My eldest turns six this year, which in real terms means two things:
1) She lost her first tooth. By lost I mean we don’t know where it went and had to write to the Tooth Fairy to explain.
2) A recent law change means she must start school in August.
Figuring out where to send your child to school is rarely stress-free. In London I grappled with tiny catchment areas and over-subscription. Here the different curricula, language options and expectations initially made me feel I was failing Parenting 101. Thankfully, plenty of support and information is out there for those of us not born here, most obviously from your local kommun. Stockholm Stad’s website, for example, provides a tool for comparing schools and data on everything from the percentage of qualified teachers at a school, to how safe the children feel.
As a Brit fleeing London pollution and politics (another story for another day) I’m firmly in the honeymoon period. I’m still impressed by all things Swedish, but far from knowledgeable about any of it. My main worry moving here was pulling my eldest child out of a school where she had friends and was learning to read (schooling starts age four and a half in the UK). Personally, I’ve come to believe that academic success is not a race or the only marker of progress. By starting later children often learn faster, but they also have more free time to learn in their own way and socialise. Our kids are scrabbling in the forest, skating on the lake and getting fitter. They have also spent lots of time together at mixed-age Dagis (daycare), forging a bond I hope will last them into adulthood.
Types of school
I was confused at first by the many names and types of school available, especially in Stockholm. I mistakenly thought Förskola and Förskoleklass were the same. (They are equivalent to nursery school and school reception class in the UK). In addition to municipal schools offering the Swedish curriculum there are international schools and those that teach in another language or offer a different syllabus. Fee-paying schools exist but there are also Friskolor (independent schools not state run). These are usually free because they receive funding from the state.
The good news is that there are plenty of good schools of all types. The latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) findings suggest an improvement and put Sweden on or above global averages in maths, reading and science.
Remembering our roots
I’m a big believer in ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. We hope to stay in Sweden long-term so I’d like the kids to integrate, learn Swedish and make friends in the neighbourhood. But I believe it is important not to forget where they’ve come from either. So I was delighted to discover Modersmålsundervisning. This is extra teaching in the language the child speaks at home. It can be applied for when applying for schools. Awesome.
Another surprise for me was that the school day initially ends around 1pm and Fritidshem (leisure or recreation time) begins, if you apply for it. This still follows a curriculum but seems to be more flexible and free, allowing time for activities like baking and music. It also provides stimulating after-school care for children whose parents work.
The snapshot of schools I visited did value subjects like reading and maths but also gave time and energy to a wide range of other things. Physical and mental well-being, social skills, practical life skills and new technologies are all embraced. These have an important part to play in preparing our children for a future that will look very different.
Some schools operate their own waiting lists. Applications to many schools, including municipal ones, are handled by the local kommun. Deadlines for children due to start in August are usually between January and February the same year. When you apply online you are asked to give three school preferences, and then you must wait until Spring to find out where your child has been offered a place. Good luck to anyone applying now!