Looking young for her age!

The Little Mermaid
She is pretty small and set against an industrial background, you can understand why some find visiting the Little Mermaid a rather disappointing experience.  But as Copenhagen celebrates the statue’s centenary today, I find myself drawn more and more to what’s become Denmark’s most famous landmark.

Little Mermaid and crowd
Perhaps it’s because ‘Den Lille Havfrue’ (see, I am trying with my Danish) has lived quite a life. She’s lost her head at least twice, had her right arm sawn-off, been knocked off her perch by explosives and been vandalised on several occasions. A few years ago there was even talk of moving her altogether. That did actually happen – but only for an exhibition in China in 2010. Thankfully she’s back where she belongs.

And although Hans Christian Andersen’s original story was a fairy tale, I don’t remember it having a particularly happy ending. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised then that the statue of the Little Mermaid has suffered so much. But standing on shore looking out at the rock on which she sits, I doubt many would ever know her painful past.

If you want to know more detail, take a look at this graphic history via VisitDenmark.com

Infographic

Click to enlarge

Come on Princess Leia! Faster! Faster!

When people tell me it’s as easy as riding a bike, alarm bells start ringing.  I don’t find cycling – particularly while pulling my son Charlie along in the trailer behind me  – that easy at all!  But after a few weeks in the saddle, I am beginning to re-discover how enjoyable and safe cycling can be.

So as I crawl along Copenhagen’s bike lanes, panting as I’m overtaken by yet another child on their way to school, with Charlie shouting ‘Come on Princess Leia! Faster! Faster!’ (what is it with boys and Star Wars?)  I assure myself I am going to get quicker.

Because to live in this city you just have to ride a bike. More than a third of people here cycle to work or school every day. They take it so seriously that there’s even a Cycling Embassy of Denmark.

The morning commuteEveryone travels by bike!

This though is not simply a nation of lycra-clad cyclists. Of course they exist, but most people I see on my morning commute are just like me (though traveling a little faster).  The women look incredibly glamorous – some even wearing high heels as they chat away to their friend cycling next to them. (The cycle lanes are wide enough for two or three bikes.) They don’t even break out in a mild sweat. And bad weather seems to make no difference.

Even though I’m struggling to keep up,  it’s so easy to cycle here. In and around Copenhagen there are 1,000 kilometres (more than 620 miles) of bike paths. Most are separated from the road by curbstones.  It also helps that that this city is so flat.

If I’m honest I’d rather cycle here than drive. Motorists have to give way to bikes and turning right while trying to avoid cyclists (who are allowed to undertake) feels pretty hazardous.  But there are strict rules that must be followed including using hand signals and obeying the traffic light system.

Christiania bikesBikes on Nyhavn

So it’s interesting to watch the UK cycling campaign from Copenhagen.  London has made significant strides under mayor Boris Johnson.  The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has pledged tens of millions of pounds to promote cycling across England. And in the House of Commons, in a couple of weeks time, MPs will debate how best to get people on their bikes.

But let’s remember it’s taken more than 30 years and a whole lot of cash to create such a safe cycling network across Denmark.  In the UK that would mean a long-term strategy and a strong political will to change the status quo.  Until that happens, I’m afraid I would still feel very nervous getting on my bike (or one of Boris’s) to take my son to school in London.

Also check out: cyclechic.com

A Forrest in the Forest on Friday 9th August

08.00 – Arrive at a small kindergarten in Copenhagen, 15 minutes bike ride from where we live. Inside Charlie plays with other children. Breakfast is served for those who arrive between 7-8am.
08.25 – Charlie and twenty or so other children get on a bus with the staff (and me) as we take a 20 minute drive out to the forest school.

forest school
08.50 – Get off the bus and Charlie heads straight for the muddy puddles and peddle carts.
09.00 – Charlie is finally wearing boots but he’s already filthy. Still, he’s smiling!
09.20 – Thomas, one of the adults (they don’t call them teachers here) asks Charlie to help him. They’re watering the vegetables.  (They eat much of what’s grown here for their lunches.)
09.45 – Charlie is now in the woods with Thomas along with other boys and girls. They’re finding and collecting tiny frogs and toads in a bucket.
10.30 – Charlie joins another group in the large sandpit. They’re building a sand volcano which produces its own lava….. with the help of a hose.

charlie in sandpit
11.15 – Thomas is helping Charlie in the wooden lodge to change out of his filthy, wet clothes into some spares.  Let’s just say there’s a lot of washing for parents who have kids at forest schools!
11.25 – Charlie is washing his hands with Thomas, ready for lunch, which is again inside.
11.30 – Sitting down for lunch.  Usually the food here is nutritious and delicious. Today even I struggled with the fish egg pâté on Danish rye bread and the liver paste. But the other children loved it.  Fresh fruit follows.
At meal times, there are rules – sit properly, use a knife and fork, and don’t leave the table until you are told. (Charlie is struggling with these, too many interesting things to do!)
12.15 – While some children have a nap, and others are outside again, I spend an hour or so reading books to Charlie. I say reading, but as I can’t speak Danish either, I was making up stories based around the pictures.
13.30 – Pernille, member of staff, tells us they’ve lit the camp fire. We go outside to see children sitting around the fire, despite the heat and smoke. Most have long sticks and knives. No, battle is not about to commence – they’re about to wrap dough round them.  Charlie is going to bake his first piece of home made bread.

camp firethe fire
13.45 – Pernille wraps the dough round Charlie’s stick and we put it over the fire. Ok, I admit I end up holding it while he runs off. But he’s very good at eating it when the time comes. It’s pretty good!

baked bread
14.30 – Healthy snacks offered outside including cucumber and tomatoes as well as juice to drink.
14.45 – Charlie is obsessed with sticks. As there are tens of thousands at his forest school, it doesn’t take long before he’s fully armed. Most of the Danish children here are bored of using sticks as weapons.  But when you’re three and you can’t really communicate with your peers, you sure do get their attention when you’re waving a stick around. Let’s just say I’m glad I was there to prevent any serious injuries.
15.00 – All the children have to move their bags out of the lodge and hang them on pegs outside, ready to take back on the bus. One boy refuses to get his, so after several warnings it’s locked inside for the weekend. He’s devastated. But he won’t make that mistake twice.
15.30 – Back on the bus and Charlie has immediately fallen asleep. Waking him up back at base is not easy. But he’s survived a full day and what’s more, enjoyed it.

A long day!

If you go down to the woods today…

CHARLIE AT DANISH FOREST SCHOOL

The biggest decision we’ve made so far in Denmark has been where to send our son to kindergarten. Charlie is three – energetic, bright and extremely sociable. But the move away from friends and family has somewhat thrown him. He misses his routine and his great nursery in South London. For my husband and particularly me, it’s been an intense summer. Not having our usual network around us has been a struggle!

stumpswing with the girls

After much deliberation, we decided to hold off sending Charlie to one of the (expensive) international kindergartens and instead head for a Danish one. They have a good reputation and for around £400 a month for care that can begin at 7am and end at 5pm, five days a week, it’s incredible value for money.

Last week Charlie started at his forest school. As the title suggests, he spends most of his day outside in the woods, whatever the weather.

Children don’t start school here in Denmark until they’re six years old. That means until then, there’s no official academic timetable – just play and fun. So rather than learning his numbers, letters and writing skills, Charlie’s life is centred on the great outdoors. He will discover the importance of nature, how to grow vegetables and of course how to climb trees.

But the key to any forest school is how it equips children for life. Staff try to encourage independence, motivation, self-confidence, social and communication skills as well as helping them learn how to get along with other people – yes even with a slightly confused three year old who doesn’t speak their language. Despite the freedom, this is not Lord of the Flies – there is order in every area of life in the forest.

I’ve been accompanying Charlie to his forest school and spending the day with him as he gets used to a new system, new children, new staff and a new language. It’s a tough call for any three year old, but even harder for a child who doesn’t speak the lingo.

So I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be easy for Charlie. He’s out of his comfort zone (as am I) and the next few months will be hard for us all. But so far I have been impressed with this system and in particular the caring, intelligent staff. After all, we’ve chosen a forest school because we love the ethos behind it. I hope one day Charlie will thank us for making this decision!

hammockup a tree