Kindergarten in Denmark

Main themes: Secondary home, upbringing, children, parents, pedagogues, playing, education

By Mette, Vickie, Isabella and Marianne (Tørring High school)

When you enter the kindergarten in Rask Mølle, you are met by a big group of children and lots of noise. There is no doubt that this is a place filled with happiness, curiosity and games. When you enter, you can sense that this is a place where there is a lot going on all the time. There are toys everywhere, on the floors, on the tables and even in the bathroom. This is a place where the children feel great and feel at home.  


What is a kindergarten?

A kindergarten can be seen both as an institution and as the child’s second home. The kindergarten is an offer open for everybody, however for a payment. It is open all weekdays between 6.15 am and 16.45 pm. In Denmark, children attend kindergarten from they are 3-4 years old and until they are 5-6 years old and ready to go to school. The kindergarten in Rask Mølle is divided into two groups according to age. In the part with the youngest children, called “The Dolphins”, the children are 3-4 year old and in the “oldest” part, called “The Octopuses”, they are 5-6 years old.

The children are brought to the kindergarten in the morning by their parents and spend the whole day there. That is why this is a place of great importance to the child and its development. It is here the child will make its first friends and form relationships to other people than its closest family.

When the children are brought to the kindergarten in the morning they are greeted by the kindergarten pedagogues. In the kindergarten it is the kindergarten staff (mostly educated pedagogues) that is in charge, just like mum and dad at home. In that way the pedagogues becomes a role model for the children. For example, the staffs have to be aware of their language, because the children will mirror their behaviour, just like they mirror their parents’. As the children spend so much time in the kindergarten, the staffs also take part in the general upbringing of the children. Therefore pedagogues and parents will have close contact to take care of possible problems that the child might have in the kindergarten. As the child spends so much time in this place, you could say that the kindergarten is like the child’s second home. Therefore, it is important that the parents have a close relationship with the kindergarten staff. They have to feel safe, leaving their children there in the morning. The parents want the kindergarten pedagogues to have the same values as themselves and to create good and safe boundaries for their children.   


The kindergartens impact on the parents

It is an important factor to the parents and their everyday life that they are able to send their children to a kindergarten while they are at work. In Denmark both parents go to work every day and they often have very busy weekdays. Because of their work, they do not have time to take care of the children themselves and therefore they pay to have somebody else take care of their children while they are at work. There can be some economic considerations about sending a child to the kindergarten. It is expensive for some parents and especially if they have several children that goes to kindergarten.  But for most of the parents the economic part does not matter. They think that the children would not be able to make the same progress and have the same social skills, if they were taken care of at home. So it is not just because it helps the parents in their weekdays that they send their children to kindergarten, it is also because they believe that the children are being stimulated and challenged when they are in the kindergarten.  


A day with ”The Octopuses”

The day at the Octopuses starts at 6 a.m. when the first kindergarten teacher arrives at work. The kindergarten teacher makes breakfast and meets the children when they arrive from 6.15 and onwards. There are very strict regulations regarding food in the kindergarten. The kindergarten teachers are not allowed to serve sugar at breakfast or sugary drinks in the afternoon. The parents have to follow this “zero sugar” policy as well, for example when they send sweets with their children at birthdays.  

Sometimes the children get sad when their parents leave them in the kindergarten. Then, it is the job of the pedagogical staff to comfort the child and make it feel safe. The first couple of hours in the kindergarten are used for playing and relaxation while the rest of the children and teachers are arriving.


Going to kindergarten is more than just a game

The kindergarten is not just about “free playing” for the children. Everyday there are planned activities the children have to participate in or tasks they have to perform. The mornings are used for working with different themes on the basis of the nursery curriculum that the pedagogues have.

When we visited the kindergarten the theme of the week was “nature” and the kindergarten was filled with homemade bales of straw, apple-prints and necklaces made of clay-pearls. Other activities also took place during the week, e.g. bonfire on the playground and games with the homemade bales of straw in the sandpit. Focus is put on very different topics, and the week after our visit the topic was tea parties for the girls and visiting farms for the boys. Besides the work with the nursery curriculums the children have to go through some tests so the pedagogues can watch how they develop. In Denmark there are certain expectations to what the children are capable of when they start in school, e.g. knowing the alphabet and having a fair vocabulary.

Some parents see it as a problem that so much is decided by the local authorities and the board of the kindergarten, about what the children have to be capable of when they start in school. This gives the kindergarten teachers less freedom to decide the agenda themselves. Another problem is that there is more and more children per staff in the kindergarten, which make it hard for the pedagogical staff to take every child and its individual needs into consideration. The different local authorities in Denmark decide the economical limits and partly the content of the kindergarten.


Community singing and lunch packs

After making bales of straw and apple-prints, the children and members of the staff gather in the common room to sing different songs about nature and farming. During the singing the children start to get a bit restless and cannot focus any longer. The staff says that this is very natural because they are going to eat their lunch packs after singing the songs. In this kindergarten they have a so-called lunch pack arrangement, which means that the children bring their own lunch. In other kindergartens the food is made in the kindergarten and served to all the children, this entails an extra payment and because of that many kindergartens choose to have an arrangement as the one they have at Rask Mølle. At lunchtime in the kindergarten, the children help to set the table as a part of their upbringing.


On the playground
After the lunch and joint clean up the children are, regardless of the weather, sent outside to play at the playground. The children decide for themselves what they want to do and there are plenty of activities. The playground of the day care contains a football field, a set of swings, a sandpit where the children play with shovels and buckets, a climbing frame and much more.  The kindergarten teachers are also outside on the playground and are not only keeping an eye on the children, they are also participating in the games that go on. Sometimes the teachers organize games at the playground, which the children can choose to participate in. During our visit a pedagogue organized the games “knock, knock, steak” and “All my chickens come home!” which are games that are often played in the kindergarten. The children were ecstatic to play and we were also allowed to participate.

When the children have been outside for a couple of hours in the afternoon, they decide for themselves what they want to do. Some choose to go back inside to play. Inside they often make line drawings, jigsaw puzzles or play with racing cars. Many of the children like playing with beads, which they can iron and afterwards bring home as decoration.

A boy tells us that the best thing about the kindergarten is that there are many children you can play with and there are a lot of toys to play with. He also tells us that there are more rules in here than at home, for instance they are told to clean up after themselves.


Community in the kindergarten

The children are being picked up at different hours, however the biggest pick-up happens around half past three in the afternoon. Some days the children are going home with each other after they have been in the kindergarten and they keep playing until it is time for dinner. They make a virtue of community and that everyone can play with each other in the kindergarten. One of the tools, which the kindergarten teachers use to secure the community, is the campaign “free from bullying” and in that regard they have gotten a lot of stuffed animals. The children can use the stuffed animals to talk about their feelings, especially if they feel they are being bullied.

When the children have been picked up, the staff clean up and close for the day. The next day a pedagogue opens the day care again; ready to meet the children who are excited for a new day.