The Swedish daycare/pre-school (dagis) system is pretty cool. Once a child reaches 12 months, they are eligible to attend, though it’s not like you can just show up and drop your child off. First, Sweden really values parents being home with their children, which is why they have such a great paternity leave plan. Between the two parents, it is possible to take up to 480 days leave from work, ideally split evenly between both the mother and father with 240 days each. It is possible for one parent to give some of their days to the other, but not all. In addition, if a parent is leaving work to take care of a child, they are entitled to 80% of their salary. This leave can be taken at any point until the child reaches the age of seven.
But, if you find that you need to place your child into dagis, this is how it works…at least for us. First, I needed to justify the reason for placing M into dagis. As I am a hemmapappa (stay-at-home dad), I should be taking care of M, not sitting back reading a book while he is away at dagis. For me, I joined a Swedish For Immigrants (SFI) course, which is also provided gratis by the state. So, during class hours (3 hours a day and self-designated study times) I can have M attend dagis. I informed the Kommun of the situation and gave them the my top three schools I wanted M to attend. The Kommun contacted the schools to see who had an opening, and luckily I got into my first pick, a nice school under expansion that is only a five-minute walk from our apartment.
Now that he has been admitted, M and I had to go through an “Induction” period. Typically this will last two weeks, but as my course was starting sooner than later, they worked with me so that I only had to got through one week of induction. For this week, I attend the dagis with M during the hours he would be attending. It is designed to adjust the child, and the parent, to how things will be working. As a parent, it allowed me to see how the school functions, what the routines and practices are, and allowed the staff to clarify various factors with me about M; for example, how to put him down for nap, feeding habits, etc.
M’s class is the youngest bunch 1-3 years, of which he is definitely the youngest at 13 months. The preschool allows a lot of play, both indoor and outdoor, with an introductory focus on self-maintenance, such as how to eat with a fork and spoon, clean up after yourself, and wash hands. They have a nice outdoor play area, where the kids will spend time every day, and inside a good selection of toys, a water and sand station, and a painting room. The class is also very nicely diverse. Sweden takes in a lot of refugees and immigrants and there are multiple children in the class that do not have Swedish as a first language.
M’s routine will be pretty straight forward. The dagis invited him to come a bit early than necessary so that he had more opportunity to socialize with the other kids, which I very much appreciate. He arrives for about 30 minutes of indoor play followed by lunch. After lunch and clean-up, it’s nap time, followed by more play time until I pick him up approximately four hours after dropping him off. During the Induction Phase, it worked out great. For the first couple days, M was not able to sleep…sleeping on a mat on the floor was new to him as he has only slept in his crib and the schedule was a little different than his norm. So, the school allowed me to bring in his portable crib (Baby Bjorn Portable Crib has been a life saver for both my boys) and he was able to sleep.
Then came yesterday…the day where I actually had to drop M off and go to my language class. I expected it to go smoothly and not be a big deal. M is a very happy kid and rarely cries, and has never cried when momma has to go to work, or one of us leaves. But, M has always had one of us with him and over the past six months he has never been left without one of us while he has been awake. So, after I set up his crib I had one of the very friendly staff hold him as I said good-bye. I didn’t just want to sneak away, I wanted him to know I was leaving so he won’t look for me. Well, instead of his normal goofy smile and waving good-bye, he cried and tried to reach out to me and hold on. Oh ouch. For some reason, I did not expect this reaction, I thought he would be perfectly happy at dagis. But he cried, more specifically, he cried out for me. And I smiled, waved, and turned my back and walked away, not wanting to feed into his cries and making it worst…but after I was walking away in the snow covered streets I felt a pain inside my chest and was quite sad to leave my little dude. We have spent everyday together for the past six months, this has been our time together and a strong bond had been formed, which is why I was staying at home in the first place. And now I was choosing to leave him at dagis so that I could go and try to learn some Swedish.
When I came to pick him back up, M was so excited to see me. I picked him up and gave a big hug; but then, unwisely put him back down so I could go fold up his crib. He wailed. Even when one of the staff members picked him up and carried him along so he could see me, he wailed and wailed until I finally held him again. We hugged each other tightly as my heart tried not to break. The staff said he was fine. After I left they put him at the table for lunch and he immediately stopped crying and ate a good portion of mashed potatoes and sausage and then slept a solid two hours. After waking he had plenty of friends from the older classmates and was great. So, not a total lost. Which is good, cause in an hour I have to drop him off again.