In Denmark, formal education does not commence until children turn six years old in contrast to four years in the UK. As several of our students undertake placements and go into employment in childcare and primary school provision, we sought to identify the extent to which this delay to formalised schooling benefited children, and how provision was offered to meet children’s play, care and learning needs.
We were accompanied by tour guides Jytte and Ulla, both retired early years teachers, academics and senior managers of education and day care facilities, and Henning, a retired Paediatric Psychologist, who enthralled the students with his insight into children’s psychological development and his interest in the therapeutic value of storytelling.
The interactions between our tour guides, students and staff as we traversed the city offered opportunities for deep learning through discussion and exploration of the phenomenon witnessed.
The most significant learning during the trip centred on the way in which children were regarded and provided for in the Danish settings. The autonomy and independence of children, supported and encouraged by staff in all of the settings was identified as being significant by the student group.
The students recognised similarities between the approach taken by the pedagogues and the ethos that underpinned the playwork approach as discussed in lectures.
This helped our students gain a wider, global perspective of those working with children.
What did our students make of the experience?
“Visiting Denmark and seeing for myself the practice and attitudes towards children's play from a Danish perspective enabled me to really see the importance of adopting a Playwork approach and the benefits that provides for children’s development and for their opportunity/experience.”
“My attitude towards play provisions in England and Playwork has changed since visiting Denmark. I think the play provisions here in England are nothing compared to what you see in Denmark (the nurseries, after school clubs etc). I think more could be done and should be done to change these play provisions to provide children with such rich and varied experiences that they wouldn't usually get.”
“More could be done around educating people within the [UK] children’s workforce around adopting a Playwork attitude towards children and their play and recognising the impact on children that are not surrounded by new experiences, risk, and all the other unique elements of Playwork!”
“The most significant thing I took away from my trip in Denmark was the importance of after school provision and how highly they thought of it. Also, how different a pedagogue practitioner is viewed and respected in comparison to an after-school practitioner in England. Also, that they see how important play is to a child development and offer opportunities for many different play types and opportunities.”
“It really took me by surprise how laid back and lenient all the different play environments were in Copenhagen. The fact that children are allowed to go off into different places of the play environment without at least one adult made me feel happy that children have so much more freedom! Children in England are constantly being watched and never have any privacy within their play.”
“I think the most prominent thing for me was the vast difference in the outdoor play areas, how imaginative they are with the equipment rather than just having the bog-standard slide, swing, slide etc. I will definitely be taking this to the [placement provider] to show how effective these things are and the fact that the road lay out park could help children learn road safety which I know is important to the [placement provider].
Overall, this was a great experience for staff and students. There was a real sense from the students that this was a personal and professional-life changing experience.
The experience was also valuable for the two members of the Childhood Development & Playwork team. We now aim to embed some of the learning into future teaching to ensure the longevity of the impact of the study tour.