This Lovely Danish School Tradition Helps Teach Children Empathy
Klassens Time takes the cake.
There are a lot of lovely aspects of Danish culture: Hygge, minimalist design, strong marriages, and colorful cities. So we weren’t particularly surprised when we were introduced to another Danish tradition to love—Klassens Time—in Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.
Sandberg writes about Klassens Time, a part of the Danish curriculum focused on building emotional literacy among classmates. Each week the whole class sits together and discusses their problems, while their peers try to give guidance. And if this wasn’t good enough, the tradition comes with a sweet treat: a different child brings cake to share each week. Klassens Time lasts from kindergarten (what they call grade zero) through the beginning of high school. Benefits of this weekly program are a strengthened sense of empathy and knowing how behavior affects others.
Sounds great from an American perspective, right? But how do Danes feel about the concept, and how does it affect their adult lives? To find out more about Klassens Time, we reached out to Caroline Jakobsen, a native Dane working as a communications officer in Copenhagen (and friend of RealSimple.com editor Liz Steelman).
According to Jakobsen, Klassens Time probably wouldn’t translate to American schools, due to the fact that Danish schools are set up differently. Unlike in America where each student is placed in a different class with a new teacher each year, in Denmark, each student stays with their same class and same teacher from grade zero until they leave for high school. “You are with the same 18 to 20 people all day, every day, for 10 years,” Jakobsen says.
Thus, Klassens Time not only fosters a sense of empathy among classmates, but a sense of a larger community. This is something that Jakobsen says has both its up and downsides. She says she never felt self-conscious among her classmates, she knew the teacher was there to help with any problems, and she built life long friendships because of the structure. However, she did notice that there was built-in segregation, as there were few avenues for engaging with students in other classes.
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Surprisingly, Jakobsen, who participated in an exchange program in college, doesn’t think Danes are wholly more empathic than Americans. She was shocked at how individualistic the American schooling system was (e.g. how asking your classmate a question counts as “cheating” in many schools), but overall thinks there is a greater culture of compassion and attending to other’s needs in the U.S. Though active collaboration is a big part of Danish work, she doesn’t think this compassionate idea extends to other parts of their culture.
No plans for your local school district to feature Klassens Time in your child’s class? Here, our best tips on how to raise empathetic kids stateside.