Over the past few weeks, our family has experienced a reopening society in Oslo, Norway.
I’ve written before about what it was like to choose to stay in Norway during the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, friends have repeatedly told me that they think we made the right call because Norway’s response to the coronavirus has been organized and measured- a sharp contrast, we’re told, to how it feels back home. My youngest daughter, Libby, has been back at reopened elementary school since early May, and my eldest daughter returned when middle schools reopened a week later.
- When Libby returned, her class size had been reduced to 8 in part to better ensure social distancing but also because some families were keeping their children at home still.
- They were no longer in their crowded classroom of students new to Norway. Instead, they were seated now in the school auditorium with seats between them. Libby laughed about how much room they had to spread out, but not at how often the teachers had to call out warnings when the kids got too close to each other on the playground: “Hold deg en meter!” (Here, we’re asked only to keep a meter apart, instead of 2 meters, or 6 feet.)
- There was loads of hand sanitizer and hand washing.
- Libby’s class was no longer allowed to mix with other classes, so they had recess by themselves in the sculpture garden, and they ate lunch in the classroom (not actually a change).
- Finally, the school day is shorter by an hour and a half so the teachers can thoroughly disinfect classrooms after a day of teaching.
A week later, Libby spent the morning confused as the teachers reshuffled classes again. She now is in a group of 4 students and spends two hours outside in the morning with one hour as “outdoor” classroom time and another hour of recess. Today, she told me that she got to sing in their outdoor classroom and learn about the national songs of each other’s countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week they had to reshuffle things again as teachers adapt to new changes and official advice for social distancing and reopening society.
To be honest, I’m finding it hard to get too worked up about students having more time running around outside in the sunshine; I’m just so grateful my little extrovert gets to be outside of our house and with other kids. Libby isn’t worried about getting sick and willingly adjusts to all the changes at school because she just wants to be in school.
When Nell followed her sister back to school this week, she was met with a different set of rules. They enter the classroom one by one in a particular order and wash their hands before they find their seat. This means there’s very little moving around the classroom once everyone is at their desks, which are now 1 meter apart. When one student’s iPad stopped working, Nell shared hers by holding it up so her neighbor could see, though he wasn’t allowed to touch it. Her program is more academic and requires them to spend more time at their desk, but they still get outside a lot and have group activities, like scavenger hunts, outside.
Nell’s school, like Libby’s at the elementary level, has had to experiment and try different classroom and learning configurations. This week, half the class meets in a small group for one class while the other half of students have been sent home early to complete assignments online. Next week, they’ll switch off. Nell too is managing these changes well because she enjoys attending school so much more in person than online.
Prior to and throughout reopening society here, we had a sense that if we needed to get tested, it wouldn’t be a problem. And if we needed a doctor, that we’d be taken care of even as foreigners, and that it wouldn’t bankrupt us even if our insurance from home didn’t cover it.
Everyone’s keeping an eye on the numbers (they’re low) to see what may happen (we check this chart every day ourselves) with the students back in school. Folks here now wonder if it was even necessary to close down schools at the beginning of the pandemic.
People really aren’t wearing masks, but most Norwegians naturally keep their distance from one another. Shops never really closed here, though the wine-opoly (everyone’s nickname for the liquor store) only allows 10 people in at a time and a guard spritzes your hands with sanitizer as you come in. Many things are still closed, but today when I made a special trip to a store I haven’t visited for months (they had large bottles of hand sanitizer!) I was surprised at just how many people were out and about. I felt nervous and kept my own face mask on, but I’m not sure my anxiety is warranted given the entire country had only 3 new cases today.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg (a personal hero in our house, in part, because she’s dyslexic) has warned folks not to drop their guard. A calm presence on the news here, the prime minister has twice held press conferences for children and last week led a government dance break in honor of Norway’s Constitution Day’s celebrations which had largely been canceled. There are still politics at play here across the government, we understand, but the government is generally organized and united in its plans to combat the virus. Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie says:
We can open up Norwegian society again because we have succeeded in suppressing the spread of infection. As we lift the restrictions, we must keep the spread of infection under control by testing more people and through contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine.
This has been a slow, measured reopening society that feels reasonable and safe. We’re really hoping we can experience the same thing back home in Vermont when we return in the fall.