Text: Monika Pedersen
Returning to school after the summer vacation is always a time of new beginnings, hopes, and aspirations. It can also be a daunting time if a child starts 'big' school for the first time. This anxiety is lessened in Denmark because of an interesting, forward-looking set-up.
The innovative opportunity available to young children in Danish schools is to start in May. These preschool children are known as 'Majbørn'. Children start as early as March in some bi-lingual international schools in the country.
This allows children to acclimate to school life before starting in primary 1. Children are introduced to the school's culture and practices/procedures in a gradual and non-pressurised way. This helps a child build a sense of security and understanding of school life before August and allows for some basic pre-teaching. Starting school in August is then less of a traumatic step; instead, it is a return to a known place and something to look forward to.
The children develop their ability to be self-sufficient. In the first instance, this means an acceptance of separating from their parents to function in a different environment with a new adult, their teacher. It includes practising simple, set procedures such as hand washing after outside breaks and before mealtimes, using the toilet alone, putting on and taking off their coats and shoes, lining up and walking over to another location in the school, eating at fixed times and managing food boxes. They slowly learn to keep their possessions methodically on pegs, in pencil cases, and in their personal tray.
The teachers organise structured and unstructured play inside and outside the building so students work on a rudimentary understanding of playing fairly, sharing, and interacting harmoniously. A more significant part of the day is taken up with play-based learning activities that support physical agility and stimulate the senses. A child can also experience after-school care, known as 'skolefritidsordning', SFO, which also involves a lot of play.
"A child can also experience after-school care, known as 'skolefritidsordning', SFO, which also involves a lot of play."
A typical day involves gathering in their classroom, morning greeting, and the presentation of the day's schedule in a visible way so a child has a road map. Some fundamental teachings are worked upon throughout the week, such as learning the days of the week and the months of the year through song, recalling numbers from 1-10, holding a pencil, forming letters, and writing their name. They also listen to stories and appreciate that they must raise their hands to answer questions and share thoughts. The children enjoy music classes, artwork involving colouring, cutting, and sticking, and special-themed activities.
It is usual to have two teachers or a teacher and a pedagogue per class with complementary skill sets who work hard to create a secure, friendly, and stimulating environment where children can thrive. Much energy is devoted to building trusting relationships so the children feel loved and safe.
A primary 1 teacher connects with the preschoolers by coming to their classroom and engaging in bridging activities. The children have the chance to meet their next teacher and make connections. It is common for primary 1 students to interact with preschool students through reading activities, play, or outings. This provides preschoolers with an insight as to what is to come.
Back to school in august
Students exposed to this experience are in a much stronger position to start primary 1. They are far more comfortable in their environment and have grasped school procedures. They know who their next teacher will be. They have the knowledge and skills to give them a phenomenal start. Through these experiences, considerable anxiety and emotional stress have been removed. It is a favourable situation for the students, and their parents, who can see their child is happy to come to school, allowing for a seamless transition.