In a land of mountains and fjords, outdoor life begins early. That’s why 11,000 preschoolers this week started their day by hiking trails around kindergartens in Norway.
Dressed in outdoor one-piece jumpsuits, children from around 400 daycare centers across the country made short paths through Norwegian wildlife.
“We hope we can encourage children to be outdoor children,” said Kristen Oftedal of the Norwegian Trekking Association, a volunteer organization that aims to promote outdoor activities. “We believe outdoor kids are happy kids.”
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Mini Nordic adventurers will thrive in a society where outdoor life is semi-religious. According to the latest official data, 97% of Norwegians participated in some form of outdoor activity in 2021. That compares with just 54% of Americans, according to the Outdoor Foundation, an American outdoor industry association.
This is hardly surprising. Leisure time for this Scandinavian nation of 5.3 million often revolves around trips to cabins in the mountains. Thousands of Norwegians have access to a cabin — some in the mountains, some by the coast — that they use to retreat from everyday life.
As well as 440,000 family-owned cabins, there are around 550 sites run by volunteers from the Norwegian Trekking Association.
These same volunteers also maintain 16,800 miles of hiking and skiing trails. And the little red Ts painted on rocks and posts that mark the routes are familiar to Norwegians across the country. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Steuer described them as “nature’s diminutive lights” and “hiker’s companions,” and in 2021, 82 percent of adults said they went on a hike at some point during the year.
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But Oftedal warns against complacency. Her organization came up with the idea of a “turbo truck” for toddlers in part as a way to curb the sedentary instincts she sees creeping into Norwegian society. “Being outside is very important for young people physically and mentally,” Oftedel told The Associated Press.
“They will learn skills and attitudes that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.” She hopes the diploma awarded to each of the hip-sized hikers will be their first muddy step toward becoming the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.