I can remember the last few weeks of the summer holidays always inspiring some measure of panic and chaos at home. Did I have all the books I needed for English class? Did my gym kit still fit me? Had we checked that all the labels were still securely sewn into my uniform?
Luckily, many of these are not a concern when getting your children ready for the first day of school here in Sweden. The lack of school uniform is a blessing, if you ask me.
But what *do* you need to consider in the next few weeks, especially if your child is starting in förskolesklass this August? Here are a few tips based on what I’ve learned over the past few years.
What do you need to do?
Your new school will typically send out information on what you need to prepare before the school year starts.
As the first day of school is only an introduction day, you’ll probably be given information about what is needed. So, please don’t worry if you don’t have all of these on day one, or even the first week. As förskoleklass is the bridge between preschool and school proper, a lot of the things you’ll need are similar to preschool. Note also that the equipment needed can vary from school to school.
- Backpack – roomy enough to bring home papers, drawings and any books your child might be given but not so large as to be a hindrance
- Water bottle
- Fruit (if you need to provide this)
- Pencil case and pencils, plus eraser (the school won’t want your child using a pen just yet)
- Indoor shoes – soft soled shoes your child can wear inside
- Spare clothes – in case of spillages or accidents. (We found that the boys needed a sweater too, as the room temperature at school wasn’t set at the tropical level they were used to at preschool!)
- Rain clothes and rubber boots for wet days – most likely you’ll be able to leave these at school if you need to
At some schools, you will need to provide fruit for your child to eat as a snack each afternoon. If so, the school will be sure to let you know which fruits cannot be taken in because of allergies among the children and staff. Typical “problem” fruit are strawberries, kiwis, bananas and citrus fruits. And of course, nuts should never be taken to school.
If your child has an allergy, be sure to alert the school as soon as possible so that you can talk to them about the necessary precautions.
Among the papers you’ll receive from the school will be an application form for your child to attend fritids (after-school club/care). This is the only fee that you pay in relation to your child going to school. Fritids is available for children from förskoleklass up to around grades 4-5 (it depends on the school). It is not compulsory but can definitely help harassed working parents since the school day tends to finish around 1pm for förskoleklass children.
The fee for fritids is a percentage of your household’s total monthly salary up to a cap (maxtaxa) of 47,490kr and it cannot surpass a monthly fee of 950kr for your oldest child. The fee for your next two children will not exceed 475kr a month each. And if you have a fourth child attending fritids, they will not incur a fee at all.
Your child’s preschool will have handed over documentation about your child to your new school. Most likely you had a final meeting at preschool earlier in the spring to discuss anything that the school might need to know. At our last meeting, we asked for our youngest’s shyness in new situations to be highlighted. And I’m glad to say that it was noted and his school teachers went out of their way to help him settle in.
The first day of school
The first day isn’t really a day of school at all. It’s called upprop and it is when you’ll find out which class and classmates your child has.
Parents and children gather at the school, typically in the playground or a larger indoor space, and the class teachers introduce themselves and call out the names of the children in their class. The children then follow their teacher to their new classroom.
Here, your child’s teacher will introduce themselves more thoroughly and run through some rules for the class, discuss what your child will be learning during the year and perhaps give an opportunity for parents to ask questions.
After this, school effectively ends for the day. Fritids is often available for the rest of this day but many schools do not recommend it on the first day for those just starting out in förskoleklass. It really depends on your child, though. Our oldest son didn’t want to go to fritids after upprop (or at any time during the first weeks), but surprisingly our youngest was – despite his shyness – keen to join his big brother at fritids and not miss out. He also had a friend from preschool days who in his new class and already knew some of the children, having been with us to collect his brother from school over the previous two years.
You should be prepared that you might not be returning to work that day though, or that you might need to have some alternative childcare in place if you do need to work.
The first week
The first week of school will be quite relaxed for förskoleklass children. The intention is to ease them into the school environment and make sure that they are comfortable with their new situation.
The school days in the first week or so are shorter for the new children. Often there is the chance for them to go to fritids at the end of the school day, but you might find that they are particularly tired or a little over-stimulated by their new environment.
Starting school can come as quite a shock to some children, especially as they go from being the oldest in their group to by far the youngest and smallest.
Our oldest son found the first few lunchtimes tough because he just wasn’t used to having to sit and eat lunch in a large dining room rather than in his cosy group room at preschool and he found it a bit scary to be faced by the older children coming in to eat as his class was leaving the lunch room.
The following weeks
In some schools, förskoleklass focuses on getting children used to sitting at desks and having lessons in the first few weeks, while others continue the play-based learning of preschool. In the initial weeks, the teachers quickly come to understand how the children in the class interact with each other and you’ll probably be invited to a short meeting in the early months to discuss how your förskoleklass child is settling in.
If you feel that your child is having any issues, this is a good time to start a discussion. We have been impressed with the extent of support that our school offers, from an excellent school nurse to school and study guidance counsellors to aid any children who need help. The school nurse also takes over responsibility for your child’s vaccination programme and monitoring of height and weight from the BVC.
Although children in förskoleklass aren’t entitled to full modersmålsundervisning (mother tongue support), the school must provide some form of language support for children whose mother tongue isn’t Swedish. Often this is largely the same as modersmålsundervisning anyway. The head teacher of the school is responsible for deciding what form this should take.
Even if English is your child’s mother tongue, they are entitled to extra language support even once they start having English lessons in school. English classes and modersmålsundervisning follow different plans, so your child won’t be learning the same thing twice. (However, if you have chosen a bilingual Swedish and English school, you are unlikely to get modersmålsundervisning in English.) Check with your local kommune to learn what modersmålsundervisning your child is entitled to.
After all this settling in, the next thing you know school is wrapping up for the Christmas break and you are almost halfway through the school year!