As SNP delegates decide whether to back a motion calling for Scotland's school age to shift from 4/5 to the international norm of 6/7, here's a taste of what Scots kids are missing - life in an outdoor kindergarten in Norway's Arctic capital - Tromsø.
Is Scotland set to follow Norway with a shift to kindergarten for the early years and a school starting age 6/7 not the present 4/5?
Just 12 per cent of countries send five-year-olds to school. Almost all are former parts of the British Empire, clinging to a model devised to release women from childcare as quickly as possible, so they could work in Victorian factories instead. Child welfare played no part in plumping for the present school age. That’s why Ireland and Cyprus (former British colonies) recently moved away from the British model to the European norm of 6/7.
It’s high time Scotland joined them, because all the evidence shows children learn vital soft skills like sharing, communication, cooperation, creativity and confidence through play long before they can finally control motor functions sufficiently to sit still and start formal education. The urge to stuff the three R’s into 4 and 5 year-old brains may be understandable in a competitive, dog-eat-dog world – but it’s not rational, helpful, productive or kind. It prompts social, emotional and mental health problems in some children forced into formal learning prematurely and 'failing' tests simply because they aren’t ready. Certainly, at five and seven Britain’s ‘force-fed’ kids are ahead in literacy. But by 9, play-based European kids are soaring ahead – and stay ahead for the rest of their school careers and lives.
Added to that, many Norwegian kids attend outdoor kindergarten. Here NH Director Lesley Riddoch talks to Turid Boholm who set up the Bukkespranget Barnehage (literally ‘child garden’) with support from local parents in Arctic Tromsø. Lesley visited in the winter darkness of January to see how kids ilearn, play and eat outdoors, even in the freezing Norwegian winter. Turid describes how the kindergarten brings parents on board and produces confident children able to take care of themselves and of one another.
What is Nordic Horizons?
How do the Nordic nations consistently top international league tables?
Between Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland they are the world's best democracy, the best place to be a woman, the best educated people and the happiest. They regularly top UNICEF's child wellbeing index, lead on the Green Transition and have an enduring emphasis on equality that's the envy of the world.
Nordic Horizons is a Scottish-based group that's been interested in learning more from our nearest European neighbours since devolved government resumed 20+ years ago. We've invited experts over to speak in the Scottish Parliament on Norwegian outdoor kindergarten, Finnish prison reform, Swedish electoral systems, Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution and Copenhagen's claim to be the world's first eco metropolis. Since the pandemic, our events have gone online - but all were recorded and will now be available - updated and edited - via this podcast on a monthly basis.