In This Article Early Childhood Education in Denmark

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Research Reports and Research Reviews
  • Journals
  • National Curriculum
  • Socialization and Institutionalization
  • Educational Theories and Convictions
  • Recognition and Care
  • Play
  • Play Culture, Peer Groups, and Friendships
  • Children’s Perspectives
  • Family Involvement and Children across Contexts
  • Investigation Quality and Best Practice
  • Professional Identity, Competences, and Management
  • Adult-Structured Activities
  • Institutional Transitions
  • Gender
  • Social Inequality and Socially Endangered Children
  • Multiethnic Contexts
  • Children with Special Needs and Handicaps
  • Physical Environment

Education Early Childhood Education in Denmark
Ditte Alexandra Winther-Lindqvist
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0093


Today 98 percent of children attend full-day day care in Denmark from one to six years of age, after which compulsory schooling starts, and all day care is administered by local authorities and municipalities. Day-care institutions include crèche/nurseries/private family day cares (zero to three years), kindergartens (three to six years), integrated institutions (zero to six years) and after-school centers (six to ten years). Most day-care centers are open Monday through Friday from 6.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each institution varies in size and the manner of its organization and most are unit-based, so that every child belongs to a unit with particular adults. However, new day-care centers are built largely as workshop-based, so that the children can choose which workshop area they would like to attend during the day. Public childcare has a high political priority and accounts for a considerable part of municipal budgets since only one-fifth of total costs are financed by parent fees. The system is vested with high expectations, which include preventing social problems and providing care, upbringing, and learning opportunities for all children on each child’s individual terms. Danish pedagogues are professionally trained at the bachelor’s level in providing care and supporting development. In the 1970s, legislation regulating kindergartens was sparse. It was adopted under the purview of the Ministry of Social Affairs, which reflected the fact that providing day care for preschool children was regarded as a social issue rather than an educational issue. The early childhood education system in Denmark is closely connected to the development of the tax-based Danish welfare state, one that features both men and women employed on a full-time basis and taxes that are used to finance the extensive public health, education, and social systems. The ratios between adults and children vary between municipalities, but a rule of thumb is two professional pedagogues and one play worker for twenty-two kindergarteners (3–6 years), and the same for twelve nursery children (1–2.8 years); however, all staff members are not all present throughout the day. Children, in general, spend three to four hours a day outside in the playground. A national curriculum of six learning themes became effective in 2004 and has been implemented into a play-based tradition. Except for lunch, snack, and circle times, children take part in adult-initiated and adult-structured activities, typically thirty minutes per day; otherwise, they are free to choose for themselves with what to play and with whom to play in a child-centered pedagogical environment. Each day care works cooperatively with local primary schools to ensure cohesive transitions between institutions. In the current political climate, providing high-quality care and optimal learning conditions is at the center of debates. In 2010, the early childhood education system was placed under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, which represents a political turn toward regarding preschool institutions as part of the educational system.

General Overviews

General overviews on early childhood education in Denmark are sparse and usually are not available in English; however, some seminal works have recently become available in English. On a general and comprehensive level, Sommer, et al. 2010 presents the Danish/Scandinavian early childhood approach in making a distinction between child and children’s perspectives, and the authors present this distinction as an analytical tool for understanding care and governance of children’s lives in modern society. More directly related to the practice of Danish day care, a comprehensive introduction is now available in Williams-Siegfredsen 2012. Although mainly concerned with the unique tradition of forest schools in Denmark, the book also provides descriptions of daily practice, legislation, and the value of the child-centered approach in governing the system in general. The general system is also presented and critically discussed in Jensen, et al. 2010, which warns against a narrow and restrictive interpretation of the Danish curriculum. This said, research is strongly focused on describing and improving the field, and many scholars are engaged in making recommendations for better practice. Brostrøm 2006 argues that the Danish early education system needs to rethink the concept of learning in relation to the other important tasks of early education, namely care and development, and the author thus advocates for a more explicit didactic approach to day-care education. Along these lines, Svinth and Ringsmose 2012 presents chapters that investigate how adult-initiated activities and meaningful interaction between children and adults in early education support children’s learning and development. Chapter themes include professional identity and didactics, children’s self-organized activities and perspectives, language learning, and adult-guided activities. The day-care system as part of the society at large constitutes the central focus of Gulløv 2012. The authors describe the connections between political demands on the early childhood education system and daily practices in day care in a historical context. In Poulsgaard and Liberg 2012, written for practitioners and students, recent research findings are reported by researchers who also comment on the significance of their research for early childhood education.

  • Brostrøm, Stig. 2006. Care and education: Towards a new paradigm in early childhood education. Child Youth Care Forum 35: 391–409.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10566-006-9024-9E-mail Citation »

    Provides a general overview of the Danish Act on Early Childhood Education (ECE) and practice, including its history in relation to the dichotomy of play and learning among Danish pedagogues. Suggests a unification of care and education encompassing upbringing and teaching under three different forms of care as a new paradigm of ECE in Denmark.

  • Gulløv, Eva. 2012. Kindergartens in Denmark: Reflections on continuity and change. In The modern child and the flexible labour market: Early childhood education and care. Edited by Anne Trine Kjørholt, and Jens Quortrup, 90–111. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    E-mail Citation »

    Provides a comprehensive overview of the continuity of developments in the history of the Danish kindergarten system, reflecting upon changes in modern society and how these changes contradict and conflict with goals, legislation, and daily practices in the kindergartens.

  • Jensen, Anders Skriver, Stig Brostrøm, and Ole Henrik Hansen. 2010. Critical perspectives on Danish early childhood education and care: Between the technical and the political. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development 30.3: 243–254.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this paper, the authors describe and analyze the curriculum of ECE and its impact on pedagogical practice. They argue that rethinking issues involving care and education is necessary to avoid a narrow, constrained interpretation of the curriculum adopted in 2004.

  • Poulsgaard, Kirsten, and Ulla Liberg. 2012. Forskning i pædagogisk praksis. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collection of chapters on research in pedagogical practice is written by researchers and is supplemented with interviews on how their research contributes to the field of early childhood education in relation to various themes, e.g., play, gender, friendships, learning, inclusion of ethnic minorities, etc. It is aimed at practitioners and undergraduate students.

  • Sommer, Dion, Ingrid Pramling-Samuelsson, and Karsten Hundeide, eds. 2010. Child perspectives and children’s perspectives in theory and practice. International Perspectives on Early Childhood and Development Series 2. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-3316-1E-mail Citation »

    Some of the most influential scholars in the field present a thorough description and analysis of the Scandinavian approach to ECE as one encompassing child perspectives as well as children’s perspectives both formally (in legislation) and informally (in practice). A new conceptualization of care is presented as well as a suggestion for a new research paradigm (see also Children’s Perspectives).

  • Svinth, Lone, and Charlotte Ringsmose. 2012. Læring og udvikling I daginstitutioner Copenhagen: Dansk Psykologisk Forlag.

    E-mail Citation »

    The theoretical inspiration for the chapters in this anthology is sociocultural and it focuses on how professionals shape and form the environment in ways that are consequential to children’s development and learning (social, emotional, language). Presents recent research findings within the area of early childhood education and learning in Denmark, targeted mainly for undergraduate and master students.

  • Williams-Siegfredsen, Jane. 2012. Understanding the Danish forest school approach: Early years education in practice. New York: Routledge.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this comprehensive overview of the Danish ECE system in theory and practice, the particularities related to the forest schools/nature kindergartens are explained and examined in detail. Child-centered education programs in outdoor natural settings are examined and recommendations are offered, providing questions for reflection for both students and practitioners.

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