Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not.
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot.
We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.
The chant ran in a sing-song canter through my head; this was definitely one of those days of not particularly liking the weather, but having to deal with it nonetheless. I’ve been spending time at a forest and farm preschool in Norway, where the kids are outside for the majority of all day, every day. Whether the weather be good…or not.
Now, it's one thing to be at the forest preschool when the weather is nice. It’s pleasant, enjoyable. Children run around climbing trees, scrambling over logs, picking berries, playing make-believe games. The word ‘frolic’ would be appropriate.
But what about when the weather is bad?
Okay, okay, of course there is that well-known (Norwegian) proverb that 'there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.' But still, there are those days that are just cold, dark, sleeting, with frozen patches and sparse week-old snow mixed with dirt. How would the kids respond?
As I headed to the preschool one such morning, I started getting perversely excited to see how the kids and teachers would handle this kind of weather. At my school in the U.S., it was the type of day that would keep the kids in for “inside recess” in a heartbeat.
The (predictable?) conclusion of the story, for those don't want to have to scroll down through cute photos and descriptions: the Norwegian preschoolers still went outside and had a great time, even when the weather was bad.
The first thing I noticed were the little skis propped up against the farmhouse, each under a kid's name label. Even though the dirt showed up through most sections of snow, the kids were set on maximizing the winter. A few kids were already on skis, walking around on the snow/ice/dirt combo. For the first few hours (9 a.m. -11), it was free play, and kids could put on and take off their skis as they wanted. Some practiced skiing down a hill with a tiny hop at the end. Others climbed on snow piles and played different make-believe games with friends.
The kids were all well-prepared for the weather, with snow boots, warm weatherproof onesies with layers underneath, hats, mittens, etc. I’ve realized that this is key. If you aren’t prepared for the environmental conditions, it’s hard to have a good time. Even at age four, the kids have learned what sorts of layers they need to stay warm and dry. The adults were well-bundled up as well, and they rotated who was outside supervising and who was inside the warm base building. If a child was cold and wanted to pop in for a bit (often to go to the bathroom or grab a drink of water) they could, but very rarely did they actually do this. For the most part, everyone was outside. And liking it.
Read-aloud and lunch were inside the tool shed, which provided some shelter from the elements. It was good to have an indoor location to break up the day. What struck me was that it was used as a break from the outside, as opposed to what I was used to from the United States: going outside as a break from an indoors majority.
Skiing was a popular activity of the day. The educators had piled a small mound of snow to make a "ski hop" and the kids took turns skiing over it. It's easy to see why Norwegian kids tend to be way more comfortable than I am on skis: it is natural if they grow up playing on them, taking risks, and falling from a young age! It also helps explain some of their continual dominance in the Winter Olympics!
Forests preschools are popular throughout Scandinavia, and they have spread to other areas, including Germany, England and the U.S. While these schools expressly designate outdoor time as part of their mission, I’ve noticed that even the “normal” Norwegian preschools feature extensive time outside. It’s common to see toddlers playing outside their building, or else walking in a reflective-vested cluster to the local park.
I think this can inspire other preschools, internationally. Of course, they don’t need to be outside or on skis all the time when the weather is bad. But they shouldn’t be confined to indoors, either. There’s value in teaching children to dress for the elements so that weather doesn’t limit exposure to nature. One forest preschool educator told me that they prepare parents during the start of the school year about what will be expected of the children and what type of clothing is necessary, and this way everyone knows how to “dress for success.”
Spending a bit of time outdoors in all conditions can deepen the understanding of the world we live in. It can be humbling, and it can be fun (snow sculptures! puddle jumping! Mud! ). Furthermore, I feel like it is often the adults who are the ones afraid of the “bad weather” and then project this on kids. Resist the urge! Rather, prepare yourself and the children for weathering the weather whatever the weather...and probably liking it, too.