A kindergarten with a calm atmosphere

When Midtstuen Kanvas-kindergarten started to work with attachment in small groups, many things changed, also the sound. Now we talk together instead of shouting and it has become easier for children and grown-ups to thrive in the kindergarten.

Text: SIW ELLEN JAKOBSEN / TRANSLATION: HANNE HERRMAN

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The location, the easy access to nature mean everything. We have every possibility. It is only the imagination that sets the limits for what we can do here.”

The forest outside Midtstuen Kanvas-kindergarten looks like a fairy tale forest. The path leading to the children’s campsite is covered with huge roots from the trees looking like an entrance portal to Nordmarka in Oslo.

It smells of blueberry heather and the warm August sun gently breaks through the treetops. We climb a steep hill, descend an even steeper one, before it suddenly goes straight up again.

It’s not easy to find the children in here. But the smell of bonfire tells us where they are, and on a beautiful clearing we spot two children climbing way up in a tree. Two other children are chatting under a carpet of rein deer while a fifth child is eating at the bonfire. Some children have participated in making the lunch. Other kids are collecting stones for a huge «foundation» which kids before them worked on when they went to this kindergarten.

“Well, we are little proud of this forest. There is a fence between it and the kindergarten, but it is hardly a restriction. Whenever we wish we can decide if we want to be inside or outside. Here the children learn a lot about trust through responsibility and become independent,” says kindergarten teacher Marius Larsen.

His colleague Håkon Sakshaug agrees.

“The location, the easy access to the nature mean everything. We have every possibility. It is only the imagination that sets the limits for what we can do here.”

He will shortly go even deeper into the dense forest together with a small group of children. Today they are going to check out a wildlife camera they set up last week. Everyone is excited. Have there been some animals there?

SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT

Something is different in Midtstuen Kanvas-kindergarten. You have to ponder a bit before you understand what is. The kindergarten is imbued with a high degree of calmness. Both inside and outside, also upon returning from the forest and entering the gate to the kindergarten you notice it. Even when many children play outside is it possible to discern the voices from each other and hear what they are playing.

The head teacher in the kindergarten, Hanne Kolnes Williams tells us the secret. It is not about rules, there are far fewer rules here than in many other kindergartens.

SENSITIVE GROWN-UPS

The kindergarten has during nearly ten years worked consciously with attachment as their focus area, she tells. Every child, big and small, has their own attachment person. He or she is available to them physically, mentally and emotionally.

While organizing the children in small groups with a common attachment person, the staff has thought a lot about when a grown-up starts or stops being sensitive. How many impressions and sounds are we able to receive at the same time? And how many children can one grown-up relate to at the same time?

In an ordinary unit for small children, three grown-ups will normally be in charge of nine children. Then it might be difficult for the grown-up to be sensitive enough towards the children, according to Williams.

“When two children are arguing, two ask about something and another is wandering too far away, it can be difficult to remain a sensitive grown-up. But if you are responsible for few children, it’s easier to answer questions, contribute in conflicts and keep an eye on a child’s initiative.”

“And everything becomes calmer,” says Williams.

“Some years ago, the noise level here was high as in many other kindergartens. But when we started working more consciously with attachment, something happened. The children began to walk over to their grown-up and for instance ask:” ‘Can you help me with the zipper?’

EASIER FOR ADULTS AND CHILDREN

The children in Midtstuen Kanvas-kindergarten don’t need to shout to catch attention. They are used to talking.

“This calm makes it easier for the adults to handle the work in the kindergarten,” Williams says.

“And we have fewer rules.” In the same moment as Williams mentions the word rules, a small boy comes in a high speed on his tricycle down the steep slope. But the three-year-old boy has already learned to handle the sharp turn at the bottom of the slope and knows how to avoid hitting the fence.

“Here no one is saying:” ‘No, no one is allowed to do that,’ tells Williams.

“We don’t need rules for everything and everybody. The children are used to ask:” ‘Can I go sledding downhill?’ “And the adult either answers: ‘Yes, you can’ or ‘No, today it’s too much ice in the slope.’ It’s more demanding for the grown-ups, but the children become more robust because the challenges are bigger, and they learn to evaluate situations.”

A GOOD STRUCTURE GENERATES MORE PEACE AND QUIET

A good structure and a suitable use of the rooms outside and inside are important means when working with small groups at the same time.

“It must be room enough. In addition, the materials inside ought to be of different qualities, and the outdoor terrain ought to offer varied possibilities for everybody. And the rooms must be flexible. We take things out and in of the rooms and furnish them again depending on what the kids want to do. At times the rooms might appear dull and naked, because the children are running from one place to another. They love it!”

The transition situations, when we are going outside, are demanding in most kindergartens. Even these situations have become simpler in Midtstuen Kanvas-kindergarten. In peace and quiet each adult goes together with his or her little group to the wardrobe. They use the necessary time to get dressed while the other kids are playing. When the first group has finished, the next group enters the wardrobe. Until all of them are outside.

WORKING TO DEVELOP ALRIGHT PEOPLE

Due to the close contact between children and grown-ups, they get to know each other much better.

“There is more time for talking, chatting and comfort, and it’s easier to observe the children who have problems. It also generates more time for linguistic stimulation and learning.”

It is not primarily the academic learning that is central in this kindergarten. Here we first and foremost are interested in playing, simply because it is crucial for learning.

There is more learning in a good game than in the training of letters, believes Larsen.

A, b and c, they will learn it all when they start school. Here we are occupied with developing alright people who can function in a group. In school there is a lot of social activities going on. Therefore, it is important that the children have played a lot, know many different games and have acquired a good social behaviour.

“There is more time for talking, chatting and comfort, and it’s easier to observe the children who have problems. It also generates more time for linguistic stimulation and learning.”

MORE THAN HALF OF THE STAFF IS MEN

Suddenly the kindergarten teacher Håkon Sakshaug runs fast over the yard. A group of big children runs after him. The staff believes the games probably are a bit more physical in a kindergarten where half of the staff is men. But neither Håkon Sakshaug nor Marius Larsen are occupied with being masculine role models.

“I simply believe that men more easily can recognize themselves in boys, in their way of playing and in their development. But above all a gender balance in the staff is about making it easier for all the children to find someone with whom they have a good understanding. It doesn’t have to be about gender,” says Sakshaug. “Gender balance also results in a very good work environment in the kindergarten,” he adds.

“I believe it’s positive for most working places. But the nicest thing about working here is the fact that we are so many teachers, more than 50 percent. It raises the professional level, and actually four out of six are men. And that is quite unique,” Sakshaug reminds us.

NOT ONLY THE CHILDREN ARE LEARNING

Both Sakshaug and Larsen are practice teachers. It means that they on a regular basis are guiding students to become kindergarten teachers from OsloMet. In addition, teachers from OsloMet come here to learn; in that way they can adjust the teaching more closely to the everyday life in the kindergarten. Since 2016 the kindergarten has been connected to OsloMet through a research and development project, more precisely the innovative project “Utdanningsbarnehager”.  One goal is to strengthen the quality of the education and the competence development in the kindergarten, the kindergarten is an equal partner, which is unique in the world of kindergartens. Now the innovation project has become permanent.

“Because we are a university kindergarten, both the adults and the children have become used to think that in our kindergarten we learn something new every day,” Williams says.

“I believe it gives us an open attitude. We constantly ask ourselves what we do, and that is why we don’t stop developing and say:” ‘This is how we always have done things in our kindergarten.’ “The equivalence between the parties in the collaboration with OsloMet is of great value for the development of the kindergarten,” she says.