A Democracy Center for children everywhere

Learning about the world we live in in a creative and fun way

Eidsvoll - children

Photo: Paul Kleiven / NTB
The Democracy Center at Norway House was inspired by a trip that Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall made to Eidsvoll, where the Norwegian Constitution was signed in 1814.

Maya Winkel
Luther College
Decorah, Iowa

Constitution Day in Norway is a celebratory 24 hours when Norwegians, Norwegian Americans, and people of other ethnic backgrounds all over the world celebrate the ratification of the Norwegian Constitution on May 17, 1814.  Our editor-in-chief, Lori Ann Reinhall, is one of them.

The idea for a Democracy Center at Norway House in Minneapolis was born out of a summer trip she made to Eidsvoll, Norway, two summers ago, to the place where the constitution signed. At the visitors’ center there, Reinhall was struck by the inclusive nature of Syttende Mai as it is celebrated in Norway. At Eidsvoll, children are involved in activities that celebrate the birth of their nation as well as learning about democracy and the why and how of the Norwegian Constitution.


Image: public domain
A facsimile of the famous 1885 painting “The National Assembly at Eidsvoll 1814” by Oscar Wergeland depicts the signing of the Norwegian Constitution.

Our editor was struck by all these ideas and thought that many of the them would transfer into the United States and would draw Norwegian Americans closer to their heritage, going all of the way back to the sloop Restauration’s voyage to New York in 1825 with the first Norwegian immigrants. For many Norwegian Americans, community is key to heritage; celebration through community events and education endeavors is crucial in building momentum toward the bicentennial anniversary of immigrants’ landing in New York.

But just as important, in a period of time when the free press is under threat of artificial intelligence and intense restrictions, it is especially important for young people to learn about and act on their constitutional right to vote. The year 2024 is a major year in the United States with many new voters stepping up to either re-elect President Joe Biden or his Republican counterpart, Donald Trump.

Education surrounding voting and the history of voting is crucial for young adults to enter the voting world with a true understanding of what their vote means. Reinhall believes that voter participation is very important and there is no better way to introduce children and families to its intricacies than hosting an event that tells the story of Norwegian heritage in the United States, educates children and young people about Syttende Mai and its significance for their Scandinavian culture, and, most importantly. supports children, families, schools, to build a greater community all while learning about a crucial part of their heritage.

About Norway House

Norway House

Photo courtesy of Norway House
Norway House, located in Minneapolis, is an epicenter for all things Norwegian.

Nestled in the heart of Minneapolis near many culturally significant locations for Norwegian Americans and other cultures alike, Norway House is a melting pot for education, the arts, entertainment, and building community in the greater Twin Cities area.

Norway House is home to many event spaces and educational areas for Norwegians in the Twin Cities to gather and commune around their Norwegian heritage. Norway House started out as a dream of prominent Norwegian Americans in the Twin Cities who strongly felt that Minnesota’s rich Norwegian culture needed a living space—a central hub for a thriving community.

The organization was officially founded on May 17, 2004. At the time, the metro region had more than 100 different Norwegian organizations without a permanent public home to share experiences and stories.  Twenty years later, Norway House has grown into a forward-thinking nonprofit organization serving as a contemporary venue for all aspects of Nordic business and life in North America. It is dedicated to establishing, renewing, and advancing connections between contemporary Norway and the United States through education and partnerships.

Democracy Center.

Photo: Colourbox
The right to vote and using this right are one of the most important tenets of democracy. At the Democracy Center, both in person and online, children will get the opportunity to vote on issues important to them.

Starting on May 3 and going through July 28, 2024, The Norwegian American and  Norway House will host an event called the Democracy Center. The exhibit will be installed in the Mondale Galleri at Norway House.

A plethora of activities will be available to families and children and staffed by Norway House employees and volunteers. In addition to an in-person exhibit, there will also be an online adaptable version available to community members at norwegianamerican.com for a nationwide outreach, including an instructional kit on how to set up your own democracy center. The Democracy Center project hopes to introduce children to basic principles of democracy with a framework of the celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day, also known as the 17th of May or Syttende Mai.

The exhibit is free and open to the public for anybody who is interested. All ages and ethnic backgrounds are welcome to partake in the festivities. One of the major sponsors is the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association in support of the ethnically diverse neighborhood surrounding Norway House.

While many of the activities are targeted toward school-aged children ages 5 to 12, they can be enjoyed by all. The exhibit is designed to appeal to a diverse audience, underlining the basic principles of democratic participation, inclusion, and equity. This is complemented by art that has relevance to the project and can be enjoyed by all age groups.

Additionally, while the activities are educationally focused, they are designed to offer an enjoyable and creative experience for all.

Kids’ Corner

Photo: Colourbox
The Democracy Center at Norway House is a perfect destination for schoolchildren, and class tours can be arranged by contacting the staff there. All the activities can also be enjoyed in online versions at democracy.norwegianamerican.com, or you may want to set up your own kids’ corner for the 17th of May.

What activities will be offered for children at the Democracy Center?

To commemorate the historic signing of the Norwegian Constitution in Eidsvoll, there will be printed and audio-based narratives of the event. The Norwegian Constitution and the United States Constitution are connected in many ways, and this activity will explain the strong ties between the two countries and their democratic policies.

Did you know that the Norwegian Constitution was the second constitution ever to be written in the world? Children and families alike will feel immersed in the historical moment and learn how and why the current country of Norway came to be. 

Knowledgable staff and volunteers from Norway House will also be present to share their expertise. Democracy is key, and understanding the buzzwords that are associated with democracy is crucial to truly understanding why it is so important.

Democracy Wall

Photo: Synneva Bratland
A Democracy Wall at Norway House highlights Norwegian words related to democracy and freedom.

The Democracy Wall will provide children a chance to see the words that are commonly associated with democracy both in English and Norwegian. Children will have the chance to create a speech bubble with a term either in Norwegian or English. This is a great opportunity for children and families to learn a new language as well as gain a better understanding of the democratic system.


Photo: Colourbox
It’s important for children to learn about the world they live in. The activities planned for the Democracy Center will do this in a way that is both fun and entertaining, including coloring for the little ones.

Coloring sheets and crayons will be available picturing a variety of motifs pertaining to the Norwegian Constitution Day celebration including flags (U.S., Norwegian, Sámi, Kven, Skogfinn, Oromo, Minnesota); Norwegian national costumes or bunads; rosemaling; Norwegian sweaters and traditional and ancestral homes. Children are encouraged to take their completed artwork home and hang it on the fridge and on their walls to commemorate the experience at Norway House and use it as a reminder of the importance of democracy and their Norwegian heritage.

What’s out of place?

Eidsvoll "i Spy"

Image: Beth Holmes / The Norwegian American

What’s out of place? An “I spy” inspired game that pictures modern elements in the traditional Eidsvoll Manor House from 1814 where the constitution was signed will allow children to immerse themselves in the historic manor. Look for objects such as vacuums, robots, and vending machines poking through the historic image.

Voting booth

Photo: Colourbox
The right to vote and using this right are one of the most important tenets of democracy. At the Democracy Center, both in person and online, children will get the opportunity to vote on issues important to them

A voting booth will be present to introduce children to  the act of voting and casting a ballot. They will be able to cast their vote on relevant topics such as, should phones be allowed in the classroom? Should kids have to do homework on weekends? And, should we have school in the summertime? With 2024 being an election year, it is more important than ever for children to see how their opinions and votes matter and how their voices can affect a decision for their future. The voting booth will provide children with a realistic ballot that has Ja and Nei (Yes and No) options on issues pertaining to children, and it will be staffed by Norway House volunteers and staff to mimic a traditional voting situation. Let your voice and opinions be heard at this one-of-a-kind experience!

Make your own sløyfe ribbon

A sløyfe is a type of ribbon that is typically worn during Syttende Mai celebrations in Norway. Children and families will have the chance to make their own sløyfe and wear it proudly to show their Norwegian heritage on Syttende Mai. The iconic red, white, and blue colors of the sløyfe will give children a tangible memory of their Norwegian heritage  Did you know that the word sløyfe simply means “tie” or “loop” and the Syttende Mai sløyfe is simply three red, white, and blue ribbons looped together?

Find the red, white, and blue

Image: Colourbox

Have younger children? Do not worry, “Find the red, white, and blue” is an activity that gives younger children a chance to count the hidden Norwegian flags that are placed around the exhibit. Can you find all of them?

Personalized postcard

Children can share the joy of democracy and Syttende Mai by writing a personalized greeting card that can be taken home or mailed to someone special. You can write about what you learned or even send a heartfelt message about how much you appreciate a loved one!

Map your heritage

Kids and globe

Photo: Colourbox
At the Democracy Center, children and others will have the opportunity to identify where their families come from to better understand the world community

Democracy brings people together in one common goal. You will be able to show off your heritage by placing a sticker on a world map to indicate where your family comes from. Not from Norway? Doesn’t matter. Norway House hopes to spread a universal message of democracy and community through engagement regardless of ethnicity and background. Children will be able to form relationships with other children and families from around the world by participating in the Democracy Center’s educational objectives.



Songs of Syttende Mai

Photo: Colourbox
Music is part of any Norwegian Constitution Day celebration. At the Democracy Kids’ Corner, children will be able to listen to the national anthems of Norway and the United States and other patriotic songs.

Last but most certainly not least, visitors to the Democracy Center will be able to use their singing voice and learn traditional songs from Norway! Recordings of the Norwegian and U.S. national anthems and other popular Norwegian songs will be available with English translations—sing your heart out!

“The Democracy Center is the most promising opportunity I’ve had to build strong relationships with our community and highlight the value of civic engagement to audiences of all ages. It’s an opportunity to make real and substantive connections,” says Joseph Grødahl, director of operations and programs at Norway House.

“I am so excited about partnering with The Norwegian American on this project and reaching out to the community,” says Christina Carleton, Norway House’s CEO and president. “It is so important and meaningful to us all.”.

Learn more and access the online activities at democracy.norwegianamerican.com.

Hipp, hipp, hurra for Syttende Mai!

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue ofThe Norwegian American.