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Take it slowly...

Childhood is the foundation for learning in a social environment. It is our responsibility as parents to prepare our children for this important step. So, how can Danes inspire international parents to be better and more receptive?

Photographs: Pexels

Text: Natália Šepitková

Conscious and slow parenting focuses on quality rather than performance. This means raising children to be empathetic, wise, and resilient adults rather than geniuses who excel in every area. Society depends on children growing into well-functioning adults, and allowing them to develop in peace and quiet is crucial.

Parents today spend much more time with their children than in the past. While this may seem positive, it often means children have everything organized by their parents, diminishing spontaneity and playfulness. As a result, children feel less responsible for their own lives.

Small Vikings

During my four years in Denmark, I noticed that most Danish parents approach their children with ease and relaxation. They respect their children's "no" and allow them to test their limits without unnecessary interference. Danish parents give their children the space and confidence to handle challenges and solve problems independently. On Danish playgrounds, children often engage in seemingly risky activities, such as hanging upside down from a climbing frame or climbing trees. However, children usually have a keen sense of their limits, and this belief in their abilities is crucial for their development into confident adults.

The Viking spirit lives on in Danish parenting, evident in many small practices. Researching how Danes raise their kids reveals practices such as babies napping outside, benefiting from fresh air. This healthy lifestyle continues into the toddler and preschool years, even in wet weather, where children play outside in puddles and mud. Danish children need functional, waterproof clothing and many pairs of shoes, including rubber boots. They often come home from kindergartens or playgrounds looking like they've come from a battlefield.

Movement brings joy to life, even though it sometimes involves a little pain or discomfort. Children might fall and bruise their knees or elbows while playing outside, but it's essential to remember that by falling, they learn to get up, train their balance, and understand their limitations. Crying from a fall is okay if it's not a severe injury, and parents should step back and observe. This teaches children to handle their situations responsibly.

The power of play

Children do not need many toys. The best toys are household tools or natural materials that delight rather than overwhelm the senses. Children need to play, preferably with other children, as they learn by observing older children at play. Play can be serious and often imitates adult life, allowing children to process their emotions deeply. It helps them communicate and manage social interactions, preparing them for adult life.

In 1871, Danish couple Niels and Erna Juel-Hansen devised the theory that education should include play, discovering that free play is essential for a child's development. Historically, Danish children attended school later, at the age of seven, to ensure they first and foremost had time to play. Today, Danish children under ten finish school by two o'clock in the afternoon, allowing time for leisure activities such as Danish skolefritidsordning.

The garden for children

One of Denmark's leading proponents of slow parenting is Helle Heckmann, a Waldorf teacher and mentor. Since 1998, her unique programme for children has inspired early childhood educators to create healthy, nourishing environments. This programme has been run at Nøkken Kindergarten since 1987, located in the suburbs of Copenhagen. Behind the gate on a busy street corner lies an oasis of peace and love for toddlers and preschoolers, where life follows a slow, easy rhythm. "I create a framework for the young child in which the child feels safe, where daily life is predictable, without surprises born of the mood," writes Helle Heckmann in her book Nøkken – A Garden for Children.

The children spend most of their six-hour day outside, eating homemade food, with the kitchen playing a central role in their daily lives. Everyday eating is a crucial social gathering opportunity. At Nøkken, they believe children come to kindergarten to learn fundamental skills that will help them manage their daily lives. "Only through daily participation do the children participate in their life's creation. Only by being surrounded by adults engaged in ordinary activities, doing chores with happiness and seriousness, will the child be able to relate to the important tasks in life, namely to develop and improve, not just for her own sake, but also for others," says Helle Heckmann.

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