The 27 year old Early Childhood Education student from the University of the West Indies has spent the last 5 months in Norway, at Queen Maud University College. She has followed 2 courses, Norwegian Early Childhood Education and Care, Theory and Practice, and Outdoor Play and Learning in Norwegian Early Childhood Education.
- I think the best experience has been to see the culture, and how the Norwegians integrate their culture within the education system, says an enthusiastic McLeod. - Like recycling, for example. The authorities in Trinidad and Tobago has tried to make people more interested in recycling, to no avail. Here in Norway it is implemented in the preschools, it is a great idea. The children will grow up caring about the environment.
McLeod has observed several differences between the preschools in Trinidad and Tobago and Norway. One of the biggest differences is the position that play has got in Norway.
- I have seen how children learn through playing. Back home we are more center based and we are focusing on the outcome. There are drama centers, writing centers and so on, where the children are taught new things. In Norway the children get to play less structured, but they are still learning through playing.
I have gained a lot of knowledge here at QMUC, I got to see first hand how to incorporate play into outdoor education, says Petra McLeod.
An other big difference is the freedom she feels that the Norwegian children have in their play environment.
- I have learned the importance of risky play, how important it is that the children get to take risks. The children are overprotected back home, they spend most of their time indoors as apposed to outdoors compared to Norway. Here I have learned that the children need to challenge themselves, to climb the trees. They are exploring their environment but they are still feeling safe, if they have an accident they will learn from it.
She also appreciated the fact that the preschools are outdoors every day, and how they explore the local environment.
- It`s a great idea that both the staff and the children have free busrides during daytime. Here they use the buses to go on outings outside the local area, that is something I will try and incorporate back home where only the children rides for free.
I`ve also learned a lot about nature. We slept outdoors at the campus QMUC have in the forest, picked berries and learned the names of plants. I saw how a piece of wood can be everything a child wants it to be in it`s imagination, whilst a toycar is just a car.
Before she came here McLeod worried about being with children who didn`t speak English.
- My worries were unnecessary. I quickly learned that there are many types of communication. The children taught me several words, and we communicated through bodylanguage, drawings, eyes, etc. I taught them some English words and I let them play with my steelpan, they were quickly learned to play with it. I also showed them how we play in the Caribbean, with sand and glue, something they hadn`t seen before.
She recommends being exchange student.
- Norway is one of the world`s leading countries in Early Childhood Education and Care. I really want to encourage other people to take this chance and come to QMUC. Be open and ask many questions. Being here is more important than just reading the theory. Here I get my questions answered, I can experience, analyze and see for myself what I am reading about. I asked so many questions to my mentor at first, things were so different from what I was used to, it was such a great help actually being here myself.
Petra McLeod has never seen snow before and was happy that she got the change to go skiing while studying at QMUC.
She had 12 classmates from Serbia, Greece, USA, Spain, The Czech Republic and Slovakia. They have travelled a bit around in Norway, and will definitely stay in touch now that the courses are finished.
- That is a great thing about being an exchange student, not only did I get to learn about Norwegian culture and practices, I also get to learn from my classmates how they do it in their homecountries.
– I started the course a bit later than the others, but I managed to catch up, the workload was doable. The teachers at QMUC are very nice and helpful. We get a lot of help, and one of the teachers invited us to her home for dinner. I shared a flat with some students at a different university, they were so jealous because QMUC had provided me with all the things I needed in the kitchen, bedding, clothes, some traditional food and so on.
McLeod will finish her bachelor degree after the next term, and hopefully she will come back to Norway soon.