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FAMILY

Vuggestue or dagpleje? The difference between early Danish childcare options 

Denmark is world-renowned for its guaranteed (and heavily subsidised!) daycare, or 'daginstitution', before formal schooling begins. But some of the options don’t really have an equivalent outside of Denmark—what’s the difference between 'vuggestue', 'børnehave', and 'dagpleje', and which is right for your family?

Small children at a Danish 'vuggestue'
Small children at a Danish 'vuggestue' in June 2021. File photo: Signe Goldmann/Ritzau Scanpix

Ages of eligibility and cost

Early Danish childcare is bookended by parental leave and børnehave, or kindergarten, where children are enrolled from about three to six years old. Babies become eligible for vuggestue and dagpleje at 26 weeks old, though many families don’t enroll their children until about 9-12 months of age. 

Whether you choose dagpleje or vuggestue, the municipality will cover at least 75 percent of the cost of attendance, including your child’s lunch and snacks.

Vuggestue

Vuggestue, literally ‘cradle room’ in Danish, is likely what you imagine when you think of daycare—a nursery where multiple adults care for many children who range in age from infants to toddlers. By law, vuggestue are staffed by adults with training and certification in pedagogy, or methods of teaching. There must be an adult for every three children in vuggestue.

Many vuggestue are attached to a børnehave, or kindergarten, which can make for an easier transition once the child turns three. And for families with multiple children, dropping off baby and toddler at the same place can streamline their morning routine.

One important selling point for vuggestue are their consistent, longer open hours. Some vuggestue are themed, with a special emphasis on nature, arts or dance. Children in vuggestue—or really any Danish childcare—can expect to spend a significant percentage of every day outside.

Dagpleje

In dagpleje, which translates literally to “day care” in Danish, a handful of children are hosted in a private childminder’s personal home. A single adult can care for a maximum of five children, but up to 10 can share a dagpleje if there are more adults.

Dagpleje promise more individualised attention for each child and may be better able to care for children with special needs. Dagpleje are by nature a ‘homier’ environment and are often calmer than the hubbub of a vuggestue with dozens of children, which can be a boon for kids who are easily overstimulated. And with the same caregivers every day, children who go to dagpleje can form a close relationship with their childminder.  

However, dagpleje are less standardised than vuggestue so it’s incumbent on parents to make sure their dagpleje of choice would be a good fit. The adults at a dagpleje aren’t necessarily pedagogically trained, though they do have access to municipal experts they can consult about activities, their ‘curriculum,’ and any potential concerns about a child’s development. On the social front, a limited pool of possible playmates can be frustrating for some children (although many dagpleje meet other dagpleje for playdates (legestue!).

Dagpleje became more attractive to some families during the Covid-19 pandemic since the chances of exposure increase with a higher density of children. However, the flip side of the small pool at dagpleje is that if childminder is sick (or even on vacation), the children will need to be relocated to other dagpleje with adults they may not know.  

How to register your child for care  

Your child will need a Danish CPR or personal registration number to be registered for daycare.

Contact your local Pladsanvisingen, or daycare office, to find out how early your child can be registered (generally, you can have them added to a waiting list once they’re between 4 and 6 months old). On Borger.dk’s childcare landing page, you can find information on childcare centres near your home—or even outside your municipality, if you choose—and digitally add your child to waiting lists.

Parents can visit vuggestue and dagpleje before enrolling, but always call ahead to schedule an appointment.

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DANISH HABITS

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Danish parents often let their babies take daytime naps outdoors in their strollers. The practice can seem odd to visitors, so why is it so popular in the Nordic country?

Why do Danes let their babies sleep outside in strollers?

Denmark trended on social media this week when a Tiktok post, later also shared on Twitter, showed a series of videos of Danish strollers or prams parked outside on streets.

A number of the clips in the video show empty strollers parked outside kindergartens, but others presumably do indeed have sleeping babies in them.

This should not come as a surprise, given it’s common practice in Denmark to put babies and toddlers down for their naps outdoors, usually in their strollers.

Some social media commenters expressed shock at the video, with a fair few calling it bad parenting.

This week’s Tiktok and Twitter posts are not the first time Danish babies napping outside has caught international attention.

Back in 2013, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that the “BBC is surprised that Scandinavian children sleep outside” in response to an article by the British broadcaster titled “The babies who nap in sub-zero temperatures”.

“The Scandinavian custom of letting infants sleep outside is causing a stir,” the paper wrote.

Research cited in both the British and Danish articles suggests that there may be benefits to letting children sleep outdoors.

That includes a study from Oulo University in Finland based on a survey of parents.

“Babies clearly slept longer outdoors than indoors,” lead researcher Marjo Tourula told the BBC. Indoor naps lasted between one and two hours while outdoor naps lasted from 1.5 to three hours, the survey found.

“Probably the restriction of movements by clothing could increase the length of sleep, and a cold environment makes swaddling possible without overheating,” Tourula said.

Swedish paediatrician Margareta Blennow told the BBC that the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency had found conflicting results.

“In some studies they found pre-schoolers who spent many hours outside generally – not just for naps – took fewer days off than those who spent most of their time indoors,” she said, adding “in other studies there wasn’t a difference”.

District nurse and author Helen Lyng Hansen told newspaper Ekstra Bladet in 2013 that babies sleeping outside “is a tradition we have in Denmark.”

“It’s part of our culture that we have an idea that it is good for children to sleep outside and get fresh, red cheeks. But there’s no evidence to say that it makes children healthier,” she said.

A page on district nursing advice website Sundhedsplejerkse.dk says that “there are not yet any scientific studies that can prove that sleeping outdoors makes a difference. But the experiences of parents and experts suggests that children seem to sleep well outside.”

All experts stress that it is important for babies and small children to be appropriately dressed for sleeping outside.

Newborn infants are not put outside to sleep, with most parents waiting until around five to six weeks of age, particularly in colder seasons. Health service advice says infants weighing under 3 kilograms should sleep indoors. Children who have a fever or are otherwise sick should also not sleep outside, according to general advice.

Temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius or very misty conditions are not suitable for outside sleeping and naps outside should not last more than around 2 hours.

In Denmark, the standard outfit for children sleeping outside in winter is a woollen sovedragt or full-length suit on top of up to three layers of their regular clothes or pyjamas. They will also wear gloves, a scarf and an elefanthue or non-face-covering balaclava.

A design of blanket from the brand Voksi, referred to as a Voksi pose (“Voksi bag”) is the most popular choice for outdoors sleeping. The blanket can be folded and fastened to enclose the baby and has a hood-shaped part at the top.

The child is usually then placed under an outer blanket or rug and inside the stroller, which has rain covers pulled over if needed.

These layers are gradually reduced during the warmer seasons.

Although images of prams parked on streets are perhaps the most striking feature of the practice, this is not where most Danish babies sleep. Gardens, balconies and kindergartens are far more common places for parents or carers to put young children down for a nap.

That’s not to say a little one sleeping in a pram outside a café or similar public place isn’t unheard of. When this happens, the parent will be sat somewhere in view or use a baby alarm.

That parents nevertheless feel comfortable leaving children to sleep on the street can seem unbelievable to those witnessing the practice for the first time.

“There’s also something about us living in safe Denmark,” retired district nurse and author Sigrid Riise told Ekstra Bladet in 2013.

“We have always dared to leave our children outside, even though we have begun to keep an eye on them more in recent years,” she said.

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