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Two Hours A Week – Supporting the inclusion of multilingual children

One day, Pia Sigmund invited a family of Iraqi background to her home for dinner. The parents were born in Iraq, and the two children aged 5 and 7 were born in Denmark. The children had fun playing with puzzles and Legos after dinner. But while they were playing, it struck her that the children spoke with an accent and had limited vocabulary. She wondered how the children were doing in school and realised that they would probably benefit greatly, both culturally and linguistically, if a Danish adult could spend just a couple of hours a week with them.

And so the idea behind Two Hours a Week was born. Since 2008, Two Hours a Week has worked to give multilingual children, primarily between ages 3 and 8, a linguistic, cultural and social boost. The goal is to create the conditions so that the children can get better schooling and, in the long run, complete an upper secondary education. Each child gets matched with a Danish volunteer who spends time with the child once a week for two hours, where they go on walks, go to the library, to the zoo, read books, bake or whatever else they can come up with.

 

Issue/challenge and goal/assumption

Multilingual children in Denmark often do not get many opportunities to practice Danish and may not be familiar with Danish culture, traditions and way of life. The goal of Two Hours a Week is to give multilingual children between 3 and 8 years an opportunity to learn Danish in a playful way, preparing them for a good start at school and, in the long run, a better education. The programme aims to support the children linguistic, culturally and socially.

 

How does it work

A coordinator matches each child to an adult Danish volunteer. The two meet every week for two hours. They can take part in various activities like reading books, playing games, singing or taking walks together. There is no pre-determined programme, as every child is an individual with personal interests. Through these activities, multilingual children are able to strengthen their linguistic skills and knowledge of Danish culture.

Volunteers must sign a contract to participate in weekly meetings for at least six months, and hopefully longer. Before beginning the meetings, the volunteer takes a course introducing the cultural meeting and the values of Two Hours a Week. The coordinator talks with the volunteer and with the child’s parents (separately) to find a good match for each child. A key element of the programme is that the parents want this for their children, and that the child is included.

The next step is a meeting between the coordinator, the volunteer and the family, during which the first meetings with the child are scheduled. For the first couple of meetings, the volunteer will visit the child in the family home. When they have gained mutual confidence, the volunteer will pick up the child from kindergarten or from home.

The coordinator will follow up on the situation after six weeks and again after six months. Additionally, the coordinator arranges courses and social events for volunteers and families. Although the programme works closely with municipalities, they do not refer children to the programme.

 

Results

Two Hours a Weeks has operated for ten years in Odense. During that time, the programme has collected a great deal of experience and made adjustments to the programme. The programme receives positive comments from parents, kindergartens, schools—and from the children. Some of the children who started back in 2008 have now grown up and become volunteers themselves.

Other municipalities have heard about Two Hours a Week and tried to implement similar programmes. Two Hours a Week has recently opened up a new chapter in Esbjerg and is planning another one in Aarhus.

 

Evaluation

For each child-volunteer pair, the coordinator follows up on their situation after six weeks and again after six months of meetings.

In 2016, researchers from University College Lillebælt, supported by the Egmont Foundation, evaluated the programme.

 

Who will benefit?

The main targets are young, multilingual children, from 3 to 8 years. The parents and siblings also benefit from the friendships and contacts which come out of the programme. The volunteers enjoy learning and understanding about other cultures and backgrounds.

 

Source of funding and Resources used

Two Hours a Week is mainly financed by municipal funds for social work, as well as some private foundations. Smaller sponsorships cover festivities and excursions.

The coordinators in Odense and Esbjerg work 30 hours per week. There are more than 100 volunteers. The programme probably spends more than 10,000 work hours per year in total.

 

Contact

Organisation
To Timer Om Ugen
Name
Gitte Dreymann
Email
Function
Coordinator

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