Notes from a Small Country

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination

“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”

From ‘This Be The Verse’

A well-known poem from British poet Philip Larkin. Often cited in parenting books and even been used by judges in high profile divorce cases.

Since becoming a parent I’ve pondered on this poem a lot. I’ve read a ton of research, lots of books and listened to countless interviews and podcasts.

It seems we really do f*ck up our children.

But maybe less so in Denmark.

Childhoods never last. But everyone deserves one.

When our first son was 3 years old we were still in the UK, and the education system expected him to talk better than he could.

They tested him at preschool, fed back and told us to take him to speech therapy.

My wife and I were unsure, for a few days, at what to do.

Our intuition told us he was fine. We understood him, he understood us and he was only 3 years old.

We kept reminding ourselves he had only been on this planet for 3 years.

It can take that long to get seen by a specialist in our national health service.

So we ignored the advice.

“If a child is poor in math but good at tennis, most people would hire a math tutor. I would rather hire a tennis coach.” ~ Deepak Chopra

3 years on he’s not only speaking great English, but he’s also getting by speaking Danish too.

We were right. We gave him space and we took him away from the chaotic test heavy structure of the UK school system.

There is no land like the land of your childhood

Giving children unstructured play is amazing for them.

If you’re over 40, you might remember what that was like?

To have space and time to be bored as a child.

Space that isn’t structured by an adult.

Our son has spent just over a year in Denmark and he’s blossoming like the child we always knew he would be.

In the UK, at 4 years old they put him in a large classroom, gave him homework and made him wear a school uniform.

“Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful. STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music.” – New York Times, Kim Brooks

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship

The Danish Kindergarten where my son is has kept its focus on play.

They coach, mentor and teach. There’s no punishment system, no reward system and no organised timetable.

Their No.1 role is to help children develop and flourish through play and socialising, not how to advance up a league table.

So minimised monitoring and almost zero testing.

It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults

When our son first started at the kindergarten he showed signs of stress. We thought it was all the change in our lives and the new language.

We talked to him over several days and it turned out another child was picking on him.

We talked to the kindergarten who jumped on it right away.

It was a troubled child, someone who’s now a friend of our sons. They coached my son to be confident and express how he felt, and they treated the bully with kindness, not punishment.

Over a number of weeks, my son grew in confidence and the bully grew in empathy. It was win-win, not win-lose.

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best

Looking at our Danish school choices for next year, we’ve discovered they take into account how a child interacts with others, the relationships they build and how they contribute in the classroom.

It’s not all about test results. It’s about a holistic view of them as a person.

How great is that? Pretty great, it means less f*cked up adults.

“Remember: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. 9 times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart.” ~ Annette Breaux


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See you next week for Episode 8.

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters