Hygge in the Early Years: Supporting the Foundational Conditions for Learning and Development

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. It was a year or two ago that I received a message from a Facebook friend asking me whether I had heard of “hygge”. Pronounced hue-guh hygge describes a quality of coziness that makes a person feel content and comfortable. It originates from Denmark and is not specific to the early years. Anyone can create cozy environments and moments that promote comfort. It is from across the pond that I learned about hygge. It is also where I learned about tuff trays and in the moment planning. Propelled by my computer, the Internet and curiosity, I have embarked on a hygge professional learning journey. It is my hope that this post will generate curiosity in others who work with children to consider a cozy environment as key to creating a way of being for children that they experience each and every day. Hygge connects to the four foundational conditions described as goals for children in Ontario’s pedagogy for the early years, How Does Learning Happen? A case can be made that this sense of being cozy and comfortable connects to belonging, well-being, engagement and expression. These foundations are important conditions for children to grow and flourish. They are conditions that children naturally seek for themselves (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014). They are conditions adults seek for themselves. I want to be in environments that feel cozy and comfortable. From that space, I will feel well. From that space, I will feel like I belong. From that space, I will be able to engage and express myself. Think about an empty room, what would you want to be there to make you feel cozy and comfortable?

What comes to mind for me is warmth. I think about the feeling of cuddling up under a soft blanket within an environment that is warm in temperature and look. Plants and flowers are important for me. They add texture and colour along with a sense of wonder. I would also want to be surrounded by collections of my favourite things. Then I think about being outside connected to my inside. When I am outside, I feel warm and cozy shaded under the rays of the sun within the beauty of my surround whether it be on a beach, in a forest or sitting in my backyard. I feel well and comfortable because I feel like I belong. If I was working with children, I would want to provide for these hygge feelings inside and outside, but I need to be mindful that ownership is an important element of belonging. When I am invited into children’s learning environments or see images of environments on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook, I wonder whose collections are displayed on the shelves. I wonder about the way the furniture is arranged and the choices of texture and colour. These spaces may be beautiful and evoke a sense of wonder and awe but are they the teacher’s or the children’s collections and choices? What I want for children, are places where they have input on what will make them comfortable. Over-cluttered places are not comforting. There is something to be said about creating minimalist spaces. I see many early learning environments with too much stuff! View the environment from the perspectives of the children who inhabit the space. Reflect on the space. Does each child see themselves in their environment? Children can feel connected, if they have a voice in their environment. The need to have a relationship to the environment and that takes time. Hygge is about leisure and not rushing. This I learned from Kimberly from KSEY Consultancy who has written a book, Hygge in the Early Years which I recently purchased. The photos above are from Kimberly’s Instagram account. I was given permission to use them. Kimberly suggests that timing is essential, and we should look at taking a slower approach to our days. A slow, child-led approach gives children time to learn and play at their own speed. Long periods of uninterrupted play give children time to enjoy every day moments. I am so thrilled that Kimberly will be popping into the Rhythm of Learning in Nature this summer to share some of her insights about hygge! This is only one of many experiences awaiting Rhythm attendees! What I learned from reading Kimberly’s book is that the term hygge first appeared in written Danish in the early 1800s and is thought to have originated from the word hug. There are ten aspects of a hygge lifestyle as suggested by Meik Wiking that I have featured below.

When we think about the atmosphere in our learning environments does the word calm come to mind or hectic and chaotic? Are those who inhabit the environment, present? Or are they on the phone or thinking about what comes next? Are they living in the moment? The space should be a place of joy and pleasure where no one is better than anyone else. In the space we spend time with others who make us happy. We spend time reflecting on gratitude for harmonious environments, inside and out where there is no need for arguments. In this space we are comfortable, cozy and sheltered. In nature and with nature children have access to all aspects of hygge. Indoors, spaces can be cluttered, chaotic, institutional and sterile. How can we create that hygge feeling? Charming and special spaces for children that promote emotional well-being, togetherness and friendship can be provided for children according to the Curiosity Approach in the following ways:

  • Create nooks, dens and cozy corners;
  • Use drapes, cushions and blankets;
  • Set up “well-appointed retreats” that allow for privacy;
  • Provide cozy areas for reading books and responding to invitations;
  • Have twinkly lights that add a sense of magic and wonder;
  • Use soft and muted lighting;
  • Have soft furnishings and range of textures.

When I think about hygge in relationship to some of the early learning environments that I have had the privilege of visiting, I recall my time at Emmanual at Brighton Child Care Centre in Waterloo, Ontario. I am grateful for the invitation to present a workshop on pedagogical document to the teachers there as it afforded the opportunity to visit. When I was there, I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to stay, curl up in a corner and just be.

There is so much more to learn about hygge as it isn’t only about space and place. It is about our work life balance. It is about creating a calmer and more purposeful approach to our practice as early learning teachers. As suggested by Kimberly I am going to take time to read Hygge in the Early Years to give attention to the slow and gentle approach on reflection that it offers. I want to take the time for deep thinking about how hygge connects to the conditions of learning and relates to the philosophy and pedagogy of the Reggio Emilia Approach. I hope you will join me to think about hygge and how it can influence your life and the lives of children.

2 thoughts on “Hygge in the Early Years: Supporting the Foundational Conditions for Learning and Development

  1. Pingback: Curious about Curiosity: Ditch the Plastic and Value the Vintage! | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  2. Being a first-generation Canadian born to Danish parents I understand Hygge better than most people as it is a way of life and the way I was raised. I find it has become a catch phrase over the past few years as everyone is jumping on the Hygge bandwagon, which for the most part I find a little annoying. I have been following Hygge in the Early Years myself for over a year, as I was intrigued by the name and wanted to see if in fact this feels the way I know it should. As an educator who’s own personal philosophy is Reggio inspired I do find that the two concepts work very well together; however, it isn’t something that you just add to your program – it has to come from the heart. This is where I find myself getting frustrated. Hygge to me was coming home from school and mom would be there ready to listen to our day, with “afternoon treat” and we would sit at the kitchen table, or in the garden and have tea. It was not just the surroundings but the feeling of belonging, and that family was so important. It was slowing down to enjoy the moment – to feeling present. My upbringing was very different than all my peers, but everyone loved coming to the farm and sitting at the kitchen table with mom. My friends still talk about it and that is 50 years later – their fondest memories of their visits include my mom, afternoon treat, and long talks in surroundings that wrapped you in a feeling of love and security. The kitchen was “cozy” as mom liked to say – with the wood stove, the soft lighting, the lace curtains, wall-to-wall carpet, and lots of plants everywhere. It always smelled of baking as mom baked every day, whether it was home-made honey bread or pastry it always smelled wonderful. Hygge embraces all the senses which is an aspect that is not talked about nearly enough in the articles I have read. When you speak to a Dane about Hygge they usually say it’s just “being”. Afternoon tea is just one example of growing up Hygge. I could probably write a book myself, on all the ways that it was incorporated into our environment and way of life.

    If we are to believe that everyone is reflecting on their practice then Hygge in the Early Years is a natural progression. I have truly appreciated the words of wisdom from Kimberley, and can’t wait to spend time with her in August. Will definitely add her book to my every growing reading pile!

    Liked by 1 person

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