Moving to another country presents many challenges and moving with children even more so. Diving into the educational system of your new home country can be pretty overwhelming.
When we moved to Aarhus four years ago, our children were between 1 and 11 years old, meaning that together they covered almost the whole range of daycare and school options available in Denmark. Our youngest little girl went to vuggestuen, our second youngest little girl to børnehaven, and the oldest two started in a folkeskole and SFO (Skole Fritids Ordning – after school care).
Back home our two little girls had gone to daycare as well, but only during the hours where I was at work. In Holland it is only possible (for ordinary people) to afford having a child in daycare when both parents are working. Apart from the extremely high costs, in Holland a stay-at-home mom would get some pretty strange looks if she sent her child to daycare. Daycare is seen as a necessary evil, only to be used if no other options (dads, neighbours, aunties, grandparents) are available.
In Denmark daycare is almost seen as a necessity. Not only do vuggestuen and børnehaven give children a chance to develop their social skills, they offer a whole range of enjoyable, educational activities and nature outings as well. Because rain or shine, Danish children play outside and at the vuggestue they even take a nap outside! I must admit I am quite impressed by the way they organize their daycare system in Denmark.
In folkeskolen children start in the nolde klasse, where they spend a lot of time learning how to operate in a group, how to sit still and listen to the teacher. Slowly they are introduced to the alphabet as well, but the real learning doesn’t start until første klasse, when they are about 7 years old.
In the Danish educational system a lot of emphasis is put on fællesskab, which is maybe best translated as “creating a sense of companionship”. It already starts at børnehaven, where the children are introduced to a project called Fri for mobberi, which teaches children not to bully. In the lower grades of folkeskolen the legegrupper – playgroups formed by the teacher – help to increase the feeling of solidarity even more. These legegrupper have play dates after school as well. In the higher grades they discuss in class how to play fair during a football game or they organize a weekly pigemøde, a meeting for all the girls. They did this in our oldest daughter’s class for a while. Under the guidance of a teacher the girls talked about the consequences of gossiping and about what happens if someone gets excluded from the group. This definitely helped them bond.
Again, I must admit I am quite impressed. In Denmark the school years lay the foundation for long-lasting friendships. The companionship created in børnehaven and folkeskolen remains present when children grow up and it affects Danish society in a positive way. Could this be the reason why Danes are amongst the happiest people on earth?