How Danish Students Learn Empathy Through Cake

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Empathy for the Danes is literally a piece of cake...

Denmark has been considered the happiest country in the world for a few years now. There are many factors that go into this, including phenomenal health care, gender equality, and general responsibility to one another. One factor that many people might not be quite as conscious of? Denmark has better awareness and appreciation for empathy than most other countries in the world.

Empathy is the ability to be able to resonate and respond to the suffering of others. It is often a quality that people assume we either are or are not born with. But contrary to that belief, empathy is something that can be taught and learned. However, studies have shown that in the United States, empathy in young adults has dropped 40% in the last thirty years, while narcissism is continuing to rise.

Not only can empathy help young children become more socially competent as well as reduce bullying in schools, studies have also shown that children who are taught empathy at a young age are more likely to be successful later in life.

In terms of empathy, Denmark is leading the pack when it comes to building trust and sensitivity in classrooms. Starting at age six and continuing until graduation, Danes attend a weekly "Klassen Time" or "Class Hour". This is an opportunity for them to come together and share problems they are having in a comfortable setting. The class works together to problem solve for each other while building trust and compassion with one another. If the class does not have any problems to discuss for the week, they take the hour to "hygge", which is intentional drama-free "cozy" time.

"Hygge" is a very purposeful and conscious experience that no English word can perfectly encompass. During these "Klassen Time" hours, there is no bullying, attacking, or making fun of others. It is an opportunity to be genuine and authentic while appreciating the valuable company of others around you. It is an experience that no "show and tell" in the United States can rival.

In addition, during this "Klassen Time", Danish students bring in a "Klassen Time kage", which is a special cake. This cake is such an integral aspect of the "hygge" time that it even has its own special recipe. Each week a new student volunteers to bring in the cake, but if they do not feel the desire to cook they can bring in any other type of cozy snack to enjoy together. The act of baking and sharing this cake adds to the lesson of sharing and understanding each others feelings.

"The important thing is that everyone is heard," says Jesper Vang, a middle school teacher at Tingkærskolen in Odense. "Our job as the teacher is to make sure that the children understand how the other feels, and see why the other feels as they do. This way, we come up with a solution together based on real listening and real understanding."

These "hygge" hours are facilitating deeper emotional connectedness, growth, and understanding in Danish children, which in turn is only leading them to be more successful and happy adults. Is this a new practice that we should adopt in the United States? Would it work in the United States? We can't be certain. That being said, it is clearly working for the Danish. And hey, what child would say no to a little cake in school every week, are we right?

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