This article is Li Junli’s perception and understanding of the early childhood education in Denmark. Li Junli is a trainee in the fifth session of “Walk into Andersen’s Fairy Tale World – Lao Niu Lao Niu Talent Cultivation Program for Preschool Teachers”. By comparing the patterns and methods of education between China and Denmark and case analysis, this article further elaborates how the teachers in Denmark follow children’s nature and bring the happiness of games back to children, allowing to “have fun” playing!
Denmark is the hometown of Andersen and a country of fairy tales. On October 7, 2018, me and 15 trainees from all over China travelled far away across the sea and finally arrived at the happiest country in the world to participate in the fifth session of “Walk into Andersen’s Fairy Tale World – Lao Niu Lao Niu Talent Cultivation Program for Preschool Teachers” held by H.C. Andersen International Kindergarten College.
During the half month in the kingdom of fairy tales, I felt the Denmark culture featuring “respect for people, advocate freedom and encourage creativity” always and everywhere and the importance the Danes placed on children’s “imagination” and “creativity”, which, in early childhood education, is to let the children “play”.
We Chinese like to emphasize the importance of early childhood education with the words “don’t let your child lose at the starting line” and the “starting line” we think is to develop children’s intelligence in early stage and let them study some knowledge and skills from primary school, including reading, writing and calculating. How do the Danes think of “starting line”?
After conducting a survey on over 400 international studies, Professor Dion Sommer from University of Aarhus in Denmark obtained the research result regarding kindergarten teaching: children’s self-regulating abilities are reflected in emotional capability, social skill, creativity, cognitive competence and knowledge learning ability and the former three are decisive factors for the development of children. If we put the cart before the horse and attach undue importance to knowledge learning, it will ruin children’s motivation and passion and obliterate their imagination and creativity. In the wrong way, it might lead to learning weariness among children. Research shows: “the teaching method of learning through playing” will make the children better prepared for their lifelong development. The starting line is not all about knowledge, but more about the degree of development of children’s emotional capability, social skill and creativity.
The research results by the Danes are the same to the research results from the High Scope Curriculum in the United States: Perry Preschool Program of High Scope Curriculum randomly put 3-year-old and 4-year-old children in kindergartens featuring game mode and direct knowledge teaching mode. After that, the program followed the lives of these children from preschool education to adulthood (40 years old). Research shows that, compared to the children in kindergarten in direct knowledge teaching mode, the children allocated to kindergarten in game mode are better in senior high school graduation and possession of job and house property and lower in crime rate. These research results indicate that the children in game mode are always performing better than the children of the same age in other curriculums.
In order for children to have a better playing experience, the Danish Parliament passed a new national “Daycare Act”, which describes the objective of early childhood education as follows: “the purpose of education is to create a learning environment beneficial to children, rather than to teach the children.” In other words, children are learning through the interaction with people, things, incidents and viewpoints, namely “to learn through playing”. Therefore, the Danish government is safeguarding children’s right to “play” through legislation at national level.
There is no course in the kindergartens in Denmark and the only thing for children to do is to “play”. Every day, children are required to play for over 2 hours outdoors, regardless of the wind, the rain or the snow. There is a saying in the kindergartens in Denmark: there are only unfit clothes and no unfit weather. Therefore, each child in Denmark kindergartens has three suits of clothes, one suit of indoor clothes, one siamesed raincoat for wearing outdoor in rainy days, and one suit of clothes for playing outside in sunny days. When going outside, children need to put on outerwear by themselves and decide what to play by themselves. The teachers are only assisting the children in, such as, putting on their clothes, but they will never do it for the children. In Denmark kindergartens, we saw children playing sands, playing the mud, playing on the swing, turning somersaults, and riding bikes crazily outside at will. Inside the house, we saw some children playing various kinds of toys and games, including children-centered fantasy games guided by the teachers… some children even walked out of the kindergarten and went hike in the forest for outdoor activities. The Danes believe that “children will not play for learning; however, learning will naturally be formed in the process of playing.” That is to say, “learning by playing” is a basic reality in the kindergartens in Denmark.
In China, there are also rules stipulating that kindergartens must guarantee 2-hour outdoor activities for children, but how many kindergartens have made it? For most of the time, children are sitting in and learning knowledge in classroom without natural environment. This might cause some hidden troubles to the future. However, how many people have realized the significance of “playing” to the growth of children?
The Danes emphasize that “all children must be part of the community”, which means the education for children is not only an issue for kindergarten, but also the joint responsibility for families and the society.
In order for the children to “play” well, all the communities in Denmark have built playground for children. We visited a community playground and saw all the swings, climbing facilities, roller skating sites (skate from high to low) and various other challenging toys and all kinds of small vehicles for riding, and percussion instruments the Danes built for children in pure natural sand land, on dirt and on grassland… in the playground, we saw the residents of the community playing with children. Most of them were fathers accompanying and watching their children. They were really accompanying their children wholeheartedly and none of them was looking at their mobile phones. In the Legoland Amusement Park, there were parents and children hanging out together everywhere. When waiting in line, the families were communicating in low voice, forming a cozy and warm picture. None of the children was running helter-skelter and none of the parents was looking at their phone.
In contrast, the recreational facilities in domestic communities are built for adults and rarely suitable for children. What’s more, almost all the fields are hardened without natural sand land and grass land. Moreover, almost all the adults here are playing with their phones. Sometimes, the parents are playing with their phones even when their children have fallen into the sea. It has happened around us. There was a child run over by a car because the parents were playing with their phones rather than looking after their child. Although this is just a single case, we should be sufficiently vigilant about it!
In Denmark, it’s illegal to beat children. Even in the families, parents are absolutely not allowed to physically punish their children and the parents who do so will be punished by the law. Ms. Guo Bin, our translator, said when she just arrived in Denmark, she signed an agreement with local government. One of the items in the agreement is not to physically punish children. In China, however, we can always see and hear about incidents regarding physical punishment on children. In particular at home, parents always think it is a domestic affair and none of others’ business to beat their children. It is related to the cultural traditions in China. We believe that the only way to discipline children is to beat them. As the saying goes, “spare the rod and spoil the child”, “three days without a beating, and a child will scale the roof to rip the tiles”. As you can see, our culture just has no respect for children.
In Denmark, parents respect children and always let children do what they can. It’s a consensus for all parents not to take care of everything concerning their children, not to replace their children and not to spoil their children. According to the translator Ms. Guo Bin, there is no wild kid in Denmark. It makes me think that there must be wild kid behind wild parents. In China, we have seen and heard so many things about wild kids! Why are there so many wild kids? The reason is that there are too many parents with band manners. The essence of early childhood education is the self-education of adults. In terms of improving the populace’s cultivation and improving parents’ concept and ability of parenting, we still have a long way to go.
In the process of learning in Denmark, we the trainees always ask the same question: what if the children get hurt? What are the responsibilities of the kindergartens? Mr. Tadao Chiba, President of Nordfyn’s Folk High School, said on one occasion during his experience as a teacher in a kindergarten in Denmark, one of the children broke his leg. However, the parents comforted him and said their child was not careful and it was not the teacher’s fault and asked him not to worry about it! If the same thing happens in a kindergarten in China, the teacher will only face endless entanglement by the parents.
In Denmark, I saw the respect from different levels, including the state, the society, the kindergartens and families, to children. Adults will follow children and adequately protect the curious, inquisitive, restless and explorative nature of children and let them “play” well!
The mode of preschool education in Denmark is “playing”, which contributes to the high quality citizens in Denmark and endows the nation with strong creativity. There are 14 Nobel Prize winners among a population of 5.7 Million, making the country with the highest per capita Nobel Prize medal in the world. On the contrary, the “advancing” education in China that tries every means to excavate children’s potential indeed pales the “original and backward” preschool education in Denmark by comparison. However, in reality, Chinese students keep winning awards in international Olympic competitions. Chinese students took the crown in PISA test for two times. However, many of them “become normal” after growing up! Isn’t it what we should rethink profoundly?
In conclusion, the early childhood education in China needs to return to its origins, follow children’s nature, give the joy of games back to children and let children “play” well!
In the end, I want to express my sincere thanks to Mr. Yang Dongping, President of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, for recommending me to take part in this learning trip. Thank Mr. Dong Ruixiang, President of H.C. Andersen International Kindergarten College and someone with the country and the people in mind, for providing us this opportunity of learning! Thank Mr. Niu Gensheng, Founder of Lao Niu Foundation and someone who tries to let others be benefited for his success, for providing the financial support for our study!