1 Year Danish Anniversary

1 Year Danish Anniversary

We have now been residents in Denmark for a full year.  Unlike John, who has had two business trips back to Colorado (to the area we lived previous), I have not stepped foot back in the U.S. in all that time.  It’s a strange feeling.

 

 

At this point, I feel prepared to make a couple of lists.

 

Ten Things I Miss About the U.S.:

  1. My mini-van–I resisted getting a van for years, but once I gave in, I was fully converted.   At least I am now comfortable driving my manual transmission French vehicle.
  2. Having a garbage disposal–While seemingly minor, the lack thereof still affects everyday life. In-sink garbage disposals are not a thing in Denmark, nor are they in other European countries–or else where in the world, for that matter.  They are a peculiarly American, and, might I add, superb, kitchen device.  According to Wikipedia, “Garbage disposal units are used extensively in United States households, but are far less common elsewhere.”  –But why?!!
  3. Choice in grocery stores–You can get some version of most types of food items in Danish grocery stores, but there is not nearly the selection we’re spoiled with in larger U.S. stores.  For example, it’s not uncommon for a Danish grocery store to have only 2 types of apples or 2 types of salad dressing. And of course there are some things, like ranch dressing, that just are not available.
  4. Cheap consumer goods–most Expats I know in Denmark still buy a lot of their toiletry items/clothing/electronics in the U.S., because it’s considerably cheaper there. This is due in part to the 25% sales tax on everything you buy in DK.
  5. Ease of doing stuff–I know this is a vague category, but as an Expat, every little thing you try to do becomes much more complicated, from filing taxes to making a doctor’s appointment.  There is still a lot I don’t know how to do in Denmark–things that I was well acquainted with in the U.S.–like signing up my kids for soccer and dance.  These are things I’m committed to figuring out in the coming year!
  6. Feeling like things are familiar--This includes surroundings, procedures, people, businesses, etc.  So much new stuff is exciting, but sometimes you start to miss having things in your life that are familiar. 

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    View from our window in Colorado
  7. Speaking the language–This is a big one, and goes along with ease of doing stuff.  It honestly makes me understand better the plight of immigrants in America.   I get now why most paperwork in the U.S. is available in Spanish as well as English, and I don’t think I’ll ever complain about having to press 1 for English again 🙂 because not speaking the language can be crippling.  Fortunately most Danes speak English and are willing to help.  In spite of making a lot of progress over the course of the last year, I still feel woefully unproficient in Danish.  (For example, I don’t know how to say “woefully unproficient” in Danish.)
  8. Food–Based on discussion with many Expats, when asked what one misses most about their home country, one of the first things that will come to mind is food.  For me, MEXICAN food comes in first in all caps.  Then there’s chocolate peanut butter ice cream, bagels, cheese sticks from Pizza Hut, salad from Cafe Rio….whoa I need to stop with this list, because who knows when I will be able to satisfy the cravings…

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    Rowan at 8 months receiving his Christmas stocking
  9. American People–I miss Americans.  Many of them exude a certain friendliness, exuberance, maybe even “loudness”.  Americans literally smile more than people in other countries. (And there’s a “scientific” reason why: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/why-americans-smile-so-much/524967/  )  While I’m actually kind of glad not to be around for all the devisiveness going on right now in the U.S., let me just say that people better not mess it up for me for when I get back!  I expect to return to the same friendly, happy Americans I remember :).
  10. Family/Friends— This is the big one.  Living on a new continent it is easy to feel a sense of isolation like you are a “stranger in a strange land”.  And of course, it’s hard to go a year without seeing friends and family.  We’ve actually lucked out and had a few visitors, which has been awesome, but we miss everyone we haven’t been able to see.  Being 8+ hours difference in time zone doesn’t help communication either, and we’re all busy.  It’s hard to keep in touch as well as I would like.

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What don’t I miss that surprises me?

Most of our stuff.  We arrived with just a few boxes and suitcases with clothes.  We got rid of a bunch of stuff in Colorado, and the rest we put in storage.  There are a few of Jeffrey’s old toys that I now wish that I had for Rowan (mostly his train sets and huge collection of duplos), but for the most part, the kids have enough–although not too much–and that’s kind of nice.  Same goes for furniture and clothes.

 

Top 10 Things I’m Enjoying in Denmark:

  1. Playgrounds–I have a lot of kids, and playgrounds are free entertainment, thus we’ve spent a good deal of time exploring the nearby playgrounds.   I’d say that Denmark is “kid-friendly” in general, and particularly into playgrounds.  Fun fact:  The world’s most popular playground supplier, Kompan, is Danish.20161018_101617_HDR (1)
  2. Bike culture–Copenhagen is the bike capitol of the world, and we have enjoyed participating in the bike culture here.  The kids ride their bikes to school, John rides his bike to work (in the next town), and we go on family bike rides together, exploring the countryside.
  3. Beaches–As a peninsular and island nation, Denmark has more than its fair share of beaches.  And although the weather and strong currents don’t make them all well suited for swimming, they’re all still beautiful to look at and fun to visit.
  4. Mild Weather–I know lots of people complain about the weather in Denmark because it’s gray and rainy (myself included sometimes), but last winter I appreciated not having to scrape ice off my car constantly in the winter, or get stuck in the snow, and I have even found myself enjoying the refreshingly cool summers.  I do have a feeling though that pretty soon I will start missing the mounds of fresh snow in Colorado, as well as the bright summer sun :).
  5. Adventure –At least for the first year of living abroad, there is a constant sense of adventure.  We’ve been able to add to this by visiting a few other countries as well, which you can do with relative ease in Europe since they are all so close together.
  6. Discovering a culture--Really experiencing a new culture–and noting the differences and similarities–is fascinating.20170706_183141_HDR
  7. Food–There’s a reason that in the U.S. they call that flaky pastry a “Danish”:  Denmark has awesome pastries!  They also have delicious cakes that are served at every opportunity.  You got an activity?  There’s a cake for that.  While I can’t say I’ve come around to leverpostej yet, I do love many of the rolls, breads, and cheeses here.  I also enjoy some of the ethnic foods we have access to. For example, vegetarian falafel dürüm=delicious!
  8. The schools–I’m really enjoying learning about the schools here, and am glad that my kids can experience them.  I won’t rehash the details here, but I’ve written at length elsewhere in my blog.
  9. Danish People–The Danes have been kind and welcoming and friendly to us.  They have gone above and beyond to help us settle into our surroundings here. and have taken the time to explain some of their culture and traditions–for such a small nation, Denmark has a lot of traditions 🙂  (and a rich and lengthy history to go with them).
  10. Making Memories— All of the above have contributed to unique and unforgettable memories for us as a family.  The past year has been difficult in many ways, but I know that we have made memories that will last a lifetime.

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As I write these lists, it’s pretty obvious that so many of them are related, as in, “I miss the food in the United States, but I am enjoying the food in Denmark”.  And this is how many Expats constantly feel–it’s a state of living between two countries.  I have heard from those that are “live-long Expats” (or immigrants), that there is a constant feeling of never being completely “at home” in either country, there’s always something to miss.

 

 

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Preschool in Denmark

Preschool in Denmark

 

 

 

This year my daughter Charlotte has been attending the local public preschool, or “børnehus” (children house), which is a kind of combined daycare/preschool. Most kids attend fulltime, with the cost subsidized 75% by the government.   The børnehus is attended by children ages 3 to 6.  (Younger toddlers and babies attend a separate institution: daypleje or vuggestue).

The last year that a child is in the børnehus (aged 5-6) they will spend about an hour a day in a classroom, learning letters, numbers, and writing.  Before this age, it is believed that children are not developmentally ready for structured academic learning . The philosophy in Denmark is that the time is better spent developing creativity, imagination, motor skills, social skills, and an interest in learning.

That is not to say that no learning is going on at the børnehus.  Lots of learning is happening,  it is just kept very informal–most of the learning is through play, and a lot of the play happens outdoors.

Comparable to the famed “forest preschools” of  Finland, preschools in Denmark believe that children benefit a lot from being outdoors and spending time in nature.  Twice a week, my daughter’s børnehus spends almost the entire day outdoors.  The other days they spend a good portion of the day outside as well.

The children spend most of their outdoor time participating in unstructured playtime.  The play ground is filled with fun,interesting stuff including swings, an obstacle course, moon cars, strider bikes, play houses, sandboxes, slides, and seesaws.

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**Photos courtesy of Højmark Børneverden

 

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The trees are also popular:

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In addition to plenty of unstructured playtime, regular activities and field trips are also planned, such as:

Helping with the gardening,

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going for a walk,

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visiting the nearby fjord,

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or the local lake,

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learning about and finding insects,

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making apple juice,

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and enjoying arts and crafts.

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They maintain this schedule with loads of outdoor time regardless of the weather.  And this is saying something because the weather in Denmark is often gray, wet, and windy.

**Of course, in the case of extreme inclement weather, the situation will be judged on a case by case basis, but suffice it to say that days were the kids are not outside for a considerable amount of time are few and far between.

 

Because of this, appropriate outerwear is very important at the bornehus.  There is a popular saying in Denmark: There is no bad weather, only bad clothes. They take their outerware seriously, and there is an option appropriate for every weather forecast.

 

Last fall, I made sure to (obviously) send Charlotte to school with a jacket, since it was chilly.  If the weather was wet, I also sent her in rainboots; so I thought I was doing pretty good, raingear wise, since rainboots are something we typically wouldn’t bother with in Colorado.

So it was that I was quite surprised when she came home and told me, “My teacher says I need rain pants.”

 

Rain pants? What are rainpants?

 

Well, they’re exactly what they sound like.  They’re pants that go over the kiddos’ regular pants–like snow pants, but for rain.

 

Here’s what the fashionable young Danish girl might wear out for a rainy day:

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I was able to eventually see why full-bodied raingear was important, because on the many wet days, the kids are still outdoors, splashing in puddles and digging in the mud.

 

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Here are the kids out for a walk on a damp, windy fall day.  Charlotte is in purple and you might notice she is the only one not wearing rainpants:

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I caught on slowly, but here she is in her rainpants that I finally got around to getting her:

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hunting for crabs at the fjord

Equally important to the rain pants for children in Denmark are the specially prescribed hats.  There is a particular kind of hat that is required for the preschool kids:  It is a “balaclava” style hat that covers the head, ears, and neck, with a hole cut out for the face.  If the kids don’t bring one to school, one will be provided for them (Once the kids hit about 6 years old, evidently they are allowed to graduate to regular knit hats).

 

Charlotte wearing the appropriate headwear, known as an elefanthue (elephant hat):

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The younger daycare babies are also required to wear the ear–and–neck covering hats–the difference being that the younger the kid, the pointier the hat.

 

From my research into hat pointiness progression:

 

 

********Child Elefanthue*******Toddler Elefanthue*******Baby Elefanthue****

 

 

But really, could they be any cuter?

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In the fall, as the weather cools down, the children transition from rain pants and rain coats to “warm suits”.  These are  “cool weather” pieces that also go over the clothing, consisting of a quilted water repellant jacket and matching pants.

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When winter arrives, the Danish children, without exception, don a flyverdragt. This is a one piece snow suit.  I love seeing the little kids out and about in these, because these thick suits, combined with the special Scandinavian hats, make them look like little lego figures running around.

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Rowan at the beach in his flyverdragt.

 

 

As on rainy days, the børnehus kids will still be found out and about on snowy days.  (Actually they might go outside more when it snows.)

 

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On the days when the preschool kids are outdoors all day, they eat their lunch outdoors.  This continues during the winter.

A primitive wooden structure stands in the corner of the school grounds, and here the children eat lunch on wooden picnic tables.

On especially cold days, a fire might be made.

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The walls provide protection from the wind, and the fire provides enough warmth that the little ones can take off their gloves to eat.

 

Sometimes they will even make a soup over the blaze.

 

 

 

 

 

The children help with the preparations for the soup. Sometimes they go into the forest to identify and collect edible plants to add to it:

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Charlotte helping cut up carrots for the soup:

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And here’s an outdoor “frugtpause”–fruit break:

 

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Well, some of you parents or teachers might be thinking, rolling around in snow, stomping in puddles, and making mud pies is all well and good, but what about the mess?!

 

Well, the Danes have developed a few tricks to handle the inevitable mess.

 

Mudrooms–foyers and mud rooms are very important in Denmark, in homes as well as in schools.  The børnehus has a mudroom with cubbies for each of the children.  As you might expect, these cubbies are stuffed to overflowing with the myriad outerwear options for all weather conditions.

Clothes Dryer Thing–Just inside of the door of the børnehus is a special clothes dryer thing.  It looks kind of like a stand up freezer. Coats, snowsuits, rainpants,etc can be hung inside it or draped over racks in the interior.  This way, if coats are wet after the morning outing, they can be dry and ready to be worn again in the afternoon, and wet clothes don’t need to be hung in cubbies alongside dry clothes.

Get ready for this one.  Children always take off their shoes indoors.  Everyday (even in good weather).  This also applies to the elementary school kids.  This was quite surprising to me at first.  I was informed that the kids were allowed to bring a pair of “indoor” shoes to leave at the school, but it was confided in me that actually most kids just run around inside the school in their socks.  So that is what my kids have been doing.  I’d say the system works quite well, with the exception that holes are constantly being worn in socks.

 

And yes, there is some extra mess to clean up as a result of all the outdoor time, including muddy footprints on the entryway floor and a constant invasion of sand in the mud room that needs to be swept up.  There’s also the hassle of getting the smallest children in and out of all their outerwear (the kids eventually get quite good at doing it themselves).

 

So while it does come at a bit of a cost, in Denmark they have decided that this is a small price to pay for a childhood spent outdoors.

 

 

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Below is a link to an awesome video about forest preschools in Denmark–well worth the ten minutes.  There are a couple of different levels of the amount of time that preschools in Denmark spend outdoors, and Charlotte’s is not quite as extreme as the one described below.   (For example, Charlotte’s preschool play yard is fenced), and it sounds like this preschool spends even more time outdoors.

To view in full screen mode, click the “youtube” button at the bottom of the screen below:

 

 

 

******A note to my Danish readers:  In the U.S., preschool kids spend much more time indoors.

The current trend in the United States is that kids should be exposed to academics younger and younger.  There is pressure for the kids to be reading by age 5 or 6.  They are expected to know a long list of things before even entering U.S. Kindergarten (Grade 0).  During preschool (ages 3 to 5), kids spend a good portion of their time learning letters, numbers, writing, and pre-reading skills.  Teachers do try to make the learning fun with songs, art, and stories, but there is little time available to go outdoors because the teachers feel pressure to make sure the kids are “learning enough”.

There might be one or two 15 minute outdoor breaks, if the weather is good.  If it is raining or too cold, they will usually stay inside.  This may be because we don’t tend to dress as well for the weather as the Danes do.  I had never heard of rain pants before coming here (even growing up in rainy Mississippi), and in Colorado, although it gets very cold, the kids would generally only wear their snowsuits if it was snowing.  The only time I had seen the baclava style hats on kids in the U.S. was for skiing.

 

Letting Kids be Kids: Suggestions from a Danish Elementary School

Letting Kids be Kids: Suggestions from a Danish Elementary School

I know I’ve mentioned some of these points before, but I have more information (and more pictures) now :).  ***Photos courtesy of Højmark Børneverden.

I will also note that the school my children are attending here in Denmark is a small public school (Folkeskole) located in the countryside, comprising grades 0-6 with approximately 77 students.  I am including a bit of general information about U.S. elementary schools so that my Danish readers can understand some of the comparisons.  No doubt there are variations among schools in Denmark (as there certainly are among schools in the U.S.) so I am simply making my comparisons based on my own knowledge and experience.

 

 

 

1. Focus on Social Skills

During the elementary years in Denmark, there is a heavy emphasis on developing social skills.  Rather than focusing so much time and energy on the incremental progress of academic subjects, teachers and school leaders closely observe the children’s social interactions to make sure they are well-adjusted at school and are making friends.  The theory behind this is that if the children are happy at school, this will lead to them performing better academically.  As a parent, I can empathize with this philosphy–I believe most of us parents would agree that our #1 priority for our kids would be for them to not be miserable at school, and hopefully even happy 🙂 .

 

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2. Less Testing

The testing of elementary school children in the United States has gotten out of control.  Like waaay out of control.  And I get the reasoning behind it: teacher accountability, school accountability, pinpointing the kids who need extra help.  Those things are important, but the system seems to be continuously adding additional testing without ever weeding anything out. Before we left, my eight year old was already developing test anxiety.  Additionally, so much time spent on testing severely reduces the amount of time that the teachers have left for actual instruction.

 

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In Denmark there is no official testing until 9th grade, and no grades given until 9th grade. I did attend a Parent Teacher Conference here, and was told how my children were doing and given examples of their work, but there were no grades, no pie charts, no graphs. The teachers and I spent as much time talking about my kids’ emotional well-being as we did their academic performance.

 

3. Including Life Skills

These life skills are  generally integrated into the curriculum.  For example, my kids participated in gardening,

 

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then learned about the foods,

helped cook them,

 

 

 

 

 

and joined the other students for a “banquet”.

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There was also of course the infamous “chicken incident” which I’ve detailed elsewhere on this blog :).

 

Additionally, the students help with the general grounds maintenance: dragging branches, planting, and even helping cut down trees.

 

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There is also a “shop” where the kids can learn to use various tools and make random doo-dads.

 

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It is also common for the students to use the shop to help build things the school needs–like props for a play or frames for an art project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The school provides homemade rolls for snack every Friday, and the students help make them.  .

 

Each class also has a chore chart where the kids are expected to help with simple classroom chores, like sweeping after lunch or taking out the trash.

 

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Another important life skill that is taught is “scouting” or outdoor survival skills.

These life skills are a fun and useful addition to the academic curriculum.  (Perhaps the availability of time to incorporate these skills and other extracurriculars is made possible because the classes are not spending so much time testing.)

The scouting activities include sawing down limbs to build shelters, making forts, and even building fires to cook on.  They may not know what S’mores are here, but they do have “snobrød” or, “campfire bread”.  This is a stiff bread dough that is twisted around a stick and then baked over the fire–it’s quite good and is super fun to make!

 

 

Snobrød:

 

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(Can also be made with a hotdog inside.  Here is a link with a recipe, in case you want to try!  http://thefamilydinnerbook.com/recipes/2011/06/09/snobr%C3%B8d-campfire-bread/ )

 

 

4. Less Homework

Beyond some supplemental review of Danish (which my kids are still trying to learn), my children are not assigned any work that they are expected to complete at home.  There is some “homework” that is assigned but it is expected to be completed during the “homework” period during school hours.  I’m sure my kids appreciate this, but to be honest, I probably appreciate it even more than they do!  Not having to remind my kids of homework every night and then stand over them while they complete it.  Not having to organize folders, sign logs, make sure each kid makes it to school with their completed sheaf of papers…truly it’s as much a gift for the parent as it is for the child.

(That being said, I really do understand the pressures on both the teachers and the students in the U.S. that lead to the assignment of large amounts of homework.  I also can see that it’s important that parents be aware and involved in their kids’ education; I just wish there was less pressure, particularly in the younger years.  And I should also confess that I must not be that anti-homework because I am currently making my kids do the Common Core mathbook with me at home to make sure they are staying on track with their peers in the U.S.  My 9-year-old of course whines, “Mom, why are you making me do extra homework.”  And I’m like, “Come on, this is pretty much the only homework you have here, I’d say you’ve got it pretty good!”)

 

 

5. More Recess

One of the first things my kids noticed was the increased frequency and  duration of recess time.  During these breaks, students are free to run around the school grounds, ride scooters or skate boards, or even sled during recess–if they’re lucky enough to have snow.

 

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If you’re from a State with a lot of snow, like we are, you too might find it humorous that they’re sledding on like 1.5 inches of snow 🙂

 

Sidenote:  One of the breaks is called, “Frugt Pause“–“Fruit Break”, because the kids are given fresh fruit daily.  Pretty awesome.

 

 

 

6. More Physical Activity

In addition to the extra recess time, the Danish schools allocate a significant amount of time to physical activity.  My son has a 2 hour regular P.E. session every week.  In addition he was able to choose an elective, and he chose “sports”, so this gives him another 2 hour block of active time.

For some reason everyone in Denmark is really into gymnastics.  I’d say it’s pretty much the national sport, but then maybe that would actually be “Hand Ball” (look it up, it’s a thing 🙂 ).  Possibly gymnastics is so popular here because it is easy to do indoors, and the weather is often grim, but the Danes also believe it is just really good for kids’ coordination.  The school gyms here all have gymnastics equipment that can be pulled out, and gymnastics is often done during school hours:

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Sometimes there is even spontaneous physical activity and outdoor excursions.  For example, at one point this school year there was a two week period when it rained every day, pretty much all day.  When one day it had finally cleared up, the teachers made the call to take the entire student body out for a brisk walk.

 

 

Biking is an important part of the culture in Denmark, so it is not so surprising that it is incorporated into the school curiculum.

Children learn bike safety and maintenance at school, and all students (even the kindergarteners!)  have been on a couple of biking fieldtrips this year where they have biked upwards of 5 miles.

 

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During one outing, the older grades (3-6), biked about 6 miles, went swimming, and then biked another 6 miles home.

 

 

As far as I could tell, every child is expected to participate in these activities regardless of “athletic” ability.  It would appear that kids tend to rise to the challenge.

To compare to the U.S. system:  kids generally have a Physical Education (P.E.) class once or twice a week for an hour, and then that’s really it.  Biking at school is not a thing.  Sledding or using scooters or skate boards at schools is generally not allowed.   My nephew’s school even recently outlawed “all balls” because “there had been some injuries”.  I think it is safe to say that the flexibility and breadth of physical activity is not nearly so great in U.S schools. as it is at schools here in DK.

 

7. Time for Art 

My daughter Arabelle has an insatiable zeal for art and crafting, and the Danish school system has served her well.  There is a lot of coloring in the classroom and regular art periods, but there are also major, school-wide art projects from time to time: making props for the school play, decorating the hallway with glow in the dark stars, or creating a largea tile mosaic to decorate the bike shed.

 

 

It has been joked among my fellow American Expats here that the Danish schools spend the entire month of December only doing Christmas crafts.

This is only a minor exaggeration 🙂 .   Really the Christmas Craft Enthusiasm is too big a topic for me to get into here; I will have to dedicate an entire post to it next December–it will be epic, you can count on it :).

In the United States, the inclusion of arts in the curriculum has recently come under fire.  With the perceived need to push subjects like Math and Science, the arts have in many locations been seen as expendable.  In most elementary schools, if you get an hour a week to do art, you’re pretty lucky.

 

8. Shorter School Day

In spite of all these additions to the school curriculum, my kids are going to school an hour less each day, compared to their school day back in the U.S.   And for such little minds and hearts, I think that’s a good thing 🙂 .  So the school day here is shorter than in the U.S. even though, a couple of years ago, the Danish government actually added an hour or two to the length of their previous school day.  I am curious whether this change has been popular, or if they would consider shortening it again.

 

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Although the school days are shorter in Denmark, the students do attend school more days each year as compared to U.S. schools.  There are no “Staff Development” or “Teacher Comp” days.  I’ve done some thinking on the subject, and what I have worked out is this:  The teachers still meet regularly (the Danes like a good meeting), but this is done either during school hours, or perhaps after school (since the school day is shorter).  These additional days of school attendance (as compared to the U.S. school year) I would wager are pretty much eaten up by all of the aforementioned extra curriculars.  For example, my kids had an entire week last fall that was completely devoted to biking, sports, art, and music.  I would say that approximately every month there are a couple of days alotted as “irregular school days” which are planned to be spent solely on extracurriculars.

 

 

9. Starting School Older

In Denmark, children generally do not start formal education until they are at least 6 years old.  They should be 6 years old by January 1st to enter the Folkeskole (public school system).  This is later than they would start in the  United States. For example, my daughter turns 5 next week, so in the U.S. she would be starting kindergarten next year.  Here in Denmark, she will have an additional year before she starts “real” school.  I have also been told that it’s quite common for Danish parents to make the decision to hold their children back a year and start school even one year later.  If the parents think they would benefit from it (and I have been told this happens most often with boys), there is no compunction against having the kids start school a year later.

 

14925522_1792627777679670_2262523927974445364_n

 

 

So, looking back at these “suggestions” from Danish elementary schools (Start school older; Limit testing, grading, and homework; Focus on social skills, extracurriculars, art, and physical activity.), I think it can all be summed up pretty succinctly:

 

Let kids be kids.

 

field trip 2

 

*This post is about things I believe the Danish elementary schools tend to do well.  It should be noted that there are also things that I think the American schools tend to do well.

**I am curious to hear what my teacher-readers think of these observations.    I realize that in some ways it is hard to compare the United States to Denmark.  Denmark is a tiny nation of ~5.5 million people, compared to the U.S. which is vast with a population of ~320 million people.  The U.S. population is also much more diverse, and I know there are different needs in different areas.  Could any of these conceptss be incorporated into the U.S. system, and what do you think would be the results?

 

 

 

***Further Reading:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/09/01/the-decline-of-play-in-preschoolers-and-the-rise-in-sensory-issues/?utm_term=.4a16b27abb48

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/04/how-schools-ruined-recess-and-four-things-needed-to-fix-it/?utm_term=.6a151e542d6d

Hey, what’s for lunch?

Hey, what’s for lunch?

 

Once a week or so, my daughter’s preschool learns a bit about a different country and samples some of its food.  Since Charlotte is from the U.S.A., it made sense to ask her to bring American food.

charlotte-usa

 

Some “American” foods that I considered bringing:

  • hamburgers (the obvious one)
  • chicken pot pie
  • meat loaf
  • fried chicken
  • corn bread
  • grits
  • biscuits and gravy
  • barbecue (the food, not the event 😉 )
  • peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • rice crispy treats
  • brownies
  • chocolate chip cookies
  • any desserts with pumpkin (pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bars, etc–’tis the season as we say)20161025_101858_hdr

 

After consulting with my 4-year-old, the “meal” we ended up bringing was baked macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, and chocolate chip banana bread.  Deviled eggs are a particular favorite of Charlotte’s and I wanted to bring something that I thought young children would like.  Also, I had lots of bananas.

 

 

Macaroni and cheese a.k.a. “mac and cheese” is considered a beloved children’s favorite across the United States so much so that it can be found on almost every restaurant’s “children’s menu.”

 

 

 

As usual, Duck Comics are right on point:

Image result for fowl language mac and cheese

 

Now at home, and especially for a quick kids’ lunch, a common way for us to enjoy mac and cheese is from a box.  There are many brands available, but Kraft is kind of the gold standard, as far as dried-out noodles and processed, pulverized cheese product go.  It’s delicious–I promise!

kraft1

 

Homemade baked macaroni and cheese, made with real cheese, is several steps up from the childhood favorite that comes in the blue box.  It is certainly what I would consider to be “American Comfort Food”.  And I must be seeking American comfort, because this is the third time I’ve made it since moving to Denmark ;).

baked-mac-and-cheese

 

So coming with the assumption that mac and cheese is kind of “the” kid food of America, I was excited to see how the Danish children would react to it as it would probably be new to them.  And yet, it was still somehow hard for me to comprehend that these Danish kids had never, ever tried it, or even seen it.  Of course in theory, anyone with half a brain would realize that children in different countries consume and thus prefer different foods.  I remember volunteering at a daycare in Mexico and asking the little kids what their favorite food was.  Over half of them said, “sopa”.  What, soup?  Are you sure about that, kid?  What kind of kid-favorite-food is soup!  We Americans know that kid-favorite-foods are chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, pizza, maybe spaghetti if they’re precocious.

 

So in theory, yes, I know most of the world does not eat as Americans do, but still, to see it with my own eyes–a group of twenty 3 to 5 year-olds trying macaroni and cheese for the first time–it really drove the idea home for me in a concrete, visual way.  In fact I must say the entire experience somehow transcended the orange, elbow-shaped noodles and confirmed to me: The world is a big place. Just because the U.S. is a large and influential nation, does not mean that everyone follows, or even knows of our customs.  There are different and no less valid ways to live (and eat) out there.

 

So what was the verdict?

Well, some of the kids had a really freaked-out expression on their faces upon seeing the deviled eggs:

american-food-1                                     *Photos at Højmark Børnehus courtesy of Højmark Børneverden
american-food-2
Charlotte is chowing down

 

american-food-3

 

A few (including Charlotte) wolfed down their eggs, but many went untouched.

 

The mac and cheese fared better.  Although the kiddos kept calling it spaghetti, almost all seemed to enjoy it, and some even asked for seconds!  (Didn’t get any pictures, unfortunately–probably because I was also busy eating it).

 

And the chocolate chip banana bread?  A hit with everyone!

banana-bread

Kids like sugar, what can I say?  🙂

 

So, one might think as one scratches one’s head,  if these kids aren’t eating mac and cheese on the regular, what are they eating?

 

Well the traditional danish lunch is centered around a smørrebrød, or “open-faced” sandwich.

leverpostej2

 

 

Why open-faced?  Well, the “open-faced” part is important–ask any Dane and they will tell you, “Two pieces of bread is just way too much bread.”  Throw’s off the entire balance!

 

The name smørrebrød comes literally from the danish words for “butter and bread”– “smør og brød” thus the traditional Danish smørrebrød begins with rye bread spread with butter.  After this any manner of interesting things can be piled on top!

smorrebrod-1

 

First let’s talk Danish rye bread.  The first time I picked up a package of it in the grocery store, I was like, “Whoa!”as my arm was yanked down toward the floor.  “Whoa!” because that stuff is dense, as in heavy, like a brick.  This dark brown rye bread, known as “rugbrød” has been a traditional food in Denmark for over 1000 years.  The rye grows well here, and it is considered to be very healthy–high in fiber and low in sugar.

danish-rye-bread

 

Now, there is truly no end to the possibilities for a Danish smørrebrød–the sky’s the limit! (Just so long as it’s not another piece of bread, of course).  Atop the requisite rye bread and butter, the smørrebrød can be piled with all kinds of things from pickled herring to boiled egg to smoked salmon to mayonnaise mixed with peas.

smorrebrod-2

 

 

But the most common topping?  Pork liver paste.  Yes, pork liver paste, or liver pâté, if you will.

 

Lørdagsliv. Leverpostej

 

Here’s a bit more on the liver pâté, or “leverpostej”, for those of you as fascinated (or disturbed) by the concept as I am:

(from http://www.copenhagenet.dk/cph-eating.htm)

Liver pate – “Leverpostej” is more Danish than the Evangelical Lutheran Church – and the Danish monarchy. In brief there are more Danes that eat leverpostej than there are members of the Danish Church or supporters of the royal family – which is a much admired institution in Denmark. 95 percent of all Danes eat leverpostej. 40 percent eat leverpostej daily.  92 percent of all Danes over 10 years make one or more leverpostejmad – an open faced Liver Paste sandwich every single day – with all sorts of toppings

 

leverposdej

 

It comes in a convenient tin, like this:

leverpostej-tin

And it can even be fun!

leverpostejsklovn.jpg

 

 

And what do my daughter’s preschool classmates bring to school in their lunch boxes (“foodpacks”)?

 

Well they’re Danish aren’t they?

 

They bring smørrebrød on rye bread.  Often topped with liver paste, or possibly sliced ham, salami or Danish cheese.  Aside from this, fresh vegetables such as sliced carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers are almost always included, as well as a small-sized yogurt or individually-wrapped salami–as a treat of course.

20161027_112353_hdr-2

 

 

And so it was that, after viewing with trepidation the strange dish of noodles and orange cheese, the Danish children turned to their meal packs, popped them open, and withdrew their open-faced sandwiches–sinking their teeth into the comfortable flavors of rye bread and pork liver paste.

 

 

 

 

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10 Ways Elementary School in Denmark is Different than Elementary School in the United States

 

 

flag

 

1. Shorter school day (but fewer vacation days)–Here in Denmark, my kids will be going to school for six fewer hours per week.  Hours are 7:45-2pm Mon-Thurs and 7:45-12:45 on Friday.  With little to no homework, this will add up to a significant reduction in hours dedicated to schoolwork each week.  Had we made it to Denmark a few years sooner, school hours would have been even shorter.  Just two years ago (in 2014), Denmark underwent the most comprehensive school reform in modern history, adding nine school hours per week for elementary students (an increase from 21 to 30 hours per week).  Although weekly school hours in Denmark remain lower than the average in the United States, the kids in DK do attend school more days each year.  In the U.S., kids are at school 175-180 days per year, while in Denmark the law is 200 days per year.  My kids here in DK will get a few days off in the fall, a week for Christmas, a week off in February and another week off for Easter, but then the school year will last until near the end of June.  Summer break is only about 6 weeks in DK rather than the 8+ weeks kids typically have in the States.  In Denmark there are no “Staff Days” or “Teacher Comp” days.  There are a few scattered 1-2 day vacation days, but these are the result of specific holidays.

2. Less Paperwork–When I signed up my children for school in Denmark I was shocked (and let me emphasize, I was pretty much lightheaded with glee) because there was only ONE sheet for me to fill out.  ONE sheet, and I didn’t even have all the information they were asking for, so I actually only filled out about half of it, which the school was fine with.  This is for two kids, registering for the first time for school in another country.  Registering for school in the United States–it’s intense.  You need about every phone number and address in your proverbial phone book.  You fill out a literal sheaf of papers– 20+ and that’s just to get you started, as more paperwork will trickle in constantly over the course of the school year.  If your kid has a medical condition or allergy you will be filling out lots more. Doctor’s forms, proof of vaccinations.  In Denmark?  None of that.  Obviously I was pleased at the bare-bones paperwork.  On the single sheet there was one line for allergies, and I did write in that J has a peanut allergy.  I will admit that the American in me started to get a bit suspicious about how easy the process was.  Will they take J’s allergy seriously?  How will they contact me if there’s an emergency?  What if I’m not available?

sound of music

3. Less Testing-They took my word for what level my kids should be at.  No formal testing until 7th grade.  I’m pretty happy about this, since in the States my 2nd grader was already developing test anxiety from the near-constant testing.  For example, they tested “reading levels” about every six weeks.  The results would be handed back to the students, and if J didn’t show significant improvement over that period, he would come home worried and upset, when of course over that short period of time and that kind of testing, the results don’t mean all that much anyway.  That being said, I’m curious about how the process will work with my kids graduating from the Language Program to regular Danish folkeskole (public school).  As far as I know there is no test that they need to pass, so how will the teachers know when to graduate them?  As I imagine it, one cold morning the day will dawn and the instructor, or should I say master sensei, will present my children to me, a hand on each of their shoulders, saying simply, “They are ready.”

4. Less Homework-Perhaps the homework will come eventually, but I haven’t seen any yet ;).  In the U.S., parents were encouraged to attend a special “Parent Information Night”.  The purpose of this event was in large part to explain to the parents themselves the complex assortment of homework that would be due each week.  (At the risk of sounding boastful, I will say that I performed very well at a respected university, and yet my 2nd grade son’s homework schedule had me confused).  There was math homework, reading logs wherein reading minutes must be counted and signed for, Accelerated Reader tests, book reviews, spelling homework, weekly spelling tests.  And that’s just the regular weekly stuff.  There was so much that the schools saw the need to create “Agenda Books” (remember, this is for 2nd graders), to help them keep track of everything.  Then of course, we parents were supposed to read and sign their agenda each day, and keep track of that along with Home Folders, School Folders, etc.  What a hassle for such little kids.

homework

 

5. More Outdoor Time-My kids came home the first day of school in Denmark very excited because they’d had three recesses in one day.  They also remarked that these breaks were longer than any they’d had in the States.

6. More Fieldtrips-When I picked A up after her second day of school, she announced that they had gone to a park.  I was like, “Oh, really?” because I had not filled out a permission slip.  I found it a little odd, but I trust the school here.  Several days later, A returned home to announce that her class had taken a field trip to the fjord.  This time I was slightly weirded out as it seemed like a pretty big excursion, and I hadn’t received any notice that it was going to take place; My daughter had dressed in a sleeveless shirt because it was a rare warm, sunny day, but I did not apply sunscreen because I figured she would not be outside for any extended period of time.  She came home with a bit of a sunburn because evidently they had enjoyed a lengthy visit to the fjord and surrounding beach.  I am very glad the class went, just wish I had been given a heads up ;).  Needless to say this is a bit different from the United States where the kids do not leave school grounds without parents’ written consent as well as a barrage of paper reminders over the course of weeks.

7. More fun/less worry–The playgrounds here in Denmark are not simply an expanse of concrete or gravel with a couple of swings and a meager plastic slide.  No, they are a terrain designed to stimulate and delight.  When the school buildings are constructed, a natural woodland is often left surrounding the playground area.  The children are allowed to play in the woods and climb trees during recess.  My kids’ previous school in the States had like one stubby tree out front, and it was explicitly against the rules to climb it 😦 . Also, when the foundations for the school buildings in DK are excavated, it is common to retain the dirt on school grounds in order to create a hill for slides and sledding.  In the U.S. you’re always looking for a good sledding hill, and if you find one, you sled with the constant trepidation that some authority is about to show up and tell you to leave. These “authorities” are, of course, afraid that you will get hurt and it will be their responsibility somehow. This is in contrast to Denmark where the kids are allowed to have more fun, outdoors particularly, because the school is evidently less worried about kids getting hurt (or a resulting lawsuit).  As I had it explained to me: climbing trees or playing on the hills, the kids might get a scrape here and there, but this process is allowing them to learn about and get a sense of their own bodies–the way it moves and the space it occupies.

tree

8. No School Lunch Program–At my kids’ school in Denmark, all students bring their own lunches from home.  They use a “lunch pack” rather than what we in the U.S. would consider a traditional lunch box. My kids showed up with their regular American lunch boxes and suddenly these lunch boxes looked like large fabric-covered monstrosities compared to the Danish kids’ “lunch packs” which resemble the kind of small plastic pencil or art cases that kids in the U.S. use for markers, crayons, etc. These lunch packs are divided up in a way similar to bento boxes.  The school is strict about a “no junk food” policy.  Students are not allowed to bring candy, chips, or juice.  There is some kind of “fruit and/or milk program” which parents can sign up and pay for so that the kids can have fresh fruit and milk delivered to them each day.  I haven’t figured out how to enroll the kids in this program, but it sounds swell.   The Danes do seem very concerned with young children getting plenty of milk to drink.  We don’t know if this concern, coupled with the restriction against juice is more a cultural love of milk for children, or if it’s the result of an insidious milk lobby of some sort (joking… 🙂 )  I think we all know what the school lunch program is like in the States.  It is convenient for parents and it ensures that all kids (including those who may be underprivileged) are provided with food, but the positive thoughts pretty much end there ;).

9. Focus on Practical Skills–There appears to be an emphasis on acquisition of practical life-skills here in Denmark.  The schools have classrooms full of “mini kitchens” and the kids are taught to cook starting in 3rd grade.  They are also taught to do laundry and to garden.  J came home a couple of days ago excited to show me some sticks he had whittled in “woodworking class”.  I was a bit taken aback because Denmark is a country where it is illegal to own a regular locking pocket knife.  J knew about this, so he was excited to tell his dad that he “played with a knife at school.”  At many schools in DK, the kids plant vegetables, harvest them, and regularly bake their own bread for snacks.  In the States, it would be a typical part of a curriculum to maybe go outside and look at a tree, or plant an indoor bean plant or seed, whereas in Denmark it is an integrated part of the curriculum throughout the entire school year.

woodshop
My 9-year-old whittled these in “woodworking” class last week.

 

10. Biking Culture— Biking in Denmark is very popular among children and adults.   The majority of students bike to school starting at a young age, and it is interesting to see the hundreds of kids’ bikes parked outside the elementary school each day.  Part of the school curriculum is bike safety and the kids are taken outside to learn the rules for safely riding bikes in the city.  One thing that they learn is hand signalling, and I can attest that I have actually seen the children doing this as they ride their bikes about town–very impressive!  Knowing that all the children have received this training makes me less nervous about driving around with all these kids out and about on their bikes : ).

bikes

School in Denmark

“Am I really doing this to my children?”

This was my thought after dropping my two oldest children (A age six, and J age nine) off at school for their first day of classes in Denmark.  Don’t get me wrong.  I was not at all concerned that the kids were not safe, or that the education was sub-par.  In fact I believe the opposite to be true.  The schools here are incredible, and they are one of the things about which I was most excited for my family to experience here in Denmark.

But I did feel awful as I walked through the doorway of their classroom, down the hallway and out the door. I felt awful because I could tell how nervous they were, how they felt out-of-place, how they didn’t know what to do.  They are in a language acquisition program; however, the teachers instruct only in Danish, and most of the kids in their classes have already been in the program for several months, so they are already speaking some Danish, or so my kids are telling me.  Fortunately, most of the teachers do speak some English so they are able to understand my kiddos, but this is definitely an “immersion” program.  I watched J and A sitting at their desks, clearly not understanding a thing that was being said.  I could tell that this upset them.  I could tell that they were scared.   And as a mother, that just eats at me and pierces me straight to my heart.

I will admit that I am second-guessing our decision to put them into public schools here in this foreign country where they don’t speak the language.

skole

There were other options:

#1 Not coming to Denmark at all.  The kids were very happy at their school in Berthoud, and the education there was great.  I would even go so far as to say that my kids were excelling in that environment.

#2. Home-school:  I brought math workbooks, etc here to Denmark so that I would have the option to home school my kids, if need be.  This is still part of my game plan, actually.  After giving my J and A some time to adjust to their new school schedule, I am planning to spend a few hours with them each week making sure that they stay caught up with the schools back home–particularly with math and English, and reading. Also, (as soon as we find a digital piano), I am hoping to continue with their piano lessons.

#3.  English-speaking International School.  This is an option we seriously considered.  The drawbacks were that it is far away (50 minutes from John’s work), and it is expensive.  My understanding is that the government provides some sort of voucher system to cover part of the cost, but you are responsible for the rest. With at least 2 kids attending, tuition would be in the realm of several hundreds of dollars per month.  At first,  I was considering the “instruction in English” International School in Herning, Denmark to be the best option, and I was willing to make it work with the money and the commute.  After considerable thought and research and discussion with John, we began to consider the Danish public schools.  When we found out that there was a language acquisition program at Alkjaerskole, close to where John would be working, this seemed like the perfect set-up.  What I didn’t realize was that even the perfect set up would be difficult for my kids.

 

It is certainly too soon to tell whether or not the experience/experiment at school here will be a success.  It is way too soon to tell how quickly and well the kids will pick up Danish.  It is too soon to know if they will make friends or not.  And of course it will be a very long time before we will be able to look back on this time and say, “Oh, those first few months were hard, but it was so worth it–we learned and grew so much.”  This is one of those situations where I’m just going to have to try not to worry.   Support my kids in every way that I can, but also trust the system, trust in my own decisions.   Trust in what everyone tells me–that the kids will learn Danish quickly. It seems impossible–it seems like it would take a miracle.  But then, kids’ acquisition of speech in their native tongue is nothing short of that–a miracle.  So I’ll just have to ask for one more 😉 .