The Outdoor Life

One of the stereotypes of Norwegians is that they love being outside no matter the weather. As I mentioned in this post, it all starts in Barnehage (children’s garden/daycare) when most children under the age of 6 spend practically all day outside while their parents are at work. All children bring all the necessary gear to school (rain suits, snowsuits, fleece, long underwear, balaclava’s, etc.) so they can be comfortable outside no matter the weather. Parents even have to supply the daycare with a pram so babies and toddlers can nap outside. All preschools in Norway also go on outdoor field trips (tur dags) at least once a week. While in Bergen, I’ve witnessed an entire class 16 toddlers have an outdoor picnic (with hot drinks supplied by their teachers) while it is literally hailing outside. Here are a few preschooler groups getting on public transit on their turdag day:

So, from an early age, children understand that there is no such thing as bad weather (only bad clothing) and they develop a deep connection to nature which lasts them a lifetime. Even though I tend to think of myself as rather outdoorsy, this approach to life is a cultural adjustment that our family is trying to make this winter (when the highs are in the low 20s during the day) and I know it is making us happier and healthier this winter. So far this winter, our entire family has gone sledding, ice skating, cross country skiing, and downhill skiing.

Sledding obviously is free and made affordable by cheap plastic bumboards that most kids bring to school every day. Many Norwegians also spring for heavier duty sleds that can steer and brake. Oslo is a hilly place and there are a plethora of sledding options throughout the city which are covered in snow 6 months out of the year. Here is a picture of Ada sledding down a hill on her bumboard:

There is even a sledding hill primarily for adults called Korketrekken which is free (if you bring your own sled) and involves a sledding hill that literally starts at the top of the Marka forest (an area that makes up two-thirds of the city) and ends close to downtown Oslo. It takes 10 minutes to go down the trek. John and I haven’t been down it yet but plan to do so soon. If you’re interested, here’s a great video about it:

We’ve also enjoyed ice skating. There are quite a few outdoor ice skating rinks in Oslo and one that is a 10 minute walk from our house. They all have public skating hours and are free if you bring your own skates (which you can pick up used for $10.) We’ve gone ice skating twice in January and Ada and Maddie love it (though John who is not yet comfortable on skates is not so sure:).

Our family has also taken up cross country skiing which is quite popular in Norway and free if you have your own equipment (which again is inexpensive if you buy it used). Maddie gets to take cross country skiing lessons once a week for five weeks every Monday morning during school this winter. Ada gets to practice going cross country skiing every Friday with her preschool just outside school when there is snow on the ground. Here is a photo of Ada’s class skiing at school today (Ada is in a purple winter suit on the left):

John and I also signed up to take some cross country skiing lessons on Thursdays in the Marka Forest with friends and we are both loving it. Here is a photo of me and John on our cross country skis:

Maddie and Ada are also taking downhill skiing lessons every Wednesday after school at Oslo Winter park which is in the Marka Forest and accessible via public transit (though they get there on a bus from school which is a half hour drive). During the lesson, I get to go skiing with other parents at the school which has been a lot of fun. Downhill skiing is probably the most expensive winter sport in Norway but even so a season pass plus equipment and lessons in Oslo is a lot less expensive than going on a week-long ski vacation in the US.

One of my favorite parenting books was loaned to me by a friend in Atlanta while Maddie was just a year old was Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. In the book, Richard Louv discusses the scientific studies that show how exposure to nature is a requirement for a healthy childhood and for the physical and emotional health of both children and adults. On average, children in the US spend only four to seven minutes of unstructured playtime outside per day. Children (and adults) who spend time outside regularly statistically do better academically, are happier, and of course healthier. Louv links the rise of ADHD, obesity, and mental health disorders that are becoming more common in children and youth in the US with the decline in outdoor play. Unfortunately, some of this decline is probably because access to safe outdoor spaces is not available to many who live in lower-income urban neighborhoods in the US.

Norwegians, on the other hand, regardless of income status are virtually guaranteed safe access to the outdoors. Oslo is surrounded by the Marka Forest which makes up two-thirds of the area of the city and is a nationally protected area. That in itself is an amazing achievement (my hometown of Atlanta which prides itself on being a “city in a forest” only officially protects 5% of its forest)  On weekends even in the winter (which lasts 6 months in Norway), the Marka forest, easily accessible by public transit and free for the public, teems with activity while much of the center of Oslo is quiet. Norwegians simply love being outdoors. It’s no wonder that Norwegian’s regularly rank among the happiest people in the world.


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