Course Syllabus

Child Development and Education in Scandinavia Section B

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Child Development in Scandinavia, Core Course

Semester & Location:

 Fall 2023 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Core Course Study Tours:

Western Denmark

Helsinki, Finland

Major Disciplines:

Child Development, Education/Educational Studies, Human Development



Faculty Members:

Jennifer Duncan-Bendix (current students please contact via the Canvas Inbox)

Program Contact:

Department coordinator

Time & Place:

Time: Mondays 8:30 - 11.25

Classroom: N7-A23

Description of Course

This course focuses on the central aspects of childhood development in Scandinavia. It addresses the contemporary issues facing professionals working with children, as well as how services for children in Scandinavian countries differ from approaches in the rest of the world. Class discussions are addressed through the lenses of public policy, current research, and practitioner perspectives.

Burning issues such as the pros and cons of free play, attachment to primary but also secondary caregivers, school readiness versus social pedagogy, and the role of nature in childhood will serve as the foundation for class discussions and field studies. These approaches will also be integrated by using visits on study tours as case studies, within the global context of child development.

Overall, this course will focus on theories and practices related to early childhood education and care (ECEC) , up through public school and adolescence (children ages 0-16).   A foundation for the course is exploring the theories for each topic presented, and then applying them to professional practice when working with children in a variety of capacities.   The experiences and observations from study tours and field studies will be integrated into discussions in order to highlight the connections between theory and practice. 

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course students in this class will...

  • Identify the main characteristics of a Nordic pedagogical approach to education as it is understood within a larger international context.
  • Apply the terms and concepts discussed in class to hands-on experiences and observations from field studies, study tour visits, and practical examples.
  • Analyze how approaches to childhood, care-taking and education can be challenged from a cross-cultural perspective.
  • Creatively and critically evaluate how Nordic perspectives can be used to investigate policies, pedagogies, and cultural structures related to education in the US and abroad.
  • Engage with the course material based on their own interdisciplinary perspectives, both individually as an active participant in the course, as well as cooperatively with peers.


Jennifer Duncan-Bendix

MA. Dagtilbuds- og Indskolings Didaktik – Early Childhood Education and Curriculum Studies (Aarhus University, 2014). BA (Early Childhood Development and Education, University of Connecticut, 2006). External Lecturer, Aarhus University (Fall 2016). Assistant Program Director, Child Development and Diversity (2014 – 2021).  DIS Program Coordinator (2011-2014). Pedagogue in International and Danish communities in Copenhagen (2008-2010). DIS CDD Program Assistant (2007-2008). With DIS since 2007.

Guest Lecturers

At certain points in the course, guest lecturers may be invited to provide their experience and expertise on select topics being covered in class.

Approach to Teaching

The class will be seen as a community of learners, who have the opportunity to share interests and learn from one another. The academic content and the socialization among students and teacher are integrally connected, and we use discussions of group dynamics in the class as an element of academic learning. 

A class will be planned based on theory and research articles students have read prior to the class. Different pedagogical tools will be used, which the group will reflect upon, and students will be asked to bring back ideas, thoughts and reflections from field studies, study tours, and everyday life and link these experiences with theory and research discussed in class. Teaching strategies can include peer led discussions, group work, cooperative exercises etc.

Expectations of the Students

You are expected to:

  • Complete readings or other assigned materials prior to each class.
  • Demonstrate engagement, responsibility, and independence.
  • Contribute to an open, respectful, and encouraging class environment where all members of the class community participate actively and thoughtfully.
  • Navigate Canvas to find Assignment Guidelines and Syllabus information throughout the semester.

Study Tours

Core Course week and study tours are an integral part of the course as we take the classroom on the road and see how theories presented in the class translate to practice in the field. You will travel with your classmates and DIS faculty/staff on two study tours; a short study tour and a long study tour.

Core Course Week (including a Short Study Tour to Western Denmark):  This week is designed to investigate the concept of “children’s culture” and children's perspectives.  We will focus on the various elements involved in designing, implementing, and evaluating activities and pedagogical experiences for children and families – as well as investigating the role of 'culture' inherent in these elements. 

Long Study Tour (Helsinki, Finland): This week will give us insight into a larger Nordic perspective on childhood and education.  We will examine why Finland often scores at the top of comparative studies for education, and explore a wide range of Finnish childhood experiences. Topics are explored through interpreting research findings, analyzing larger social structures, and observing interactions between children and professionals.

While on a program study tour, DIS will provide accommodation, transportation to and from destinations, approx. 2 meals per day and entrances, guides, and visits relevant to your area of study or the destination. You will receive a more detailed itinerary prior to departure.

Travel Policies - You are required to travel with your group to the destination. If you have to deviate from the group travel plans, you need approval from the program director and the study tours office.   



To be eligible for a passing grade in this class, you must complete all of the assigned work. If nothing else is mentioned, an assignment is due before midnight on the mentioned date.

Method of Evaluation Percent
Attendance 10%
Participation and Engagement 15%
Reading Mastery (Canvas Quizzes) 25%
Academic Presentations (long tour) 25%
Final Assignment 25%
Total 100%


Assignment Submission

Assignments are submitted via Canvas unless otherwise noted. It is your own responsibility to check if assignments are correctly uploaded. If you have any Internet - or computer trouble you are expected to contact the instructor and make arrangements for handing in the submission. 

  • Attendance (10%) - Attendance is mandatory for all scheduled classes and field studies. This grade includes presence in class being on time, and handing in papers on time. The final attendance grade will build on the system presented below:
Behavior Points deducted out of 100
Excused late 2 points
Unexcused late 5 points
Excused absence 10 points
Unexcused absence 15 points
Late assignments 5 points for each late day (submission will be an F if it is more than 1 week late)

These point deductions are applied to classes, but ALSO study tours, study tour visits, and field studies.

Absence will only be excused in serious situations, but informing your faculty regarding your attendance is always necessary. Unexcused absences include traveling or an absence that has not been discussed with the faculty.  Regardless of whether lateness is excused or unexcused, it is still disruptive to the class and you miss out on relevant information. Please note that missing one class is equivalent of missing two classes in other courses, since this course only meets once a week.

  • Participation (15%) - You are expected to complete the required readings prior to each class, and to engage in class and group discussions. Active participation also includes showing interest and a well-prepared attitude towards the subject and a respectful attitude towards the class environment, peers and faculty. To achieve a high participation grade (and to accommodate both introvert and extrovert students) you will have to contribute to class discussions often, both in class and through Canvas.  This includes:
    • Active and verbal participation in class discussions, group work and field studies.
    • Engagement during study tours + field studies; asking good questions and paying attention (also when it becomes hard, everyone is tired and things feel slow).
    • Being attentive towards supporting the flow of the class.
    • Sharing connections and ideas during group work (in an individual dialogue/smaller setting).
    • Active support and facilitation of other students’ contributions (display listening skills, open-mindedness, and support).
    • Uploading reflections or comments on Canvas – including related articles or materials you find elsewhere.
    • Actively commenting on peer uploads or other contributions on Canvas.
  • Reading Mastery - Canvas quizzes (25%) - Before class each week, you are required to complete a reading comprehension quiz through canvas, based on the assigned readings for class that day.  The quiz is targeted to help you outline your understanding of readings and core concepts, and you have the ability to re-take the quiz as many times as necessary to reach a total of approximately 90% correct.  Once you reach 90%, the quiz for the following week will be 'unlocked'.  Your score from each week is totaled into the final grade for this assignment. 
  • Academic Presentations - Long Tour (25%) - Prior to the study tour to Helsinki you will investigate one or two academic topics related to childhood, education and care in Finland. You will present this topic along with your group in class the week before departure.  Potential topics include (one topic per group): 
    1. The school system (NOT ECEC) + PISA, Achievement
    2. Teacher Education
    3. Welfare State (parental leave arrangements, services, advice centers etc.)
    4. Finnish approaches to the Special Needs area
    5. ECEC Curriculum – children 0-5
    6. ECEC Curriculum – children 5-6
    7. Multiculturalism and Diversity
    8. Nature/Sustainability Education
    9. Indigenous Populations (Sami)

    The expectations and group sign-ups will happen during class before the first travel break, in order to review assignment requirements and allow enough preparation time.  See course calendar for more information.

  • Final Assignment (25%) - For this assignment you will choose and investigate an academic topic related to childhood, education and care in Denmark. The assignment will be completed individually, and the topics will be carefully and thoroughly developed in the weeks leading up to the end of the semester.  It enables students to investigate a specific topic that compliments the course, highlight the key aspects of this topic, and disseminate this knowledge to an outside audience.  It provides a strong foundation from which to include students' specialized interests and backgrounds into the course material, as well as expand the types of subjects discussed in the course itself.  


Use of Laptops or Phones in Class

Computers are allowed in class for note-taking purposes or other use that supports the class or personal learning. Using laptops for private means, such as social media, emails or internet surfing, will have a negative impact on your participation grade. Phones are expected to be turned off and kept away during classes. You are also expected to keep phones away during study tours during visits and meals. Make sure you have other ways to take notes.



Texts for this course can be found online through Canvas. Texts listed under the ‘Course Schedule’ are expected to be read prior to the specific class. 

  • Bowlby, J. (1988). Chapter 7: The role of attachment in personality development. A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development, 119-136.

  • Broström, S. (2017). A dynamic learning concept in early years' education: a possible way to prevent schoolification. International Journal of Early Years Education, 25(1), 3-15. 

  • Hedegaard, M. (2009). Children’s development from a cultural–historical approach:  Children’s activity in everyday local settings as foundation for their development. Mind, Culture and Activity16(1), 64–81.
  • Jensen, E., Skibsted, E. B., & Christensen, M. V. (2015). Educating teachers focusing on the development of reflective and relational competences. Educational Research for Policy and Practice14(3), 201-212.
  • Kragh-Müller, G. (2017). The key characteristics of Danish/Nordic child care culture. In Nordic social pedagogical approach to early years (pp. 3-23). Springer, Cham.
  • Lien Foundation. (2012). Starting well: Benchmarking early education across the world: A report from the economist intelligence unit.
  • Ringsmose, C., Duncan-Bendix, J., & Nielsen, H. V. (2022). Cultures in Mind: Quality, Values, Standards, and Practices in ECEC in Denmark and the United States. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 1-20.
  • Vandermaas-Peeler, M., Dean, C., Biehl, M. S., & Mellman, A. (2019). Parents’ beliefs about young children’s play and nature experiences in Danish and US contexts. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning19(1), 43-55.
  • Wagner, J. T. (2006). An outsider’s perspective. Childhoods and early education in the Nordic countries. W: J. Einarsdottir. JT Wagner (red.), Nordic childhoods and early education, 289-306.
  • Wilson, R. (2012). Nature and young children: Encouraging creative play and learning in natural environments (second edition).  New York, NY:  Read Chapter 1, pages 6 – 17 and Chapter 5, 55-70
  • Winther-Lindqvist, D. A. (2017). The role of play in Danish child care. In Nordic social pedagogical approach to early years (pp. 95-114). Springer, Cham.
  • Winther-Lindqvist, D. A. (2021). Caring well for children in ECEC from a wholeness approach–The role of moral imagination. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction30, 100452.
  • Wyver, S., Tranter, P., Naughton, G., Little, H., Sandseter, E. B. H., & Bundy, A. (2010). Ten Ways to Restrict Children's Freedom to Play: The Problem of Surplus Safety. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 11(3), 263-277.

Academic Regulations  

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due