In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark

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

Education Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark
Ditte Alexandra Winther-Lindqvist, Lone Svinth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0093


Ninety-eight percent of all Danish children between one and six attend an early childhood education and care (ECEC) center. Thirty-eight percent of these children spend eight hours or more a day in an ECEC center. Most Danish ECECs are public and administered by local municipalities. ECEC centers include crèche/nurseries and family day-care providers (zero to three years); kindergartens (three to six years); and the most common, integrated centers (zero to six years). On average, 45 percent of the zero-to-two-year-old children attending an ECEC attend a family day-care provider. Often, ECEC centers are open Monday through Friday from six thirty a.m. to five p.m. Each center 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. Pedagogical approaches also vary, but in general, children spend three to four hours a day outside on a playground. Except for lunch, snacks, and circle times, children take part in adult-initiated or 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. The ECEC sector 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 ECEC sector is vested with high expectations, which include preventing social problems and providing care, upbringing, and learning opportunities for all children. Danish pedagogues are professionally trained at the bachelor’s level in providing care and supporting development. In an average municipality, 59 percent of the professionals have a degree in pedagogy, while the remaining 41 percent are assistants with some or no pedagogical education. The ratios between adults and children vary between municipalities. In 2014, each professional on average was responsible for 6.4 children, ages three to five, or 3.7 children, ages zero to two. The early childhood education and care system in Denmark is like other Nordic countries, based on a social pedagogical approach. The sector is closely connected to the development of the Danish welfare state, with its tax-financed public health, education, and social system. Another characteristic is that most men and women are employed on a full-time basis. In the 1970s, legislation regulating the ECEC sector 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. A national curriculum of six learning themes became effective in 2004 and has been implemented into a play-based tradition. In 2016, a political initiative was introduced in order to straighten the curriculum framework. One of the aims is to increase the learning environment in Danish ECEC centers and to develop the professionals’ cooperation with parents.

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, Ringsmose and Kragh‐Müller in 2017 edited Nordic Social Pedagogical Approach to Early Years with contributions from eight Danish researchers. This anthology studies the major characteristics of the social pedagogical approach to early childhood education and care. It does so by investigating the distinctive elements of the Danish/Nordic approach and tradition. The cultural, educational, and ideological structures and values within the Nordic tradition indicate a strong “social pedagogical” rather than “early education” emphasis. The Nordic tradition applies a social learning approach that emphasizes play, relationships, and outdoor life and presumes that learning takes place through children’s participation in social interaction and processes. Another anthology, Sommer, et al. 2010 presents a Danish/Scandinavian distinction between child and children’s perspectives. The authors use this distinction as an analytical tool for understanding care and governance of children’s lives in modern society. Directly related to the practice of Danish ECECs, Williams-Siegfredsen 2012 gives a comprehensive introduction to the unique tradition of forest schools in Denmark. This 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. Broström 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 can support children’s learning and development. The authors also problematize the scholastic approach observed in several Danish preschools. Other chapters in the anthology address professional identity and didactics, children’s self-organized activities and perspectives, language learning, and adult-guided activities. The ECEC system as part of the society at large constitutes the central focus of Gulløv 2012. The author describes the connections between political demands on the early childhood education system and daily practices in ECECs in a historical context. Based on experiences with a two-year-long action research project with professionals from ECEC centers from ten Danish municipalities, Broström, et al. 2016 investigates pedagogical practice for the youngest children—those in nurseries and family day care.

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

    DOI: 10.1007/s10566-006-9024-9

    Provides a general overview of the Danish Act on Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) 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 ECEC in Denmark.

  • Broström, Stig, Ole Henrik Hansen, Anders Skriver Jensen, and Lone Svinth. 2016. Barnet i centrum: Pædagogik og relationer i vuggestue og dagpleje. Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag.

    The book provides knowledge of current theories, empirical research, and concrete experiences related to didactics, pedagogy, and learning in nurseries and family day care for zero-to-three-year-old children. The book provides inspiration for how future practice can be for nurseries and family day-care settings 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.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230314054_6

    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.

    DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2010.506599

    In this paper, the authors describe and analyze the curriculum of ECEC 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.

    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.

  • Ringsmose, Charlotte, and Grethe Kragh-Müller, eds. 2017. Nordic Social Pedagogical Approach to Early Years. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

    This collection of chapters presents a broad variation of Danish ECEC studies and explains the Nordic approaches to ECEC. The anthology provides examples of different educational philosophies that strongly influence childhoods and takes into account the Nordic approach as practiced in Denmark.

  • 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. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Science.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-3316-1

    Some of the most influential scholars in the field present a thorough description and analysis of the Scandinavian approach to ECEC 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 dagtilbud. Copenhagen: Dansk Psykologisk Forlag.

    The theoretical inspiration for the chapters in this anthology is sociocultural theory 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). The book presents recent research findings within the area of early childhood education and learning in Denmark.

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

    In this comprehensive overview of the Danish ECEC 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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