Let me start by saying that I never know whether to use the word daycare or preschool when referring to the place where kids spend their early years here in Sweden. I suppose that's because it's sort of a mix of what we know those two places to be in the US. While I will continue to use the word preschool here, do know that it refers to the place that children attend from ages one to six, before they start formal schooling.
As I mentioned in this post, because of the generous system of parental leave here in Sweden, children usually don't start at preschool until they are about one-and-a-half. From what we've seen, mothers usually take the first year off of work to be home with the baby, and then the father takes around six months (!). We know families (mostly but not exclusively American) who have sent their kids to preschool closer to one year old, but that seems to be more the exception than the rule. Some people can't imagine leaving their children at the young age of one--isn't that a fascinating comparison to the US?!
We've now attended three different preschools, as we've lived in three different areas of greater Stockholm. Everything that I say below comes from our experience at these three places and our conversations with other parents, and I've made some generalizations. Of course there are exceptions, and undoubtedly this is not everyone's experience. If anyone in Sweden has a different experience, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!
While parents have the right to have their kids in preschool full-time, it's quite common for children to be picked up in the afternoon between 3pm and 4pm. To make this work, parents take turns leaving work early, have a grandparent pick up the kids a couple days per week, or take advantage of their right to work only 75% (at 75% pay, of course) while their children are young. At our current preschool, about half of the kids are picked up around 3pm; when we arrive at 4:15pm, there are only a few kids still there, and sometimes our kids are the only ones left. Quality of life and family time are prioritized legally and socially here, which allows for this early pick-up.
I sometimes do wonder, though, how much social pressure plays a role in this, sometimes forcing parents to work shorter hours than they would like. We have a friend who runs her own home-based business, while her husband works a normal office job. She'd been sending her kids to preschool from about 9am-3pm, doing all the drop-offs and pick-ups on her own, and she realized that she needed more work hours to get everything done. She talked to the preschool about having the kids there one hour longer each day, and they said that was fine. However, she would have to strongly consider whether she wanted them to come earlier in the morning or stay later in the afternoon; if they were to stay later, which they were welcome to, they would be the only kids there from 3pm-4pm, and they would probably just hang out at the gate, staring down the road, waiting for their mother to come get them. She wouldn't want her kids to be the only ones there, would she, waiting for her at the gate?
She got the extra hour that she needed by sending them earlier in the morning. We find that there is enormous pressure here to not do things that would make yourself--or your children--stand out. The converse is also true--there is enormous pressure to do things that will make you and your children fit in. But that's something for later posts....
While they are at preschool, children spend most of the day playing. Kids go outside nearly every day, even in bad weather. Rain or shine, warm or cold, snow or sleet, kids spend some part of every day outside (unless the temperature is dangerously low). A full arsenal of outdoor clothes is required for this, of course. Kids are expected to have a full rain suit, a full fleece-lined rain suit, and a winter snowsuit (each with appropriate boots) available according to the season.
(In fact, my greatest source of mom anxiety here in Sweden comes from not always having the exact right outerwear for the day's weather. Sometimes it feels like every other parent except us gets a morning memo that says something like: Today your child will wear a thin fall hat (preferably from Geggamoja), a wool under layer (preferably from Polarn O. Pyret), a rain jacket and overall pants (preferably from Didricksons), and rain boots (parents' choice on this one!). I am always so worried that the other parents are judging me for not having my kids properly dressed (unless you can buy used or find a bargain, each of those cold- or wet-weather suits costs about $100 - imagine doing that in every size for multiple children!).
One thing we absolutely love about preschool in Sweden is that the kids go on local adventures regularly. They are taken to explore the forest at least once per week, they often walk to local playgrounds, and in addition they have special outings on Fridays. We pack a backpack with a lunch and bottle of water, and they head out for the morning and have picnic lunches. Sometimes they will take the train to a playground a few stops away, or they'll visit a cidery, or go into our town to see a play. Most often, though, they go to the forest to explore. Most children's backpacks here are sold with a special fold-out seat for them to use during their forest picnics.
Preschools provide a morning snack of fruit at 9:30am. This gathering is called samling, and they usually sing or tell stories. At 11am they eat lunch. At our preschool, the lunch is catered by an outside company, but often schools have their own kitchen where food is prepared. The younger kids nap after lunch while the older kids have quiet time, listening to stories or music, before going back to play. At 2:30pm, they gather for mellanmål, the afternoon snack. This is often knäckebröd (hard bread) with butter, cucumbers, cheese, and lunch meat, or granola/musli and yogurt. Sometimes they will have something else, but these are the most common afternoon snacks--for all of Sweden!
This daily schedule, and the foods they have for morning and afternoon snack, seem to hold true for most of the country. If it's 9:30am and you're in Sweden, you can guess that your child is sitting in a circle eating fruit from a large bowl, singing children's songs with classmates.
Other fun facts: if you have to take a sick day to take care of your kids, it's called väbbing, and you get paid (at 80%) for it. You can use your parental leave benefit to take time off work just to breastfeed your child (I believe pumping is included in this). Most preschools are modeled on the Reggio Emilia approach.
Do you have any questions about preschool in Sweden? Do you live in Sweden but have a different experience at a Swedish dagis? I've never sent my kids to preschool/daycare in the US (or the UK, obviously); is this similar to what it's like there? I'd love to hear!
Photos by me.