På norsk, selvfølgelig!

Vesterheim’s Norsk Skole teaches youth Norwegian language and culture the fun way

Photo courtesy of Vesterheim
FOLLOW THE LEADER: Each fall and spring, youth from the areas surrounding Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, line up to attend Norsk Skole, an after-school Norwegian language and culture program taught in conjunction with Nordic Studies majors from Luther College.

Luther College

This past spring semester, I had the opportunity to work with Vesterheim, the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, as an instructor at Norsk Skole. Every spring and fall, Vesterheim runs a session of this after-school program for third- to fifth-graders from the surrounding area to explore Norwegian language and culture.

As Leah Lovelace, director of folk art education at Vesterheim, explains, “[Norsk Skole] is especially beloved because it is facilitated by Vesterheim Folk Art School but run by Luther College students in the Nordic Studies program.”

In my section of the program, I taught the four youth with one of my peers, Ian Gonzales, who is also a Nordic Studies major at Luther College. Norsk Skole is similar in structure to other after-school programs. The session runs once a week for about two hours.

A typical day

A typical day looked like this: When the kids arrived on location, they received a snack, and we spent a few minutes conversing about what they learned at school or what they were excited about for that day at Norsk Skole, while we waited for everyone to arrive.

Once we were all ready, we began with the material for that day by learning new vocabulary (på norsk selvfølgelig), exposure to aspects of Norwegian culture, or even playing games that fit within the theme for that day.

Every week, there would be a different theme. Our first day was introductory, both with learning about each other but also learning how to introduce ourselves in Norwegian. At the end of that day, we asked the participants what kinds of things they would like to learn about, and we made a long list.

There were all sorts of topics, from Vikings to food, from history to Harry Potter, from transportation to mythology, and, finally, back to Vikings. We ended up choosing the following themes: geografi (geography), dialekter (dialects), alfabetet (the alphabet), Vikinger og mytologi (Vikings and mythology), transport (transportation), Harry Potter, and, finally, mat (food). All themes were identified in the Norwegian language.

Every session, we tried our best to include both educational components and fun games that went along with the theme for that day, especially since our group was always a little antsy to be active.

For example, on our alphabet day, we started by teaching how vowels are pronounced. This provided a good opportunity for the kids to learn more about speaking Norwegian.

To apply that knowledge, we played a game of “Telephone,” in which one person starts by choosing a vowel in Norwegian. They then whisper the vowel to the person next to them, who, in turn, does the same to their neighbor. This happens around the circle until the end, when the last person shouts the vowel out loud.

This fun game allowed us to see both how well the students remembered and recognized the vowels and how well they could pronounce them.

Another part of this day revolved around the geography of Norway. First, we spent some time talking about the major regions in Norway: Nord-Norge, Trøndelag, Vestlandet, Østlandet, and Sørlandet.

Afterward, we played a modified version of the game “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” which we called “Pin byen på landet” or “Pin the city on the country.” We gave the youth names of major cities in Norway, and they had to decide where they thought that city was located.

Overall, our strategy was to introduce language or cultural concepts and reinforce the students’ learning with an interactive activity or game.

More than just Norsk Skole

Vesterheim offers more programs than just Norsk Skole. Lovelace elaborated on all that the Folk School offers:

“In addition to Norsk Skole, we offer several other after-school Youth Klubb programs. We have tried to build programming that creates a culture of continued exploration of Nordic and Scandinavian culture, starting with our Friluftsliv Klubb for kindergarten through second-graders, then Norsk Skole for third to fifth grades, and then our folk art programs for students ages 10–15, including Whittling Klubb (two levels), Rosemaling Klubb, and Fiber Klubb.

“We have also greatly expanded our offerings for intergenerational audiences with the addition of the digital learning platform during the pandemic, developing Family Programming that is monthly and includes kits and demonstration videos and can be experienced asynchronously to best support individual family schedules through programs such as Norwegian Language Adventures, Book Adventures, and Family Handcraft at Home. We have also expanded to offer Fa­milieTid Live Zoom events featuring Scandinavian and domestic performers and artists and featuring music, storytelling, cooking and more,” she added.

In the end, I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to work educating youth on Norwegian language and culture. As a Nordic Studies major at Luther College and one with Norwegian heritage myself, I feel proud to be able to pass on one of my passions to a new generation.

You can learn more about Norsk Skole and Vesterheim’s other Norwegian language and culture programs at their website: vesterheim.org/folk-art-school/youthandfamily.

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Nick Rogness

Nick Rogness is a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, majoring in Nordic studies and data science. Nick grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and is a intern for The Norwegian American for the summer of 2022.