Denmark has a long tradition of public provision of early childhood education and care (ECEC) as part of what is known internationally as the Nordic welfare model. Both traditions and transformations within Danish ECEC are parallel to the establishment and development of this model. The emergence of child-centered pedagogy, so characteristic for Danish ECEC, is part of specific historical processes. Since the 1960s, the ECEC sector has undergone significant expansion and in 2020, most children in Denmark between the ages of 1 and 6 attend an ECEC institution. This expansion has positioned ECEC as a core universal welfare service, including a special focus on preventing injustice and inequality and on taking care of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Early 21st-century international discourses on learning and early intervention have influenced political reforms and initiatives addressing ECEC institutions and the work of “pedagogues” (the Danish term for ECEC practitioners with a bachelor’s degree in social pedagogy). Since the 1990s, there has been growing political interest in regulating the content of ECEC, resulting in various policies and reforms that have changed the nature of Danish ECEC by introducing new learning agendas. This has been accompanied by an increased focus on the importance of the early years of childhood for outcomes later in life and on the role of parents in this regard. These tendencies are embedded in political initiatives and discourses and shape the conditions for ECEC, perceptions of children and childhood, the legitimacy of the pedagogical profession, the meaning of and emphasis on young children’s learning, the importance of inclusion, and the changing role of parents. These changes in social reforms and pedagogical initiatives interact with national historical processes and international tendencies and agendas at different levels.
Karen Ida Dannesboe and Bjørg Kjær
Lisa Johnston, Leah Shoemaker, Nicole Land, Aurelia Di Santo, and Susan Jagger
The field of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in Canada has been informed by a myriad of influences and these factors continue to shift and shape the curriculum, pedagogy, research, and practice in Canadian ECEC. Historically, following many of the theories and practices embraced by the United States, early child-care centers, day nurseries, and kindergartens were established to alleviate pressures on overcrowded schools and allow for mothers to work outside of the home. At the same time, Canadian child care took on a broader role in social welfare and later social justice, working to reduce inequities and inequality. These motivations have not been shared across all ECEC, and this is particularly evident in Indigenous early education. Here, Indigenous children and families have endured the horror of the residential school system and its legacy of colonialism, trauma, and cultural genocide. Along with these underpinning histories, Canadian ECEC has been informed by, is continuing to be shaped by, and is beginning to be guided by a number of models and movements in early learning. These include developmentalism, child-centered pedagogies, Reggio Emilia approaches, children’s rights, holistic education, the reconceptualist movement, and postdevelopmentalism, and many of these approaches are not mutually exclusive. Finally, the policies and practices at federal, provincial, and municipal levels and the unique tensions between these levels of government structure Canadian ECEC policy and practice. Provincial and Indigenous early learning frameworks are created to enhance educator understandings and application of program principles, values, and goals, and these embrace responsive relationships with children and families, reflective practice, the importance of the environment and play in learning, and respect of diversity, equity, and inclusion, to name but a few shared principles. Taken together, the complexity of ECEC in Canada is clear, with historical approaches and attitudes continuing to preserve structures that devalue children and those who work with them, while concurrently efforts continue to honor the rights and voices of all children, advocate for professionalization in the field of ECEC, and reveal and reconcile past and current truths and injustices in Indigenous children’s education and care, in order to support and heal all children, families, and communities.