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The Danish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season

The Local Denmark
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The Danish vocabulary parents need to know for back-to-school season
A teacher and her pupils at a Danish school. Photo:

Parents around the country will be preparing for their children's return to school – or perhaps their very first term – over the next few weeks. Here are the crucial pieces of Danish vocabulary that will help international families navigate the school year.


Types of schools

Most pupils in Denmark go to a folkeskole (folkeskoler in plural), literally "people's school". These cover the entire span of the country's compulsory education system from age six to age 16, so all of primary and and lower secondary school. 

About 18 percent of Danish school pupils are, however, educated at privately run friskoler, or "free schools", which might include small village schools in the tradition  These might include the Grundtvig-koldske friskoler (small, rural independent schools based on the ideas of the ideas of the Danish educationalist Nikolaj Grundtvig), private grundskoler (which tends to refer to more academically minded institutions in the big cities), Rudolf Steiner-skoler (schools based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner) , lilleskoler (small schools), flersprogede friskoler (multilingual schools), or religiøse friskoler (religious schools for children with Jewish, Muslim, or other religious backgrounds. 

Before attending schools, children can attend a vuggestue (kindergarten for 0 to 3-year-olds) and then a børnehave (kindergarten for 3 to 6-year-olds), both of which are a type of daginstitution. There are also dagpleje, where children are looked after in the private homes of the kindergarten teachers. 

Between the ages of 14 and 18, pupils can attend an efterskole, or "after school", a unique Danish institution of voluntary independent residential schools which tend to have a more liberal approach to education, and typically a focus on a set of subjects, such as sports, cooking, media, animation, theatre, music, or dance.

From the autumn of the year a child is six, they attend børnehaveklasse (preschool class), which is a compulsory one-year transition between børnehave and folkeskole.


What are the subjects you can study at folkeskole

Students study Dansk (Danish), Kristendomskundskab (Christian knowledge), Idræt (sport), and Matematik (maths) in all ten classes or grades, which are called klassetrin

From the first to the sixth grade they study Musik (music) and Billedkunst (painting and drawing), Natur (natural sciences) or teknik (technology). From the thrid to the ninth grade, they study Engelsk (English), with the option of Tysk (German), from the seventh grade. From the seventh grade, pupils can also study Geografi (Geography), Biologi (biology), Fysik (Physics), or Kemi (chemistry). 

How does the school year work? 

Skolestart, the start of the school year, is at the start of the efterårssemester or "Autumn term", which is broken up in mid-October by a one-week efterårsferie, or "Autumn half-term". Then there's the vinterferie or juleferie (Winter or Christmas holidays), forårssemester (spring holiday), Påskeferie (Easter holidays), and the Sommerferie (summer holidays). 

At the start of term, your child might receive a tidsplan (timetable) or even an Individuel studieplan (individual study plan), showing what they are studying that year.  


Children at Danish schools are all required to have a skoletaske, a backpack or satchel. They will also need a gymnastikposer, or gym bag, as well as a penalhus (pencilcase) penne (pens), blyanter, (pencils) and a blyantspidser (pencil sharpener).  


What happens after folkeskole? 

After folkeskole, students can opt for one of the four types of gymnasiale uddannelser (upper secondary education).

These include:

The Hhx-uddannelsen, which is focused on preparing students for business careers, is normally given at a handelsgymnasium, or "business gymnasium", and ends with the merkantil studentereksamen (literally the mercantile student exam). 

The Hf-uddannelsen, which is a general upper secondary school education, teaching a broad range of subjects. Pupils can choose to focus on naturvidenskabelige faggruppe (science subjects) or theKultur- og samfundsfagsgruppen (culture and society group). The stream ends with the højere forberedelseseksamen, Higher Preparatory Examination.

The Stx-uddannelsen, a science-focused upper secondary education, which ends with thestudentereksamen, the Danish upper secondary leaving certificate. 

The Htx-uddannelsen, which is focused on preparing students for technological higher education and ends with the teknisk studentereksamen.



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