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The eternal dilemma: Dagpleje vs. Vuggestue

Unlike other places, where it is common to find stay-at-home mums (and dads), Danish parents typically go straight back to their careers after parental leave ends. To make this work, Denmark offers various options for taking care of children as young as six months old.

Photograph: iStock

Text: Natalia E.L. Madsen

The standard in Danish culture is that both parents work, and children are enrolled in daycare. For internationals used to anything else, deciding where to send our children can be a complicated process.

Back in 2017, Eurostat reported that Denmark was the European country where small kids spent the most time in institutions. Sixty-six percent of children aged 0-2 spent at least 30 hours a week in nurseries around the country. The second place was Portugal, with forty-six percent.

I was born and raised in Spain - and didn’t set foot in an institution until I was four years old. Up to that point, my mum and my grandmother took care of me. Another place, another time – maybe you can relate.

When the moment came to send my first child to daycare, I was heartbroken. I wished more than anything that I could keep her home for a couple more years. But I was in the midst of a PhD and my husband was still studying. As much as I wanted to, it just wasn’t feasible – and it wasn’t what was expected of me either.

We had two choices: dagpleje (in-home daycare) or vuggestue (nursery).

Dagpleje (in-home daycare)

Here your child is taken care of in a private home, together with three other children. If it’s a public in-home daycare, the municipality hires the dagplejemor (daycare mum or childminder). There aren’t any specific requirements for education, but a selection process is carried out, and spots in each city are limited. In-home daycares work with pedagogical curricula much like a nursery and often have weekly gatherings with other groups in the area, sometimes using facilities from kindergartens or nurseries.

Lack of socialisation is often mentioned as a downside, but the truth is that children get exposed to other groups on a very regular basis, be it at the playground, the library or during visits to the local nursing home – when that was possible.

Another common worry is the childminder’s lack of formal education. They’re not necessarily pedagogues, but they have access to many courses, from paediatric first aid to supporting language development in bilingual kids. They also have a supervising pedagogue, which visits the different in-home daycares in an area and helps them with challenges or doubts while ensuring that children are developing as they should. Plus, many of these women have been taking care of children for over fifteen years – some may argue that beats an academic degree.

Vuggestue (nursery)

A nursery is an institution that children can attend from six months old until they turn three when they move to børnehave (kindergarten). In a nursery you will typically find pædagoger (pedagogues), pædagogiske assistenter (pedagogical assistants) and pædagogmedhjælper (helpers). The first two positions require degrees at different levels, the third one doesn’t.

Usually, there are several groups per institution, and the number of children per adult (in Danish, normering) can differ between municipalities and during the day, depending on shifts. The most immediate advantages of a nursery are maybe its ample opening times and the fact that a pedagogue getting sick does not significantly affect your child’s routine (in the case of in-home daycare); they would be sent to a “guest home”). Regular exposure to more kids might mean, however, that children get sick more often than they otherwise would.

Integrated institutions that house nurseries and kindergarten under the same roof make for a smooth transition to børnehave (kindergarten) when the child turns three.

Alternative options

Besides public in-home daycares and nurseries, there are also private offers that you might want to consider. For example, we lived in a very small town for a year, where the only available option was a private in-home daycare. It worked fantastically, and my daughter was treated like one more grandchild, but we had to do the vetting ourselves (as opposed to someone who has been approved and hired by a municipality).

Depending on where you live, you may also be eligible for subsidies to care for your own children at home or hire someone to take care of your children – the specifics and amounts vary again between municipalities.

So, what’s best?

There is no universal answer. Some children might thrive best with one well-known adult in a calm, home-like environment. Some families might need to make use of the wider opening times of a nursery because their commutes to work are long. Some might not even have the luxury of a choice.

I am partial to in-home daycare, but my second is a vuggestuebarn (nursery child). First, because we didn’t have chemistry with the dagplejemor (daycare mum) we were assigned, and second because we thought the nursery was overall better equipped to deal with a global pandemic.

Do your research. Trust your gut. And remember that, ultimately, hard choices are hard because no option is clearly better than the other.


Danske forældre er europamestre i at parkere børn i vuggestue -

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