Cleaning Party at the Forest School

chopping wood sunflower

Charlie’s forest school held a cleaning up party yesterday.   Parents and children gathered to help chop wood, weed beds, clean the sandpit and generally tidy up.  Afterwards  we all cooked sausages we’d brought on the smokey, open fire.  We ate them with delicious salads and bread baked by the kindergarten chef.  Pudding was apple tarts using fruit from the forest school garden.  The staff very kindly did the washing up.


It was a good chance to chat with other parents and discover that many of them also wonder what age formal schooling should start.  Some almost envy the British system and would rather their kids began earlier than they currently do here (which is aged six).

But then I was emailed a news story yesterday claiming that social rather than academic skills are key to school readiness – that means more play.  Watching Charlie and all his buddies running around yesterday, there was no shortage of that.

Trying to learn 1,000 Danish words

Some words make me smile!

Some words make me smile!

I began Danish lessons this week – just as a new campaign was launched in the UK urging Britons to learn 1,000 words in a foreign language.  As my course is paid for by the Danish government, it seemed foolish not to try.  But the warnings are right – this is a fiendishly difficult language.

Reading it is hard enough, but speaking it… well it just bears no resemblance to the written page.  And that’s because the Danes seem to miss out so many letters.  Take the word selvfølgelig, meaning ‘of course’.  It’s pronounced ‘sef-u-li’.

I’m not the only one struggling here.  Watch this video by two foreigners trying to help non-Danes pronounce Copenhagen street names.  There’s also an amusing piece written by a BBC journalist who’s trying to master the language by osmosis.  Yes, she’s also struggling.

Many Danes have told me not to bother trying to learn their language – afterall most speak excellent English.  But it seems rude not to try.  And given that we’re expecting our three-year-old son Charlie to pick up Danish at his forest school, then surely I have to give it a go.  As for learning 1,000 Danish words – I think it’s going to take me some time.

The World’s Largest Ship


One of the things I like most about being a journalist is the access you get to some extraordinary people and events.  Yesterday was no exception.  My first job for Al Jazeera TV was boarding the Majestic Maersk – the largest ship in the world.  It’s docked in Copenhagen for the next few days and has become the attraction everyone’s talking about, and visiting.

You can’t miss it – it’s enormous.  At 400 metres long it’s the length of four football pitches. It can hold 18,000 containers, like the sort you’d see on the back of a removal van.  And I know it’s high too because this morning my legs are killing me, after walking up so many steps.  But the views across Copenhagen and out to sea were spectacular.  (My iphone photos don’t really do it justice, but you get the picture.)

What a View!

What a View!

Here’s the techie bit.  The Majestic Maersk is one of three Triple-E class container ships in service.  It was built in South Korea for the Danish company Maersk to move goods along the Asia to Europe route.  Yet despite its size, it sails at slower speeds, thanks in part to its smaller engines and double propeller system.  It means CO2 emissions are cut in half for every container moved, compared to the industry average.

From a news point of view, it’s an interesting decision by Maersk to commission these ships.  There are expected to be 20 in operation within the next couple of years, at a total cost of almost $4 billion US.  That’s a huge amount of cash to spend on shipping when profits are generally down.  The route itself is already over-capacity.  But Lars Jensen, a shipping analyst I interviewed, told me he thinks the Triple-Es will be fine. It’s the smaller, older ships that will suffer from the gigantic newcomers.

And already rival companies have commissioned even larger container ships.  It seems in shipping Big is considered Best.

Green UN City in Copenhagen

Take the stairs!

Take the stairs!

I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the new UN building here in Copenhagen. Known as UN City it really is something to talk about. This is state-of-the-art, built to be green.

So instead of air conditioning, seawater is used to cool the building – a concept that’s really taking off in Copenhagen.  Rainwater is used in the loos, there’s a solar system on the roof, and even the window shutters are controlled by the touch of a button (a system that wasn’t quite working when I visited!)

UN HQThe view

UN City is actually built on a man-made island. It’s still being finished but will eventually house more than 1,700 staff from various UN organisations – including UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme.

All around the site, building work is going on as Copenhagen tries to reclaim what was waste land and turn it into an environmentally-friendly district. It’s part of the city’s attempt to become carbon neutral by 2025. There’s a lot of work to do to hit the target,  but at least Copenhagen is putting it’s money where its mouth is. I love it!

What age should School start?


At what age should a child start school?  As a parent I find it a really difficult question to answer.  If we were still in the UK, Charlie would begin next September, when he’s four and a half. Here in Denmark the average age is six and soon we will have to decide whether we stick with the Danish system or whether we move him into a school which follows the English model.

In the UK a group of almost 130 experts has written a letter to the Daily Telegraph calling on the government to delay formal schooling by a couple of years. They claim early education is damaging children.

In typical combative fashion, a spokesman for the education secretary, Michael Gove, told the Telegraph the experts are ‘misguided’.  In effect what he’s saying is that these academics, teachers, authors and charity leaders represent the ‘dumbing down’ lobby.  To me, that seems pretty childish because they raise some really important points.

For those of you who follow my blog, you’ll know that after much debate, we decided to send our son Charlie to a Danish forest school (you can read about it here).  Of course it’s not school at all, it’s a kindergarten, where children mostly play outside in all weathers. There is no formal learning – no literacy, no numeracy – even for those kids who are turning six this year.

charlie in the sandpitswing with the girls

But he is learning through play – he’s learning self-awareness, communication, independence, self-control as well as Danish.  The question is do we stick with this model or do we decide that next year he should go to an international school where he will begin his formal education?

Interestingly the most popular international school here in Copenhagen offers the International Baccalaureate.  But the IB system also delays formal learning. So there are many parents who’ve just moved here from the UK who are concerned about their child’s academic progress. It’s hard to change when you’ve had it drummed in that four year olds should be exposed to the three Rs.

Back to the letter in the Telegraph, and the signatories claim that children who enter school at six or seven “consistently achieve better educational results as well as higher levels of well being”.  Whatever your politics, surely that’s something to think about.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Nyhavn in the sun

I love it when I discover that, yet again, I live in the happiest country in the world. This latest conclusion comes from detailed research carried out by Columbia University’s Earth Institute.  On the one hand, I feel proud that we, as a family, have made the decision to move here to Denmark.  As followers of my blog will know, we’re doing all we can to embrace the Danish way of life, in the hope of discovering what the secret is to this nation’s apparent ‘happiness’.

And, even though a lot of the year is spent in darkness, there are many things to be happy about.  For example, there’s the work-life balance; the cheap childcare; good public transport and excellent cycle paths; free universities (you still get grants to study); and a very generous welfare state. Danes may pay for it in high taxes, but on the whole the system is well-liked.

But on the other hand, this happiness lark amuses me.  I mean it’s not like everyone around me is in some smiling utopia. People, just like in any other country, can look thoroughly miserable. Take us ex-pats.  We like to moan about the inadequate supermarket shopping; the poor customer service; our irritation that most shops and businesses shut at five on the dot (or at three on Saturdays); how expensive everything is; and that some Danes can seem standoffish, even unfriendly.

Dig below the surface, though, and you begin to understand why Denmark always does well in these happiness reports.  Danes just seem more content with life. They may have a high divorce rate, but they really value time with their families.  They appear to keep their emotions in check (too much so, some might argue). And above all, they don’t appear to get stressed with the trials of daily life.

Take rush hour traffic – in a car or on a bike. I haven’t yet seen one incident of road rage.  Danes don’t seem to react in the same way some other nationalities do. They mostly stick to the rules, but don’t lose their self-control if somebody else doesn’t. I saw two cyclists collide the other day, but rather then berate each other, they just shook hands, laughed, and rode on.

So while I’m here in Denmark, I intend to do all I can to discover the secret to this happiness. I’ll let you know when I do!

More Killings in Denmark!

Anyone who knows me well will know that I LOVE Danish dramas. The Killing and Borgen consumed two years of my life – before a move to Copenhagen was even on the cards. That was reflected in my brilliant leaving video, produced, directed and written by the great ITV News Westminster bureau.

So you can understand my excitement when I read this morning in my (online) edition of the Times, that Midsomer Murders is coming to Copenhagen.  It’s apparently a one-off special in conjunction with the Danish broadcaster DR, to mark the 100th episode. And in keeping with the Danish theme, it’s apparently going to be called ‘The Killings at Copenhagen’.

The show, known as Barnaby here, is really popular and pulls in a 40% audience share. But it’s the Danish stars I’m most interested in.  Remember Katrine Fønsmark, the TV journalist in Borgen who we all (well I) wanted to be?  Well she’s in it – real name Birgitte Hjoet Sørensen.

The big question though is, if it hasn’t already been shot (no pun intended), how am I going to get a part? If anyone has any suggestions or can pull any strings then PLEASE let me know. I just don’t want to be an extra found dead in the basement!