Norwegian preschoolers get early exposure to outdoor life by hiking routes around kindergartens

STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — In the land of mountains and fjords, outdoor life starts early. That’s why as many as 11,000 pre-school kids started their day this week hiking routes around kindergartens in Norway.

Dressed in the outdoor one-piece jumpsuits typical of tiny tots in this country, kids from around 400 daycare centers plotted mini-routes through Norwegian wildlife.

“We hope we can inspire the kids to be outdoor children," said Kristin Oftedal of the Norwegian Trekking Association, a volunteer organization which aims to promote outdoor activities. “We believe outdoor children are happy children.”

The mini-Nordic adventurers will grow up in a society where outdoor life is quasi-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 Outdoor Foundation, a U.S. outdoor industry association.

That 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, others by the coast — that they use as a retreat from everyday life.

As well as 440,000 family-owned cabins, there are around 550 sites operated by volunteers from the Norwegian Trekking Association.

The same volunteers also maintain 27,000 kilometers (16,800 miles) of hiking and skiing trails. And the tiny red Ts painted on rocks and posts which mark routes, are familiar to Norwegians throughout the country. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoerre described them as “nature’s modest beacon” and “the hiker’s companion” and in 2021, 82% of adults reported that they went hiking at some point during the year.

But Oftedal warns against complacency. Her organization conceived the idea of the “Turbo Traak” for toddlers partly as a way of stopping the sedentary instinct she sees creeping into Norwegian society. “Being outdoors is so important for young people, both physically and mentally," Oftedal told The Associated Press.

"They will learn skills and attitudes that they can bring with them for their whole lives.” She hopes that the diploma handed to each of the hip-sized hikers will be their first muddy steps toward becoming the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts.