they are. 

At DMMH, the toddlers have their own festival where they can explore things at their own pace.  Large areas of the park around the college is filled with different activities.” 

Marit is one of the faculty members at Queen Maud who works with the International Students and coordinates the Toddler Festival. She is pictured here with an international student from Australia and one (of the many) male teachers I have met in barneghagens (preschools) I visited with Marit. Marit is very enthusiastic about infants and toddlers so she and I have had lively conversations.

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When she first described the Toddler Festival to me, I thought I surely I heard incorrectly…It began in 2001 and that year 850, one to two year olds came with their teachers. No, I did hear it correctly! HUNDREDS attend.  Rain or shine. Rain does not stop activities here in Norway. No bad weather, only bad clothes. 

Last week I was able to see the college students preparing for the Toddler Festival. As part of their course work, they design all of the activities.  (Marit said 240 junior students are responsible for the Festival this year). On the day of the Festival (Oct. 18th)  the college students will serve as hosts while the one and two year old children participate in a variety of activities with their teachers. I was able to snap a picture of the students at work on their project.

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Here you can see some of the outdoor activities that were created by college students this this week. It was so exciting for me to learn about this special event just for infants and toddlers as well as see the creativity of the college students.

 

 

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:  https://ptaourchildren.org/loose-parts/

 

See this several artistic display  –mostly from found materials.

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 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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Norway!

Norway – Trondheim Queen Maud University 

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I am here in Trondheim, Norway visiting Queen Maud University  (Dronning) is the Norwegian word for Queen)  I have been made to feel so welcomed. Already in week I  have been able to visit two Barnehagens (Norwegian name for the schools that serve children from one year of age to 5/6).

In addition I have met with two wonderful people who coordinate the International Student programs (Siri and Rasmus) and three faculty members who have shared both information about their teacher preparation programs and perspectives on early childhood education in Norway. ‘One of faculty I met with is the distant cousin of one of my students at Bethel. He shared with me the remarkable story of how they reconnected.

As everywhere, there are restrictions on taking photos of the children. I am taking as many pictures as possible to give you and idea of the environments and best practices here in Norway. even though I cannot take pictures of the children in action.

I am a guest of Queen Maud University. They have kindly given me an office which is a cute loft above the bookstore. This has been a wonderful place to reflect and read as I learn about their program.

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This is key information from Queen Maud’s website which helps you understand they hold a unique position within early childhood teacher preparation.

Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education (QMUC) was established in 1947 as a foundation built on Christian values.

  • We have currently about 1400 students and 150 professional employees.
  • A lot of effort has been made to encourage men to start in Early Childhood Education and Care. Queen Maud University College has received The Gender Equality Prize for its successful work in recruiting men to the profession.
  • QMUC are participating in several research projects regarding Early Childhood Education and Care, both nationally and internationally.
  • QMUC participates in the ERASMUS program.
  • QMUC is leading the Network for Preschool Teacher Training and Preschool Development in Southern Africa, namely Zambia, Namibia, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania. We also take part in several other national and international networks.

First I want to share with you some information from the Norwegian Preschool Framework. As in Iceland, there is an agreed upon national guide that all barnehage follow whether pubic or private.  All children can attend a barnehage….the directors of both schools I visited explained the cost is very low and there are discounts for families who have lower incomes. In any case the government subsidizes preschool care and education.

Here is how the government funding impacts families:

 The parent payment for the first child in kindergartens shall amount to a maximum of six per cent of the household’s total personal income pursuant to the Tax Act, Chapter 12 and taxable capital income, and be limited to the maximum limit for parental payment pursuant to section 1. This means that the care and education for children between ages 1-5/6 is very affordable and provisions are made to make it affordable for all families – even those new to the country.  Everyone is expected to learn Norwegian but their is a deep understanding of the importance or retaining one’s native language as well.

FRAMEWORK VALUES TO BE EMBEDDED IN THE BARNEHAGEN….

Values

Norwegian framework plan (new in 2017)  I am hopeful you can hear  this audio of my host translating some of the framework for me. It is not easy to translate these concepts and I really appreciated her doing this so I could better understand the deep thinking reflected in the values in the framework.  You will better understand how values are then reflected in the programs.    Click on the link. This is my first time trying to add an audio link to my blog and I am hopeful you will be able to hear the translation.   🙂

The education will help to promote understanding of human dignity and democracy, especially through child participation and in line with the value basis in the kindergarten’s purpose clause.

The education will promote understanding of Sami culture as part of the national and emphasize indigenous status and rights, both nationally and internationally. (The Sami are the indigenous people who live not only in Norway but across Scandinaiva. I learned that Sami children have the opportunity to learn the Sami language in addition to Norwegian. This is critical for the Sami people…just as it is for our Native Americans in the USA.

The kindergarten teacher education will qualify the candidate to practice the kindergarten teacher in a society characterized by diversity and change. Learning outcomes are formulated based on the national qualifications framework for higher education, bachelor degree.

Norway has a great deal of diversity – many new immigrant groups have settled in Norway. Last night I attended a festival performance of young people called Fargespill . To celebrate the diversity in Noway these performances gather up  students from 8-20 years of age and create an international performance. In Trondheim this year it included Norwegian  young people performing with their Syrian, Somali, Kenyan, Burmese, Egyptian, Vietnamese, Kongolese, Eritrean, Phillipino , etc classmates. It was AMAZING!  The Faregspill  project is being nominated for a Nobel Peace prize. This is a picture from the last scene in the performance which I thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you to Oddrun for the tickets.

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SCHOOL VISIT: What did I see at  Laeringsverkstedets DoRiMi  This school for children 1-5/6 had an emphasis on music as the name implies!

Humlehaugen DoReMi – Barnehagen

Ratio in 1-2 year old class.  5 staff with 17 children. One of the five teachers was a male. He said he had come to enjoy working with the youngest group. The teachers follow the lead of the children and extensive exploration is encouraged with little re-direction from adults. Free play and exploration is highly valued and this is evident as one observes.

I noted a  child who was  not walking (all of the other children were) and I wondered about early intervention type services.  The teacher explained they will wait another 2 months and have parents check with medical provider. Treatment (if needed) will be taught   to staff and parents so they can help the child in the best manner.

One of the children is this group understands/speaks 4 languages. Her mother  is Chinese,  a father who Italian and they speak English at home.  At age 2 this little girl speaks Chinese , Italian, English and Norwegian! A testimony to the ability of the brain to respond to  what it experiences.

The Kitchen, children were kneading small bits of  dough for rolls. There was a big mixer out they had used/observed to make the dough.   Later, two infants were brought into the kitchen  and were sitting in high chairs with wooden spoons…watching, smelling the bread baking.

The Infant sleep room.  30 strollers lining the room, Kept at a cooler temp. Same all year. At nap time children get into their strollers and sleep in this room.

Assembly room.  The school has a very large auditorium. While I was there  ­­children were learning about dinosaurs and had  light shadow puppet stage.  They use this room to gather once per week to build community.  On this particular day  there were    83 children 21 staff on-site.

Art room There were so many materials! Children have art lessons where a teacher gives them opportunities to work on project – also there are times when this room is open for free art. The teacher is herself an artist. There were beautiful art projects. Sticks wrapped in year with googly eyes,   bumble bee foot prints,  water color of self-portraits  displayed in frames.

Math room – set up for teaching math through hands on materials. Again, there were many kinds of well organized materials.

Outside EVERY DAY  Note the large play area – Children are  allowed to climb and expected to have some minor mishaps. Teachers do NOT  provide written  reports if there is a bump or scratch like we do…it is an expected event of childhood.

Classroom for 4 year old children.  Health Care/ Hospital.  Teacher (male) teaching children how to do CPR on a stuffed animal.  Children carefully resuscitated their ‘patient’.  The children were so serious about procedure and all of the stuffed animals were revived! Later free play and children were very engaged taking temperatures, listening to heart beats. It was fun to observe.

Children here having a field trip walking towards the fjord.  They wore bright vests that have the school telephone number listed. I learned that  sometimes teacher wears a large rucksack with and brings along the children’s lunches…some days bring along a portable BBQ, start a fire and cook lunch in the forest. At the sea gather crabs, shells, rocks to be brought back and investigate. In the forest they gather materials to be used in art.  The picture included here was not taken at the barnehagen but was a photo op when we were walking in Trondheim…it shows children wearing their vests walking with their teachers.

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Mealtimes. Children have special dishes designs to engage them in conversation – They sing and talk about the story depicted on their dish or bowl. They used to use ceramic plates but decided to use these heavy plastic dishes that with a gummy ring on the bottom to cut down on clatter and noise.

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Food cooked on site every day: breakfast, lunch and snacks , Trude is shown here in the kitchen where small groups of children may eat or help in the preparation of food. Trude explained they   changing art work in here in the kitchen and throughout the school  so that it spurs conversation with the children.

Kitchen conversations

This banehagen is for children of students who attend the Norwegian Technical University (NTNU)  in one of the satellite campuses of this large university.  What struck me was the array of services provided to the parents of the attending children. An example was the fact that during exams, staff provided longer hours of care for children and will even go to the home of the child to provide care so that the student/parent can study. There is a high value placed on university study and students who are parents are afforded the support of the barnehagen staff beyond the regular school day. I found that extraordinary.

Parent collaboration is so well embedded into the program. In addition to seeing many parents enjoying the morning music assembly, I learned that  the day before I visited they had a parent event. Parents had spent time out on the playground arranging materials in a way they thought the children would enjoy and learn from.  As you see in this picture this included pallets, tires, long boards. The children also use these daily in their outdoor free play and teachers help them move items into the positions the children desire. Through the parent event, parents experienced what they children see and do.

Another part of this parent event was to learn more about the values of the barnehage.  They had an opportunity to reflect on the value of community.   After discussion they had a fun on-line quiz using their cell phones about what they had covered during the sessions. See below how they arranged the playground:

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It is Friday Sept. 28th and all of the children had gathered for an assembly that included persons playing an electric piano and guitar. Two male teachers were playing  the music for the children. It was wonderful music, children very excited to participate. In several classrooms I noted they had piano, guitar or ukulele – real instruments meant to give the children a high quality music experience.

Director explained that like to create small interesting spaces for the children and I did not see large groups of children in any one space. Instead many children were outside or they were using spaces throughout the school such as the art or math room. They have a much greater ratio of staff to children then we typically have – so there is much adult support though the goal it to allow children freedom to chose their activity.

Children in this barnehagen also  spend a good deal of time outdoors. As I was observing, a group of 4 year olds were donning their gear (coats, hats, waterproof pants and boots) along with a small rucksack in which they had their lunch. They were headed out to the forest where they would spend some hours. They would be enjoying nature searching for things to bring back and explore more. What was impressive to me it was not only raining but the first snow flakes were falling. Weather does not prevent teaching/learning outside – it is simply part of the experience. (I have adapted too. I am  heading  out in the pouring rain to catch the bus and am grateful for a water-proof jacket with a hood.  They  say there is no bad weather only bad clothes).

While I there I noted two babies became tired. The teacher got their strollers out and bundled them into the stroller and wheeled them out to the covered porch outside. Eventually during the day all of the infants and toddlers will be out on the porch taking their naps. Teachers use a ‘baby caller’ (monitor) to know if any child is awake and they monitor them visually as well. This is also how these little ones take naps at home – outside in their strollers. As you can see they use a warm mini-sleeping bag type bunting and the bunting has inner straps so that the child cannot get out of the stroller.  It was explained to me that sleeping outside provides the opportunity to sleep very well. I had read about this and it was interesting  to see how It was actually done. These strollers are outdoors under a roof of an open porch.  Each of these strollers has a baby getting a good rest.

 

Next week I will be meeting with more faculty members and making more school visits. My biggest insights (and admiration for) are the  very intentional way values drive the curriculum.

 

 

 

Reynisolt – A wonderful playschool in Reykjavik and the National Icelandic Preschool Curriculum

 

­I learned that the best term to use in describing preschools in Iceland is the term playschools and in Icelandic this is: leikskóli.  While I have been so grateful everyone has spoken English, I have come to realize that not all concepts and terms are easily translated.  Bryndis, the Preschool Education Department Chair loaned me this book, Nordic Childhoods to help me gain more insights into these concepts and ideas that are rooted in culture.

Nordic childhood (2)

 

Reynisolt: In addition to having the large play area that other playschools had, this school also had a fenced in forested area. They explained that due to the trees breaking the wind – the children can use this area during windy weather. Parents volunteer to keep it up. I especially liked the outdoor circular  group gathering area.

forest circle

 

This is an area where a fire is built and children sometimes cook food outdoors.

Forest cook

Arora and Helena

 

I  noted some excellent ways they documented children’s skills. In the picture below you will see a page for each child and on the page, they take pictures of the child attempting (at their level) writing their name, they scan in the child’s attempt and also write down all of the things the child says during this activity.  A portfolio of child’s work and picture of the child ‘in action’ are kept by teachers and given to parents when the child leaves leikskóli. 

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THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM  Iceland has created a National Preschool Curriculum that is built on six pillars. This comes directly from the guide as translated into English:

These fundamental pillars are:

  • literacy,
  • sustainability,
  • health and welfare
  • democracy and human rights,
  • equality,
  • creativity.

 Each of the fundamental pillars derives from laws on preschool, compulsory school and upper secondary school. There is also reference to other laws which include legal provisions for education and teaching in the school system, such as in the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men, No. 10/2008. In addition, government policy in various issues is taken into account, as, for example, published in Welfare for the Future regarding important policy issues on sustainability. International conventions to which Iceland is a party are taken into consideration, for example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the policy of international institutions of which Iceland is a member

It was easy to relate to the pillar of literacy as it is also a priority in our country. Sustainability  was one that I would desire all preschools around the world adopt. Here is how it is described in the Icelandic National Preschool Curriculum:

Education towards sustainability aims at making people able to deal with problems that concern the interaction of the environment, social factors and the economy in the development of society. 18 The Icelandic Curriculum Guide for Preschools 2011 The most common understanding of the concepts sustainability and sustainable development involves that we leave the environment to our descendants in no worse condition that we received it, and that we endeavour to meet the needs of the present without reducing the possibilities of future generations to meet theirs.

 

Another pillar that I thought was admirable is Democracy and Human Rights.  Here is how this pillar is described:

When a matter of ethical opinion arises in a democracy, people take a stand and, moreover, they take an active part in shaping society. In a democracy the citizens enjoy human rights and decide on all major issues collectively. The prerequisite of democracy is collective responsibility, consciousness and activity of the citizens and this makes them capable of participating in shaping their society and influencing it, both at home and away. Respect for the human value and health of children and youth involves both respect for their human rights and acceptance of their talents and possibilities for development.

It is interesting to note that the United States has not endorsed the United Nations Rights of the Child. There is a very deep root commitment to equality and the notion that all must participate here in Iceland..

On Thursday night, I met with a group of graduate students who are in the Parent Education license program. The PE program is new in Iceland and came about when their professor Hrund studied for her PhD in MN. Here you see six of us meeting and five were participating via the computer. We had a wonderful time discussing how a program like ECFE could be embedded into programs in Iceland. Note, several students plan to come to the MN Association of Family and Early Education in April 2019! Icelandic people are no strangers to travel all over the world.

Parent Education Meeting 20_Sept_2018

I am already missing Iceland and the many people who have been kind and generous with me.  Thank you so much for all you have shared!

Next I travel to Trondheim Norway where I will be visiting Queen Maud University.  Queen Maud has 1200 students who are all studying early childhood education.

 

 

 

 

 

Akrasel: An Icelandic preschool with an environmental theme.

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.

green schools

green flag

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.

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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.

teaher food

 

My sabbatical adventures have begun!

 

From Minneapolis to Reykjavik:  I departed from the Humphrey Terminal in Minneapolis on Sunday Sept. 9 just as the sun was setting over the Twin Cities and flew into the sun rising over Reykjavik on  Monday Sept. 10.

Ben
Benjamin- Icelandic Angel

Getting oriented: Arrangements had been made for a young man named Benjamin (the son of one of the faculty members at the University of Iceland)  to meet me at the BSI bus station. There he was ready to help me wrangle luggage and a heavy backpack; took me to the University to pick up my apartment keys – which I could not use for several hours.  Benjamin’s mom, Hrund,  arranged for him take me to their home where they had a bed prepared for me to rest (the recommendation was to sleep about 4 hours)  with the next  recommendation I swim in the geothermal pool (it is like 5 Olympic sized pools)  that is only a 10 min. walk from their home. That is just what I did. I did not experience  jet lag!

Benjamin then took me to the apartment and helped me get my computer on the wi-fi and download the local bus app and taught me how to use it – including knowing how to get Icelandic vowels typed in.  He  then dropped me off a little store to pick up a few groceries. Benjamin made me feel welcomed and taken care of.  My little studio apartment is perfect. I could not ask for more in terms of a home base in Reykjavik.

What I’ve learn so far: Tuesday Sept. 11th was my first visit  Háskóli Íslands / University of Iceland. I meet with the Department Chair. What I learned from Bryndis  since 2008 Icelandic law now requires all teachers (including preschool teachers) to have a masters degree  and that by law 2/3 of teachers in a EC settings should have their masters degrees.  There is a shortage of prepared  early childhood teachers in Iceland – so municipalities (like our districts) get involved in supporting individuals to get their degrees.  Bryndis introduced me to many faculty members. I was especially  touched to be shown a desk that was  reserved for me.

Wednesday Sept 12, I visited a lovely ‘kindergarten’ at the invitation of Ragnhildur Gunnlaugsdottir. I put kindergarten in quotes because here in Iceland kindergarten is serving children ages 18 months up to age 6. (In the USA we would term this preschool.) Just a different use of the term.

This kindergarten serves 93 children. The children were in groups in different room and all were happy and productive. Because of the lay out and organization of the physical space, you would never imagine there were so many children present. The building was designed by an architect in conjunction with the teachers. It has many windows and every room is cheerful and bright. Part of the design including sliding doors and walls with built in sound barriers, bathroom with fixtures sized for both 3-5 year and an even smaller versions for toddlers. The office space for teachers had been worked into the planning. There is a teacher’s lounge where there was coffee, tea and water available at any time. It seemed that the needs of the adults were considered along with the needs of the children  making it a supportive space for all. One of themes for the school  ‘restitution’  in which the needs of children (and adults) are considered. They have posters us reminding that everyone has a need for belonging,  power,  fun and  freedom. (this was inspired from a workshop Agga attended in Canada by Diane Grossen.)

Ragnhildur (who said she goes by Agga) has recently graduated with her parent education license. She visited Minnesota last spring to observe ECFE classes. She is launching an ECFE type of program in the kindergarten. She found parents loved the program and Agga plans expand her parent education program. She shared that every  2-4 years teachers are encouraged to attend conferences and take new kinds of training which is supported by the school. Agga’s enthusiasm for her work was a joy to behold!

I look forward to more time at the University and other school visits here in Iceland.

Why I am launching this blog…

I am an early childhood teacher educator at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN – USA . Students can earn their BA and qualify for the  Birth to 8 license or add a pre-primary endorsement (pre-school) to their elementary education (K-6)  license.

As I was working on my dissertation, I came across articles from early childhood researchers around the world.   Many things they wrote about caught my attention. For example…

  • In  Iceland, a law was passed  in 2009 that all teachers must be licensed at the masters level – this includes their pre-k teachers.
  • At Queen Maud University there are  1200 students  all studying early childhood education –  from countries around the world.
  • In Dublin they have created an International Early Childhood Research Center.
  • Roehampton University in London is the home of the Froebel College 

I have an amazing opportunity to visit these programs.

Thank you Bethel University for your support of faculty sabbaticals!

 

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Sabbatical proposal becomes a reality!

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Developing the plan. Last summer (2017)  I spent a great deal of time creating a sabbatical proposal to submit to my university.   When I began dreaming about what I would like to do, I hoped to visit an early childhood teacher preparation program at a university  in another country.  Early childhood education has become topic of global interest – and at the center of the conversations is the training  of early childhood teachers. 

The amazing way it unfolded: As it worked out, I will be visiting programs in four countries:  The University of Iceland in Reykjavik , Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway, Dublin City University and Dublin Technical Institute in Ireland and Roehampton University in England. What a  blessing it has been  to contact early childhood teacher educators in these universities and receive such  positive warm welcomes to visit  learn about their work.

My timeline: I will leave Minneapolis  on Sunday Sept. 9th and arrive in Reykjavik on Monday Sept. 10th. On Sept. 24th I depart for Trondheim Norway then on Oct. 19  on to   to Ireland. On  Oct. 29th I depart for London England. On Nov. 7th I  will visit Paris (for fun meeting up with my childhood friend from  Hibbing, MN ). One plan yet to be developed it is to get  an appointment to visit the van Leer Foundation in Amsterdam, the Netherlands between Nov. 12 or 13th. (more about why  I hope to visit the van Leer Foundation in another blog) I will return to the USA on Nov. 19th – in time for celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends. 

Research agenda: My research will focus on learning about the best practices, priorities opportunities and challenges in early childhood teacher preparation in each of these programs/ countries. I will be sitting in on classes, interacting with  students, observing in infant, toddler and pre-k settings. In return I will do some guest teaching and sharing information about our model of early childhood teacher preparation.  I will be sharing all I learn and experience along the way.