Children at Svanholm
Children have a high priority at Svanholm and it is our aim that our children are integrated as much as possible in the everyday life of the community. In Denmark both parents usually work outside their private home, and our day-care institution system is widely covering all children up to the age of 10. This is one of the highest standards in the world, and it is part of the Danish welfare model that all parents have the right to get their children looked after during working hours, the common tax pool covers the majority of the expenses, and parents a minor share according to federal laws. Typically children attend to day-care from the age of 6 months. This means that the average Danish child spends most of its morning- and daytime away from home in a day-care institution or in a private childcare group with 3-4 other children. At the age of 3 the toddlers continue in kindergartens, and from age of 6 to the age of 10 they go to school about half of the day and attend an activity centre the rest of the day. From the age of 10 they may attend youth clubs or other clubs of interest like sport or music.
These day-care arrangements are welfare goodies and for most families it works out fine. But the children are spending most of their time in a special children's world almost totally apart from the world of adults, except for the staff of the institutions. Thus children do not experience the working life of adults nor do they attend life in free nature very much. They have to adapt to a variety of institutions through their childhood, and they are to line in after time schedules and the different policies and logic of any new institution. There is very little room for self-government.
Svanholm children live with their parents as other children, but they are close to many other adults, and they participate in nearly all sides of Svanholm life. Compulsory school is outside Svanholm, the Danish school system covers on a daily basis 2-4 hours from the age of 6 up to 6-7 hours the age of 16.
The focus of childcare at Svanholm is the wish to give our children the opportunity to participate in a broad scale of activities and events including working life and to give them room to develop individually and self-governed. We try to help them to find their own rhythm and interpret their own needs - which is difficult if you have to spend all your childhood in the very regulative environment of an institution.
At the moment we have a rather big group of preschool children (up to 6-7 years) who are taken care of in our preschool child group in the children's house which is open for children of the area too. The staff is members of the community who have childcare as their job and are usually educated in child-care.
With a few exceptions children can come and go where they want, and many adults relate to them and participate in their up-bringing. But there are also some particular adults who are responsible and work professionally with the children. Children cannot be integrated in modern production processes, and of course we have to run our enterprises in effective and competitive ways. But it is always possible to watch the processes, to see what your parents and other adults are dealing with, and if something of interest happens, you can be sure that the children are on location.
Children and work
Some of the teenagers take interest in attending and joining work activities. So we make agreements with them that they can work after school time and at the same time earn a little extra pocket money. Such agreements are always based on the youngsters' own will, but appointments have to be kept - or to be changed if there is a wish for that.
A modern competence
Generally it is our aim to arrange childcare and education so that our children grow up to be as self-regulating as possible, and we do so mainly by offering them large space and many possibilities both indoors and outdoors and room and time to find their own ways. Children have many ways of reacting and managing their potentials and we see it as a very essential "modern competence" to be able to administer personal potentials, needs and wishes. People today have to know themselves and be capable of feeling their needs, and we must learn them to be realistic in relation to what options the surroundings can offer.
Children are different
Some children have many contacts among schoolmates, join sport clubs and lots of other activities. Others take more interest in the work at Svanholm. Some play computer many hours for intensive periods. Others stroll around in their own thoughts and spend much time on their own. At Svanholm there should be room for all such differences. Some are exploring the nature and countryside, building huts in the forest, bringing up hens and rabbits or riding the horses, while others spend most of their time reading, writing, drawing and playing indoors. We try to offer our children what help they need to try something new if they seem very one-sided, but basically we trust that they are able to find their own paths when we offer them a many-sided social network and a wide range of practical possibilities.
Children play together
But most of all children play together, and maybe the most important facility of growing up at Svanholm is that there are always other children around in quite another way than in the modern nuclear family. Our children play a lot together on their own, also complex plays over several months which don't involve any adults, and it would be a great mistake to try to intervene.
Ahead of current issues
Today the issue of self-government and respect of children's individuality have become important issues in the Danish pedagogical debate, and it has been quite an experience for us to observe how problems and solutions that we have been dealing with for years are now discussed in relation to child-rearing. In many ways it seems that education at Svanholm is top modern and fulfils today's requirements and needs in a way and to an extend which can hardly be equalled in public low budget institution with very limited space and resources.
How then do we run all this, and how do we come to agree? Well, of course we do not always agree on everything, but the main outlines of our childcare practice have grown from the principles and ways of self-government and co-operation which we are practicing in general. Right from the start there have been lots of children and we have had to find ways of taking care of them. So decisions have been taken at our common meeting like anything else. Every common meeting starts with "news from the children", and here children can speak up or adults can speak up for them. Parents' meetings are held frequently, and discussions on children and child-rearing are currently going on.