Birds are chirping and lambs are bleating. Out in the field the pet pig Peppa grunts in the spring sunshine.
It is a beautiful May morning at the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten. The gate opens and in walks head teacher Øystein Brogård, on his way back from the farm coop store, where he bought a big salt lick for the sheep and lambs.
‘That is definitely one of the duties of the head teacher of a farm kindergarten, although I don’t think it was listed in your job description’ chides Hilde Sofie Hjelseth with a laugh. She is the owner of this private kindergarten on the island of Jeløya, just a few kilometres from the centre of the city of Moss.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The academic subjects required under the Framework Plan are integrated into the activities at the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten on a year-round basis.
‘We decided not to focus on any one subject in particular. Instead, we ensure that all subjects are given equal attention under the headings “Our farm” and “Walks in the immediate vicinity”‘, explains Hilde, as Øystein nods his agreement.
Apart from the animal sounds, it is almost completely quiet in the kindergarten this fine spring morning, even though there are no fewer than 93 children there.
The toddlers from the “Little Sprouts” and “Seedlings” sections shuffle about quietly. The oldest children are out exploring the immediate vicinity. Some of the youngest tots are indoors, visiting the chickens, ducks and rabbits, all of which are in small sheds on the far side of the farm.
In the “Vitamin Garden”, we meet little Ivo Ferdinand and Iver, digging away in the dirt.
Ivo Ferdinand is pleased. Today, he tells us that he has found the very hungry caterpillar that they have been reading about in kindergarten, but he buried it in the ground again. Then he found a fat wiggly worm that he studied carefully before returning it to the soil as well. Soon, all the tomato plants and the other plants currently germinating in the hothouse will be ready to plant outside. That makes it interesting for the children to see what kind of good helpers live in the ground.
Out in the field, the soil is tilled and ready for seed potatoes and corn plants.
Last year, the children planted half an acre of potatoes. This year, they plan to expand their production by planting corn as well. When autumn comes, the children pick the potatoes, bag them and sell them from market stalls. Parents and neighbours are invited to buy potatoes at a reasonable price, at least from the kindergarten’s point of view.
The children decide where to donate the money they earn. Last year, they chose the Østfold County Children’s Cancer Society.
The children are entrusted with considerable responsibility
Today, many children grow up with adults waiting on them hand and foot. By way of contrast, the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten entrusts the children with considerable responsibility.
Each section is assigned to care for different animals each week. They feed them, fill their water troughs, give them fresh hay, and muck out stalls. Most of all though, they give the animals love. The latter is not hard to do.
‘The children learn that in order for the animals to thrive, they must be cared for and petted’, says Øystein.
‘Plants also require a great deal of attention. Every spring, we start by sowing seeds indoors. Then the seedlings are planted in the hothouse where they grow until they are transplanted to the Vitamin Garden. Harvesting is done regularly throughout the autumn.’
Not afraid that learning will take too much time
If you start at a farm kindergarten when you are 10 or 12 months old, farming becomes a natural part of your life, according to the head teacher and the owner. That means a lot of learning.
Øystein has no doubt that the new Framework Plan for Kindergartens gives them a unique opportunity to do more academic work.
‘I’m excited about the focus on learning, and I’m not worried that play will lose its importance’, he elaborates.
Food does not come from the frozen foods section
Øystein’s greatest challenge as the head teacher of a farm kindergarten is patience.
‘I have 100 ideas about things I’d like to do. Right now, I’m thinking about rescuing some male goats from being slaughtered at birth. Talk about food waste!’ he exclaims.
The goats would not just be rescued. They would get to spend a wonderful summer at the kindergarten before being slaughtered for food.
The latter part of this plan still needs time to mature before Øystein would dare put it into practice.
‘Children need to learn where food comes from. I think the plan still needs some work to make it more palatable, though, not least for the staff.’
He adds that the children would not be witnessing the slaughter, but that they could help dress the meat and make food from it.
Hilde supports the plan:
‘We want to show the children that we can have a clear conscience when we eat meat, as long as we know the animals lived a good life. Of course, they develop totally different relationships with the chickens here than with the ones in the refrigerated section of the grocery shop.’
To slaughter or not?
Fulfilling a childhood dream
On this mild spring morning, the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten is nothing short of idyllic.
‘Some days I wish I were four years old and in this kindergarten myself’, laughs Hilde.
She has every reason to be satisfied. She was 16 when her parents bought the farm here on Jeløya Island. She immediately started fantasizing about opening a farm kindergarten here. At age 36, she brought that dream to fruition, but only after earning degrees in agronomy and as a kindergarten teacher. It also took tremendous effort to transform the dilapidated barn from the late 1800s into a fully functioning kindergarten.
Today, the barn is a modern building, with only the old beams in the ceiling to remind us that we are still in a barn.
The heart of the fish
It is completely quiet in the barn on this lovely May day.
We come across some of the children just a few minutes’ walk further down the road, in the direction of the fjord. The “Hay Loft” group is spending the morning in the boathouse and on the docks. They are fishing for crabs and shrimp, and collecting seaweed in a big tub.
A local fisherman has just paid them a visit. He brought along his catch of cod and turbot, then cleaned the fish on the dock so the children could see what fish look like on the inside. The children were especially excited about getting to see the hearts of the fish.
Even though the ocean is not a core topic for the kindergarten, Hilde and Øystein want to teach the children about the bounty it gives us. On nice days, they share the use of a boat with a neighbouring kindergarten.
The feeling of mastery is important
Further down the path along the fjord, we run into the “Friends of Nature”, the group that will start primary school after the summer holiday.
The first thing to catch our eye is a big Sámi tent known as a lavvo. Around the lavvo, we see children popping up at several different elevations. Some are in trees, some on the swings and others down by the water.
Siri Grafsrønningen specialises in outdoor teaching. She feels it is important that the children get extensive movement experience the year before they start school. They need to learn to move around between stumps and rocks and boulders of all sizes.
‘It is very important that the children get to know what their bodies can do, and experience mastery. Once the gross motor skills are in place, it’s easier to develop the fine motor skills needed to sit quietly and write’, she explains.
Exploring nature in practice and in theory
Some of the “Friends of Nature” have brought books about insects with them from the kindergarten. Now they are looking for ladybirds, sow bugs, etc. that are emerging in the spring sunshine. The children are eager to examine the bugs and learn more about them from the books.
Time to eat! Over the camp fire, the children reheat vegetable soup that they made yesterday for their parents, who were doing volunteer work at the kindergarten.
Before sitting down to eat, they practise the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten’s Constitution Day cheer:
Tronvik Kindergarten is out for a walk. Best place ever, hear our talk! With furry l’il animals and our very own pig. Best place in Moss, or we’ll dance a jig.
Saving the world – a little at a time
Hilde and Øystein want to ensure that the Tronvik Farm Kindergarten remains faithful to its core values.
The children learn how food reaches the table and environmental awareness becomes second nature to them.
‘We hope this kindergarten can help sow the seeds of environmental awareness in the children, although we don’t exactly expect to save the world’, smiles Øystein.
‘No, but not far from it’, Hilde says with a twinkle in her eye.
‘We believe in the ripple effect. Perhaps the children will go home and influence others, such as parents and grandparents, making them more aware of animal rights and the environment. These values are not always immediately evident.
‘This facility has 30 employees, and we work with them actively. After all, they’re the ones who work here, so they’re essential for the quality of the kindergarten. It doesn’t matter how modern and nice it is here, we still have to focus continuously on our common values and objectives’, Øystein sums up.