If you are arriving in Sweden with a baby or young child, you will no doubt be keen to find activities to fill their days with almost from the get go. Sweden’s fantastic network of öppna förskolor (open preschools) can be a wonderful place to start.
Open preschools (sometimes known in English as ‘stay and plays’) are often run by the kommun, but also by Svenska Kyrkan (the Swedish church) or private organisations. They are aimed at babies and children between 0-5 years old, and many have dedicated sessions on their schedule just for babies.
So how does it work?
Once you’ve found the open preschools in your area and found a session to match your child’s age, just show up!
One of the great things about open preschool is that you and your child don’t have to sign up in advance (or even have a personnummer), so it is a great option for newly arrived families, stay-at-home parents and parents on parental leave.
The majority of open preschools follow a similar format. There will be a play area where your child can explore the toys, books, and arts and crafts with new friends, and somewhere you can get a snack.
A simple fika with bread and butter, cheese, crackers, fruit, milk, juice and coffee is often available, and usually for a very reasonable price, perhaps 20kr. Sometimes the fika is even free for children, and of course, you can always bring food for your child along with you if you prefer.
Imse Vimse Spindel and Bää Bää Vita Lamm
Sångstund or songtime is often a child’s favourite part of open preschool, as they get a chance to join in with new and old favourites (Imse Vimse Spindel and Bää Bää Vita Lamm sound familiar at all?), have a little boogie and shake the odd maracca.
If you yourself are new to learning Swedish and attend open preschool songtimes regularly, you may well find your Swedish vocabulary consists disproportionately of words for farmyard animals, body parts and types of weather in the early days!
For you as a parent to a young child, open preschools can be a lifesaver as you start to settle, establish your life here, get to know people and fill your days.
Many even offer special sessions including baby massage, Swedish conversation practice, first aid, parenting skills and information about applying for preschool. Depending on the season, some open preschools have trips (for example to the forest or local farm), bbqs and summer cafes.
Keep an eye out for the open preschools’ avslutningar – these are special end of term celebrations at Lucia (luciaavslutning) Christmas (julavslutning) and before the summer holidays (sommaravslutning) and usually involve seasonal costumes, songs and baked treats ????
What to do about the language barrier?
Of course, despite open preschools generally being super open and welcoming places, it isn’t always easy to get chatting with other adults when there is a language barrier, even if you share common ground due to similarly aged children.
Going to open preschool armed with a few icebreaker phrase in Swedish can be a good idea to enable you to get into conversations with other if needed. Hur gammal är ditt barn? (How old is your child?) is always a good one, as is Har ni varit här förut? (Have you been here before?).
It can take a few sessions to find the open preschools which suit you and your child best, so visit a few and get the feel of them, and hopefully you will be able to take full advantage of this wonderful resource. Enjoy!