IT IS minus 15 degrees and three-year-olds are sleeping outside in the snow, snuggled up in reindeer-skin tents with hot water bottles to keep them warm.
It may be the depths of winter in Scandinavia, but children attending the increasingly popular outdoor childcare centres spend all day in the forest. They pitch tents, go hiking and make hot chocolate.
While this freewheeling approach is a far cry from the regimented system in Australia, early learning experts suggest it could be the key to why Scandinavian childcare is consistently rated the best in the world.
''I've been into good-quality centres here, but I was blown away by the centres there,'' the Queensland University of Technology psychology professor Karen Thorpe said.
''The levels of conflict are so very low, the engagement in learning is extremely high, the teachers' knowledge, qualifications and respect for children is extraordinary. It was the quality of relationships in those centres which was amazing.''
I've been into good-quality centres here, but I was blown away by the centres there ...
Although the concept of the ''forest kindergarten'' has been around in Sweden since the 1950s, such centres are now becoming increasingly mainstream in Scandinavia.
University of Oslo psychology professor Anne Borge believes being close to nature is part of Scandinavia's soul and her research has also shown children function better outside.