Because Denmark is a welfare society, there are many benefits for children. Mothers have a mandatory 2 weeks maternity leave, though up to 52 weeks is acceptable. Children are guarantied day care facilities from the age of 1. Providing these facilities ensures that parents can go back to work and know their children are well-taken care of. And roughly 80% of households have both parents working full time. Children attend public (or private) schools, but the day cares are free for all up to 10 years of age as a supplement to school. Here children do a different kind of learning. After visiting 2 Danish Day Cares, I see them as a place where children learn how to be social humans with each other, their environment and country, as well as their society. The following are 3 important Danish views on children.
1. Children as multi-competent
When children ask how to do something, they are ready to learn it. Then, they will learn it the easiest. “We let the children do it if we think they can” is the saying. There is no pressure on the children to do something, a mentality which fosters learning. Children in one day care facility were paired into two and received their own keys to a child-sized home. They were responsible for maintaining a garden and keeping their home clean. Sometimes, the children are heard challenging one another with, “You don’t do as much work as I do! I keep the whole garden! Where were you?” It takes playing house to another level, but this is an important life skill. In the United States, we don’t get this kind of exposure until we have our first college roommates.
2. Children as an equal human-being
DK children are taught democracy. They learn how to vote, and that the majority will rule. To ensure fairness, the minority gets to choose what activity to do next time. This could explain why DK has a large voluntary voting percentage of ~80%. They are taught from an early age that voting is their way of being heard. The children are always addressed by first name for their opinions. If two children misbehave, the adult goes down to their eye-level and asks each child to speak their version of the story independently in front of the other. (This usually ends in both students shaking hands and laughing!) The older children are encouraged to use tools that a grown person would use; this, if you’re an engineer or architect in the US, is amazing! Many of us don’t learn shop safety until we are in college. But DK does not discriminate against age.
3. Children as active subjects.
Children should use their bodies to learn as well. Kindergarten means that children are like flowers and must be in nature to develop. Danish Day Cares have outdoor facilities where children are free to roam, build forts, maintain gardens, play soccer, and invent games. Even video games are encouraged (in moderation). If the child is new to the facility, then a game device will help him or her make friends.
Creating a happy society starts early in Denmark. Ensuring that children are fully integrated social members of society from an early age is part of how a trusting society is formed. If you asked a Danish parent what they want their child to be, most of the time the response would be, “Happy and healthy.”