Learning by playing with early childhood education!

Educational immersion and insights into the life of Denmark’s youngest students 

When I decided to take the class of Early Childhood: Nordic Education and Parenting, I had only a slight idea of what I was going to experience here at DIS Copenhagen. I knew we were going to cover the basics, learn about the differences between American and Danish education systems, and we were definitely going to learn the history behind why Denmark does things the way they do. The thing I did not fully grasp before meeting my teacher and class was just how different and immersive this session at DIS was going to be. We weren’t just getting to learn about the education system, we were going to appreciate it firsthand. 

From the first day of class, I knew that I was going to learn a lot more than I had anticipated this summer. Our faculty member, Jen Duncan-Bendix, is a bubbly and lively former DIS student who has moved to Denmark, earned her masters, found a local partner, and is now en route to pursue her PhD in early childhood care here. Oh and she speaks fluent Danish and has two beautiful children. She’s amazing and is the definition of someone who does it all.

Jen was full of life on our first day and had us go around and interview each other, listing our majors, passions, and experience working with children. It felt like I was back in elementary school in the best way possible. She then launched into an overview of the course and what we would be getting ourselves into throughout the next three weeks. The excitement in the room was palpable. 

After the first class session, it was clear that Jen would be giving her all to help us understand the ways in which the Danish choose to educate their children and why. After our second class on the structure of the education system, she explained that we would be spending the next three of our classes outside on Field Studies. These Field Studies are days spent out around the city in spaces related to the course we are taking.

As I was still dealing with the adjustment of the first week in Denmark, I was well aware it could be a challenge to navigate around and find new places. However, with Jen’s help, I found that this city was much more easily accessible than I had really understood from the primary information I had received. I’ve now become an expert Donkey Republic rider (bikes that can be rented by the minute and are spread throughout the city) and a huge lover of the Metro.

On our first Field Study, Jen had our class meet at the Copenhagen Contemporary museum, a former warehouse turned modern art center by the water and Reffen, brimming with enticing exhibits and intriguing design structures. Within this class, Jen allowed us to get a firsthand look into some Danish children’s literature. We learned about one of the most popular authors here, Jakob Martin Strid, while getting to see the initial drawings and designs he had loaned to the museum.

Tucked away from the center part of the city, it was easy to understand that museums in Denmark pride themselves in allowing space for children to feel welcome into places that sometimes look down upon them being there. This museum gave space and showed the ever present link between creativity and education that stands at the forefront of the Danish education system. 

After beginning to understand the bike culture of Denmark, I came to understand the trains here. That is how Google maps has become my best friend. So on the next day of class, Jen had our group meet at a Danish daycare, known as Børneinstitutionen Broparken. My class and I found ourselves about 40 minutes outside of the central city and surrounded by parks, residential homes, and children. Getting to see a Danish daycare in such an intimate detail truly provided our class with the space to see the system in real life.

The classrooms here were designed for collaboration, curiosity, and wellbeing, while the outside school environment reminded me more of summer camp than that of a typical school in America. We got to lie in hammocks, pet bunnies, see their goats and even chop wood like the four and five year-olds get to do. Looking back on this experience, it seems clear that Danes value this relationship with nature much more than I had ever understood. They see it as a way to form resilience in their students, forge connections, and equip them for the real world, not something just as play. The outdoors is a place for education to blossom in students.

On the last day of our first week, we met to talk about the itinerary for our Study Tour in Helsinki, Finland. We met in a space that also had this aura of creativity and unconventional working spaces. In KU.BE, there were rock climbing walls and structures for playing on. There were tracks to run around and things to climb on. While students could work there, they could also play and it was clear that even though this place was also outside the city center, Denmark wants to ensure all areas of the country can enjoy spaces to be a kid again. 

As I sit here writing and reflecting on the two weeks I’ve had in Copenhagen, it truly has been more than I have ever dreamed of. Not only am I able to enjoy the incredible quality of life inside the city, but also engage in classroom experiences that take me outside of the city and get a firsthand look into the real educational experience that my class is focused on. I’ve been feeling the spark reignited in me to work with kids, and I can say for certain that DIS and Jen have both been able to change my perspective on the way that the education system should be.

I’m learning and immersing myself with other students who will be the educational leaders of the future and it brings me great pleasure to say that all of them have the passion to change the world for the better. Here’s to my last week in Denmark and more adventures to come – skål! 

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