A New Year At The Ark

After an extremely busy 2017, it was a rare pleasure for me to find time to relax and ponder during the Christmas break. 

Due to several months building and finally opening our new Ark nursery in the middle of November, I had very little time to prepare for Christmas this year. There isn’t a word to describe how tired I was!
I bought less presents than ever before and the ones I did manage to buy were haphazardly wrapped without the usual attention to detail. 
There was less bling, but plenty of food, cosiness and of course a good book.

While shopping this year, my husband stumbled upon a book: ‘North, How to Live Scandinavian’ by Bronte Aurell.  For as long as I can remember I have been inspired by Scandinavian philosophies, schools, style, attitude to family life, food, drink and of course the hygge state of mind.
I lit a candle, curled up in front of the wood burner in my favourite chair and tapped into my inner Thor while reading ‘North.’
This was enough for me, or ‘lagom’ as I came to realise. I have never really liked the commercial, tinsel wrapped ‘Xmas’ which helps us to forget what Christmas is really about.

Lagom means just right, just enough, sufficient or the correct amount. 
Going back to Viking times, the mead was passed around in the horn, sharing and not taking too much was encouraged to strengthen team building, with the belief that we should apply ourselves to work for the greater good of the whole group or team. 
Swedish psyche is one of consensus and equality, they don’t overdo things, everything is middle of the road, fair and just the right amount – lagom.

I was struck by how much the Scandinavian ethos has influenced us and impacted on our ethos in the nurseries over the last 17 years, without us necessarily being aware of how much of what we practice is just a way of life in Scandinavia.
We have embraced the outdoors and have adopted the life lesson that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. We have been inspired by the benefits of Forest Schools and believe that children learn through play for as long as childhood permits, and we have also put together more flat packed furniture than I care to admit!
But before reading ‘North’ and learning some new words, I could never quite find the right vocabulary to describe what we believe and ‘feel’ at The Ark.

Hygge is a Danish word which I believe perfectly describes what we struggle to convey through marketing, social networking and websites.
Hygge is a word which describes a quality of cosiness – feeling warm, comfortable, and safe. This feeling comes from doing simple things, spending time around loved ones, and being in comfortable surroundings.
Think of the word hug, which stems from the word hyggja, it can only be a good hug if you create a connection with the person. 
A hug like hygge has warmth, comfort, and love. The Danes have built their cultural identity around Hygge.

Child Playing
play area

You really do have to come and visit our nurseries to ‘feel’ what we are trying to achieve.  Both Ark nurseries are housed in Scandinavian, purpose built log cabins where we have created a warm and cosy atmosphere, a home from home for the children and staff.
A member of staff who left us a few years ago to travel recently came back to work with us again.  In her words, “the minute I walked into the Ark again, I felt like I had come home.  There’s nowhere like the Ark.”
We try not to over stimulate our children at the nursery with too many activities at once, we encourage the children to problem solve together or alone and to not rely too much on prescriptive toys which we believe stifles imagination and creativity.

Fika (feeka) is a word Swedes use when struggling to find the right word. 
Confusingly, it is both a noun and a verb. You can take a fika or fika with someone. It involves sitting down for at least ten minutes and finding time to chat and share a drink and some cake/cinnamon bun. 
We haven’t installed a coffee machine at The Ark yet, but we do enjoy getting to know our families and never close our doors, so maybe like the Scandinavians we should encourage fika more by providing coffee and buns. 

With the effortless chic and Hygge of the Danes, the energy of the Norwegians and the fika of the Swedes we look forward to all the fun we will have with each other, the children and their families in 2018. 

So, get outside, play more, spend time together, talk to your children, encourage opinions and switch off those devices!

Oh, and eat proper food.  Together. Lagom.

Jo O'Bryan-Tear