Here’s a list of a few things elementary school children in Denmark are allowed to do at school that elementary school children in the United States are not allowed to do:
(Obviously these observations will not apply to all schools in the U.S., or all in Denmark–this list is simply based on schools that I have personal experience with as well as general knowledge.)
1. Play in forest/climb trees–As I have mentioned in a previous post, a fringe of trees is typically left around the playground of Danish schools. It is left intentionally to maintain a (small) natural forest environment for students to play in during breaks. Climbing trees is a common pastime for the kids during recess, and my children have also spent many of their breaks simply exploring the woods, looking for sticks, etc. In the U.S., this would not be allowed for a couple of reasons: 1. the danger of falling when climbing trees. 2. the danger of kids being where teachers could not see them–teachers in the States would be expected to have line of sight on the students at all times. (In the U.S. we are pretty sure something horrible could happen if kids are out of their sight for even a moment, and the teachers and school would be held responsible for whatever catastrophe might occur.)
2. Work with Knives–as part of a focus on practical skills, wood working class is often offered in Denmark. My 6 and 9-year-old children have both taken this class and used actual knives to whittle sticks and blocks. Of course they loved it, and were quite proud of their handiwork. I’m aware of certain “Shop” classes in the States, but this would generally be for older children, and I don’t doubt such classes are currently diminishing in prevalence.
3. Take Part in Dissections–Recently the students at my kids’ school were involved in helping raise chickens. When the time was deemed right, a chicken’s head was cut off and the kids helped pluck it. Next the feet were clipped off and the organs removed one by one as their function was explained. Some U.S. schools will do dissections, but this will be for older grades and I have only heard of frogs and fetal pigs being dissected–certainly not an animal that was raised on school grounds. I thought perhaps that this chicken necropsy was an isolated experience since we are at a country school, but I have since discovered that dissections are actually an old Danish tradition going back 400 years. These dissections are intended to be not provocative but educational and it is common to take school-age kids to observe them inside or outside of school–in fact Denmark has made international headlines in recent years for performing necropsies on zoo animals (such as a lion and a giraffe) and inviting public school children to attend.
Read more about Danish necropsies here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/15/dissect-lion-odense-zoo-schoolchildren-denmark
4. Play with balls at recess–Now, most schools in the U.S. allow balls at recess, but I know for a fact that there are schools that have banned, “all balls”. These schools have outlawed balls due to the risk of injury and lawsuits. In Denmark, you will find a wealth of balls: balls for soccer, balls for handball, and balls for ping-pong, as well as facilities for playing said sports.
5. Bake and cook–Schools in DK often are equipped with a room full of “mini kitchens”, reminiscent of the American high school “Home Ec” classrooms of yonder year. Children as young as 8 can be found here, learning to cook and helping bake bread that is given out as snacks to the entire school.
6. Practice massage–Kids in Denmark might start the day with a brief massage where they line up and are taught a few simple techniques which they practice on each other. The class I witnessed had a story about a bear (it reminded me of the American children’s game “Goin’ on a Bear Hunt”), wherein the kids were instructed to pat, chop, or make circles, etc on their friends’ backs. I was telling my husband about this massage game at dinner, and then I asked my son Jeffrey if they had done anything like this back in his school in Colorado. My son responded, exasperated, “Mom, you know we’re not allowed to touch each other at Berthoud El!” (Silly mom, I should have known American schools would never actually encourage students to touch each other!)
7. Ride bikes to school alone–Children in Denmark have received special instruction in bike safety. They wear helmets and use hand signals. They conduct themselves very well, and you will see all but the youngest children riding their bikes to school alone.
Here’s a cool children’s “Traffic Playground” in Copenhagen:
8. Walk “not” in lines–In the U.S., if children are moving from room to room, you will see them marching in line like tiny drones, one shoulder brushing the cement wall, the other hand bent at the elbow, fingers over mouths. Here in Denmark, it seems like the kids are allowed to just walk in a pack from place to place–not nearly so militaristic.
9. Use (American) curse words–it is strange to sometimes hear Danish children using American cuss words. They look so angelic with their white blonde hair, blue eyes and cute little faces, so for an American, it can be shocking to hear the English cuss words come out of them. Of course, these words are not really meaningful here in DK, and are not considered bad, so that is why they are allowed to say them–I guess it could be compared to kids saying “darn” or “gosh” in the States.
10. Stand up on swings–Arabelle came home from school with her eyes wide and exclaimed, “In Denmark, you’re allowed to stand up on the swings!!” This was explicitly against the rules at our school in the U.S., as it was considered “too dangerous.” This was also happened to be one of the top items on Arabelle’s list when I asked her what her favorite things about Denmark were. Really, it’s the little things.
11. Go on field trips without permission slips- too dangerous for the U.S.
12. Participate in overnight field trips–also too dangerous for the U.S.
13. Build fires at school–My kids’ school has a fire pit that is used on occasion for roasting marshmallows, learning about fire-building and the like. This would of course be too dangerous for a U.S. school.
14. Ride scooters, etc at recess–The kids bring their own razor scooters, etc that they are allowed to use on the concrete lot during recess, and there are also super cool “moon cars” that the school provides for use at certain times. In the U.S. this sort of activity would be considered–you guessed it–too dangerous.
15. Use playgrounds without fences–I once watched a young student zip through the woods on a moon car, jump off, climb a tree, jump back on the moon car and head down the trail straight to the edge of the school grounds. This kid was going fast and I couldn’t help but wonder if he was going to turn around at the playground perimeter or just keep on going down the street. Evidently constant fear of escaping students is not a problem at the Danish schools: the kids know what is expected of them and they stay where they are supposed to be. No fences, especially with forests and no line of sight for teachers would–once again–be considered too dangerous for U.S. schools.
***I believe I am beginning to uncover the mystery as to why Danish children are allowed to do so many things at school that would be considered “far too dangerous” in America and also why the Danes aren’t constantly terrified of law suits. I’m sure there are several reasons, but one of them is that pretty much everyone in Denmark has something called “inboforsikring” or “ulykkesforsikring”. It is an “accident” insurance that covers you if you cause damage to someone else or someone elses’s property, as well as if some random accident befalls you or your children. So if, for example, there is an accident at school and a child is hurt, the parents of said child will be told that they are expected to have that insurance and that they need to take care of it themselves. The school does not assume responsibility and the lawsuits just don’t seem to happen, evidently. Seems like a pretty good system. Also a good example of the Danes being willing to take personal responsibility–in a way that contributes to the common good– and how this allows for a functional society with generous government benefits and social safety nets. Would this work in the United States? That’s a very good question…