Friluftsliv: Living well with nature

The winter solstice is just around the corner now (10.02 on 21st Dec) – a pivotal day that carries the promise of lengthening days and eventually, the early signs of Spring.  As the official start of Winter though, it in itself provokes us to acknowledge that the winter months are here now.  And before us stretches ample time to slow down, pay attention to the smaller things and appreciate the opportunity for recovery and restoration, needed more than ever this year.

Slowliness is one of my most cherished Natural Play Principles, so I was really pleased this year to (virtually) meet and get to know Kimberly Smith of Hygge in the Early Years, participating in her autumn conference on Friluftsliv.  It feels like the approaching solstice is the right time to put effort into slowing down and concentrating on being present – being outdoors and appreciating life itself – just as young children are so good at doing.  Perhaps this reset can set us up for really noticing and connecting more deeply with the natural world throughout the coming year?

Although I already ‘knew’ about this deep cultural approach to outdoor life, Kimberley’s post has prompted me to find out more, and I hope it does the same for you too – for starters I recommend this fascinating paper from Hans Gelter.  In a nice coincidence, there is also an article on Friluftsliv by Meredith Jones Russell in December’s issue of Nursery World, and of course, there is much resonance with Froebelian thinking and practice too, especially in terms of Slow Pedagogy.

So thanks Kimberley for starting things off on this pathway to living and learning well.  Kimberley also has lots to offer on her website, including her Wanderlust Child Nature Study – do take a look around.

Meanwhile, we wish you all a harmonious, peaceful and restorative – and outdoor rich – Christmas pause!  (the ECO blog is taking two weeks off as well, so we’ll see you early in the New Year).

Friluftsliv by Kimberly Smith

We often look to Scandinavia and it seems as though they have all the answers when it comes to having a good quality of life.  Not only is Denmark often ranked as the happiest country in the world, according to United Nations rankings, but Norway is often ranked second.

The Danish approach to life, known as Hygge, is often described as being one of the main contributors to this.  The simple and cosy moments in life, often with others, are appreciated – for instance, enjoying a warm cup of hot chocolate by the fire after a walk with family in the snow.

Just as the Danes build Hygge into their culture, Norwegians have a very special way of improving their wellbeing through the concept of ‘Friluftsliv’ (pronounced free-loofts-liv).  This literally means ‘free-air-life’ and is focused on having a simple life that has a strong appreciation for nature.  Although this way of living has been part of the culture for hundreds of years, it was the well-known playwright Henrik Ibsen who first used the term Friluftsliv in 1859 in his poem “På Viddene” (“On the Heights”).

The main character in the poem was faced with some troubles in life and in the end chose a free life in nature.  We can interpret Iben’s use of Friluftsliv as:

“The total appreciation of the experience one has when communing with the natural environment, not for sport or play, but for its value in the development of one’s entire spiritual and physical being.”  (Elgvin 2009).

Since then the word has become even more deeply engrained into the way of living in Norway.

I think it’s really important to remind ourselves of this, and even take inspiration on the way nature can impact the whole self.  If we consider how many times we over-complicate nature or put up barriers that stop us accessing it; perhaps with the need for expensive equipment or reluctance to be outside due to weather conditions.  We can even be guilty of going into nature for the desire to get that ‘perfect’ Instagram shot!

Yet, when we look at Friluftsliv we can see there is a shift in thinking to it being about getting outdoors in a simple way and just feeling present in the nature around you.  Bracken (2020) shares that:

“In Scandinavia, the freedom to enjoy nature and connect with the outside is as fundamental as breathing, eating and drinking.” 

There should be no need to rush and we should avoid the temptation to move onto the next agenda.

During my time in Norway there were many days when we would set off for a hike from the house with no particular focus or end achievement.  My Norwegian friends would remind us just to be present without the need for any competitiveness; to have a desire to conquer a mountain or battle raging river rapids in a kayak.  Just being was enough, like sitting at the side of a lake and watching out for a moose swimming across, or taking a cup of tea on the doorstep and listening to the birds.

I’m often reminded too of how young children are very good at stopping, looking and being curious as they walk along.  Perhaps we can turn to our children to learn this again from them: the importance of slowness and looking at the world through a fresh pair of eyes.

With the harsh weather conditions, especially in northern Scandinavia, the weather cannot dictate the decision to enter outside or not.  Instead we can be reminded here of a quote by Alfred Wainwright, “There’s no such thing as bad weather only unsuitable clothing.”  Young children are also brought up with this way of thinking from a very young age.  Parents can often be seen walking in the fresh air wearing their young babies in slings all year round.  Three-year olds are taken on daily hikes in the ice and show no fear when it comes to skiing.  While older children can be seen climbing mountain peaks with their parents, with family holidays often experienced in the wilderness.

The Scandinavian approach to education also supports friluftsliv through a strong outdoor approach, with many children attending outdoor-based schools working on a curriculum that has a focus on key life skills and understanding the elements of the seasons and natural phenomena.  As Jan White, discussed at the Hygge in the Early Years Autumn Conference 2020, there needs to be a two-way partnership between yourself and nature.  When we learn to appreciate the Earth then the natural love and care for it will happen which is key to sustainability.

How can you bring more friluftsliv into your day?
  • Avoid wet playtimes and instead celebrate the rain and the opportunities this gives us.
  • Try to avoid over-scheduling your day and give yourself time to appreciate and smell the flowers and to see the raindrops balancing on a branch.
  • Plan daily time in nature for you and the children where there is no purpose other than to just be
  • Walk to work or school drop-off’s as much as you can and see the same familiar route in different seasons, making a conscious effort to notice the changes.
  • Introduce walking or outdoor staff meetings with your team.
  • Consider how different parts of your daily rhythm can happen in the outdoors: eating, resting, mindfulness, yoga.

Lastly, remember there is no wrong way to do Friluftsliv – just be in nature.


Dag T. Elgvin Presented at the conference: «Henrik Ibsen: The birth of ‘friluftsliv’ – a 150 years Celebration», North Trøndelag University College, Sept. 14th – 19th 2009

Sofie Bakken (2020) Friluftsliv: Everything You Need To Know About The Nordic Lifestyle Of Friluftsliv 

Professor Jan White Presented ‘Everyday Nature Play‘ at the Hygge in the Early Years Autumn Conference on Frilufsliv, October 2020.

All images are (C) Kimberley Smith or Jan White and must not be used without written permission from the photographer or Early Childhood Outdoors.





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