Sweden’s yummy meatballs and cheap funky furniture design make them well known. But what they should be known for is their incredible early childhood education system. Quite frankly preschool in Sweden rocks! Sweden has a comprehensive system for children from age 1 through 6. There is a lot that teachers from other countries, especially the United States, can learn from Sweden’s model.
Over the next few months, I’ll be taking you through a number of countries early childhood education systems for this Preschool Around The World series. I am presently taking a graduate course on the topic and will be sharing country profiles and comparison to the US system ( or lack of system) in this blog series. Don’t miss the additional resource section as I am limited in my ability to share so much information but want you to be able to go deeper if you want.
Why Preschool in Sweden Rocks and What We Can Learn From Them
- Well trained teachers. Preschool teachers in Sweden average three years of university, valuing them as important educators.
- Low teacher to student ratios. The ratios are roughly 1:6, therefore allowing teachers to observe, participate, and focus on each child and their development.
- Play. Swedish preschools spend much of their day playing inside and out, and the aim is to use play to aid each child in their development.
- Universal curriculum with local interpretation. Sweden has a universal curriculum for preschool but before you start getting upset and saying that it would never work in the United States because the US is so diverse chill-out and listen. First, Sweden is diverse too, especially in urban areas and second, the curriculum lays out goals and guidelines but no specific benchmarks or standards. The Swedish system trusts their teachers to use these goals and guidelines to be a framework, not a checklist. Read Sweden’s curriculum document here.
- Focus fundamental values. In the curriculum document, you will see one of the focuses being on norms and values. They stress this to respect all children and their families. It teaches children conflict resolution, respect for everybody’s intrinsic value, and for the environment. Gender equality and fighting against gender stereotypes is a concerted effort as well. Here is a great quote straight from the document:
” An important task of the preschool is to impart and establish respect for human rights and the fundamental democratic values on which Swedish society is based. Each and every person working in the preschool should promote respect for the intrinsic value of each person as well as respect for our shared environment. The inviolability of human life, individual freedom and integrity, the equal value of all people, equality between the genders, as well as solidarity with the weak and vulnerable are all values that the preschool should actively promote in its work with children.”
- Free preschool and affordable care. Preschool starting at age three is free for everyone for up to 3 hours a day, including stay-at-home parents. Longer hours in place for working and studying families. Then, at age six all children can attend “Preschool class” which is a pre-primary year designed to get children ready for the start of compulsory education at age 7. 94% of children between ages of 3-5 are enrolled in the preschool system.
- Evaluate the program, not the child. There is no formal testing of children in Sweden until third grade. If you read the national curriculum document you may have seen this under the preschool teacher’s responsibilities :
“that each child’s learning and development is regularly and systematically documented, followed up and analysed so that it is possible to evaluate how the preschool provides opportunities for children to develop and learn in accordance with the goals and intentions of the curriculum”
Therefore, no testing children. They aim to respect each child’s development and therefore to evaluate how the school and the program meets their needs. This is a great example of child-centered learning.
- Strong ties to family. Parents participate in their child’s care even when not present. Teachers are expected to be responsible for creating the bridge between school and home and to maintain that with parents. This is interwoven with the focus on respect, Each child’s home life should be respected and, therefore, incorporated into their preschool experience. The low teacher to student ratio mentioned in #2 no doubt helps to make this possible.
How Can We Follow Sweden’s Example?
How is any of this applicable to teachers on the other side of the world with a completely different tax system and arguably different values?
We may not have the efficacy to change preschool funding all by ourselves. Instead, we look at how Sweden delivers the preschool experience and try to take these lessons into our classrooms. We can focus on making stronger family ties. Focus on play and then spend more time outside. Additionally, we can prioritize care over profit and lower student ratios. We can focus on social-emotional skills. Finally, we can focus on evaluating our teaching and programs and how they aid our students’ development. We can do away with evaluating what facts our students know or don’t know.
Learning more about preschool around the world is an important tool for improving preschool in our own communities. I hope you will join me as I explore more countries early childhood education systems with this blog series.
Do you teach in Sweden? Do you think my exploration is accurate? Tell me why or why not. I value your experiences and, of course, would love to hear from you.
While you explore Preschools around the World with me, your child or students can explore too. Little Passports is a subscription box that brings the world to your child and kids LOVE it. My daughter loves getting hers in the mail, then finding the new country on the map and learning all about it!
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