(Warning: There might be images on this post that might be graphic to some readers so please be advised.)
Culture shock is a word all study abroad students are told we might encounter. The “shock” is disorientating due to unfamiliarity of living in another country. When arriving in København (Copenhagen), Denmark my adjustment to the city culture was rather quick. Learning about the Danish child care and education system made me experience what I will call “education shock”.
The first day in our, Child Development: Theory and Practice, course began with an introduction where we met our instructor. Heidi encouraged us to call her by her first name explaining that it is customary in Denmark to do so. Avoiding the habit of addressing my instructor as Professor is going to be a challenge for me! Soon after we began our crash course on the Danish and Nordic childcare system.
The Danish child care system focuses on development through: Self-Initiated Play, Nature, and Peer-Adult Relationships. Children spend their day playing or engaging in activities with each other either indoors or outside. The role of the pedagogues (teachers) is to assist by guiding the children during their play when necessary.
This approach to development has no focus on formal academic learning rather it happens organically through social engagement and interactions with each other. It surprises me how much independence children have and question, “ How and what are the children actually learning?” However, our visit “Broparken” (kindergarten) and specifically their construction playground answered my question in an unique way.
When arriving at Broparken we received a tour of the kindergarten and the construction playground then were informed that as a class we would participate in a meal preparation: chicken soup. The construction playground was equipped with fire wood stoves, axes, firewood, and tables full of fresh produce.
Of course, when the time came the live chicken was provided. I quickly realized “how” and “what” children learn is really dependent on the present situation around them. For example, the pedagogue demonstrated to the children and the class how to hold an axe and swing properly. I was confident we were ready as a group to start chopping wood required for starting a fire.
When it came time to prepare main dish it was going to be a new and exciting experience for me. It is not commonplace in an education center to witness a butchering of a live chicken! I was unsure how the children or I would handle the butchering process but the pedagogues made sure to let those that did not want to witness it leave the site.
Considering the children’s feelings and emotion became more important than expectation to stay. The pedagogue further incorporated learning by providing an explanation of how the butchering process would occur. We knew what to expect and there was no room for surprises. The butchering was complete. We de-feathered and dissected the chicken in order to continue educating ourselves and the children about chicken preparation and poultry anatomy. Finally, the ingredients were ready and it was time to cook and eat!
My initial “education shock” was learning about how much play influenced the development and learning of children in Denmark. When leaving Broparken I reconsidered my perceptions and assumptions about how children learn. I saw the possibilities of what can happen when educators focused more on the child.
The construction playground showed me that children are capable of learning and developing agency, social skills, and competencies necessary to successfully complete any task when given the opportunity. By witnessing Broparken’s approach to childcare first hand I realized there is a focus on play but always with an opportunity to ask, “What can the child learn from this?”. This question can transform the butchering of a chicken into a meaningful and enjoyable learning experience for everyone!