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.
If you're curious about life in Sweden, please see Having Kids in Sweden: the Basics and Summer in Sweden: the Basics.
In the US there are lots of different daycare/preschool options to choose from. Montessori preschool is very popular but expensive. Both of my girls attended a play based cooperative preschool that requires parents to volunteer in the classroom and attend monthly educational meetings. Because of the parental involvement the cost is very low. This was a good fit for me because I stay at home. Working parents often put their kids in daycare or hire nanny's which is also expensive. Au pairs are gaining popularity for dual income families and are more economical. I think there's a lot of pressure on working parents to do it all meaning work full time and volunteer, etc. I don't think there should be any extra pressure on parents (kids provide enough) but I think the Swedes might be on to something!
Gender, ethnicity, neighborhood and socioeconomic status probably also play a role. In our previous daycare, which was in a somewhat more diverse inner-city apartment area, our son was always among the last together with a few Asian kids and kids of single parents. Our new daycare, which is in a mostly white area surrounded largely by houses, closes an hour earlier than the old one and pick-ups are even earlier.
We have always gotten our son when we have needed to (hence he's been among the last). No need to stress, rush and hurry as long as the daycare is open and the kid enjoys it. We try not to contribute to the norm of early pick-ups and keep doing what works best for us regardless of what others do. Although, had I grown up here, it would probably not be as easy and I would feel more pressure to do as the rest.
Thanks so much for writing this up. Super interesting. We're looking to bring our 5 year old daughter to Sweden and are wondering if Preschools only accept new children at the start of the 'academic' year? We're trying to understand when is the best time to make the move so knowing this would help greatly.
Renato, I'm glad you found this helpful. It really depends on the individual preschool when your daughter would be able to enter. We had no problem getting our kids to start at alternate dates, due to our moves. While preschools generally accept new children in August/September and January/February, our experience has been that many are open to enrollment at other times.
This might be different when you reach the age of formal schooling, however. The first real school class begins the fall the child turns six (I think); I don't yet know anything about the structure of that or how enrollment works.
Let me know if you have other questions!
Thanks so much for the reply and your kind offer to answer more!
I assume your kids spoke no Swedish when they arrived? As I understand it, kids are guaranteed education in their mother tongue. I might be wrong on that. How did it work for them?
Of course all kids are different, but how long did it take for your kids to pick up the language to a point where they felt comfortable conversing?
Undoubtedly there more questions I'd love answered but I don't even know what they are right now... All a bit nerve wracking.
My oldest son spoke no Swedish when we arrived. He was 1.5. He didn't start full-time until he was closer to two. Because almost everyone in Sweden speaks English, I don't think it was too difficult for him because the caregivers would always speak both languages to help him understand. Within about six months we knew that he understood quite a bit of Swedish, but he didn't speak a word (or wouldn't, I should say). It took well over 1.5 years of him being in daycare/preschool before he started speaking Swedish--but when he did, he was speaking in complete sentences and was essentially fluent.
My youngest son was born here. We only speak English at home (except for the little bit of Swedish I speak with the kids), but our neighbors, with whom we spend time, always spoke Swedish with him from the beginning. He started at dagis when he was about 1.5, and he seemed to pick it up Swedish immediately.
Yes, kids are guaranteed education in their mother tongue, but from what I understand, the quality of it really depends on the particular school. Many international parents we know chose international or American schools for the kids after the preschool level.
I'm sure other people are interested in these questions, too, so you can continue to ask here, or you can contact me directly at hello [at] mydearsabrina . com.
thats a nice preschool thanks a lot for sharing this information
Thank you so much for your helpful info!
We are on our way to Sweden too with our 4 kids. What paperwork did you need to complete in order to get a kid to dagis? Anything particular is required? Our kids already have Swedish personal numbers, and the smallest are 1,5 and about 4...
Thank you so much!!
Exactly what you have to do depends on what kommun/municipality you live in. Go to your kommun's website and click on their info for förskolar. You will probably find info for all available preschools (and home-based daycares) in that kommun, including the most recent parent survey results. Then, you should put your children on the queue for as many schools as possible by following your kommun's procedure for doing so, and contacting the school.
I'd also consider joining Facebook groups like International Parents in Sweden and/or English Speaking Mums in Sweden, and writing a post to see if anyone has recommendations for your area. Good luck!
Hi, I live in the US, but have brought my son on longer visits with his family in Sweden. When he was younger, he attended "Oppna Forskolan," open daycare, but I find that at 3 he would be too old for the one near my family. Would you happen to have any thoughts or leads on daycare options extra curricular activities for a three year old, who would be in Stockholm for a month and a half? I would very much like him to spend some structured time with other kids while visiting.
How great that you get to spend so long visiting Sweden! Unfortunately, I can't think any sort of structured environment that would be available for someone here on a temporary basis (unless your son has a personnummer for some reason?). Some öppna förskolan have more structure to them, so it might be worth exploring some others. There are dozens in Stockholm, including some in English (Fridays at Högalids kyrkan) What month will you be here? If it's over the summer, everything will be closed anyway, including all the open preschools. One of my favorite places to take kids in the city is Rum för Barn in Kulturhuset, but it's not structured, though they do have regular storytimes and a big art studio.
I wish I could be more helpful!
Hi! We are going on sabbatical in Stockholm with our (then) 20 month old in August. Is there a way to sign up for the queues for preschool before we move there? The websites in stockholm are uninformative -- we cannot even sign up for the queue without a local ID. We both work full time, and cannot risk not having her in school for three months after moving, but since we are only moving in August, I am not sure how fast we will get a personnummer for her. She/my husband are German citizens, so should be afforded EU privileges in terms of access. I was hoping there would be some solution for people relocating to Stockholm for a year or so. Thanks!
Oh gosh, I wish I could help! We haven't signed a kid up for preschool in over 5 years, so I'm not sure. At the time, though, you couldn't do *anything* in Swedish society without a personnummer, so you might have to wait until you get there. Where will you be living? When we first moved to Stockholm, we were near the university, which has a preschool where a lot of academic/international families are enrolled. Swedes don't seem to love being in such a milieu, so there were almost always new spots available. I *highly* recommend joining some sort of Facebook group like "North Americans in Sweden" or something similar and asking your question there. People will have more recent information than I do. Good luck!