Sweden turning to 24-7 child care

Preschool is a route out of poverty, it gets women in the workforce, and it reduces financial burdens on the working poor.  It also can help mitigate developmental differences that come from growing up in poverty, which means better qualified workers in the long run.

Norfors summed this up when she wrote: “Without preschools, we would not have among the highest female and maternal employment rates in the European Union, or the lowest levels of child poverty.”

This is absolutely true, and it is a huge improvement on the American system, which makes families—especially those less well off—scramble at best and dump their kids in dangerous child care at worst. But the Swedish policies also shine a bright, pragmatic light on the price that young children and their parents are paying all over the globe as work speeds up, even in the midst of a global slowdown.

via Mom’s at work? Sweden’s solution is round-the-clock preschools – Quartz.

This is from a post I wrote recently for Quartz.  It’s based on a USD 16 million grant the Swedish government has for expanding childcare hours.  I’m all for it, of course, especially compared to the Hell of American Daycare, as the New Republican recently put it.  But I still stand by my ambivalence that all these kids need to be mainstreamed into child care so early.

I still want three years of parental leave.  But what Sweden’s got is still the best around.


In praise of the dude teaching at my son’s preschool

I turned to close the preschool gate the other day and looked back to see what my three-year-old son was up to.

And this is what I saw: his teacher in a laughing jog, leading a pack of toddlers in a full sprint. A few weeks ago I saw this teacher sliding on the ice (safely) with the kids. And somewhere in there, I came to pick up my son to find the same teacher lost in a mountain of pillows, laughing kids all around piling on.

Good teacher, huh? Oh, yeah, one other thing. The teacher’s name is Sven (not really, but he is a guy).

There have been three male teachers at the preschool in the past 18 months, and all three were great, even if not so energetic as Sven.

The last thing I want to do is say that my son needs Sven because he is a man, because only men would skate on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. That’s ridiculous. It’s probably a function of youth as much as anything else.

However, most of the other teachers – even the young ones – do not slide on the ice or race through the yard or wrestle in a mountain of pillows. Sven does.

We live in Sweden, and before you think this is some paean to socialism and progressive Scandinavian values, it’s not. Sweden is pretty bad at recruiting male preschool teachers, at least compared to neighbors Norway and Denmark.

And this isn’t about male role models either. Well, it is, though not so much. See, I was home with my son paternity leave for more than half of his life before he started preschool. He knows lots of dads. His grandpa baby sits him when we are home in California. He doesn’t need guys.

But it’s nice.

And it’s good for society. I push paternity leave pretty hard because I think it’s important for mom, dad and baby. But challenging gender roles should not stop at the preschool door, and it should not just be about getting my daughter to see princesses in a different way or letting my son wear pink mittens.

This is from a Gloria Steinham interview in 1995:

 The way we get divided into our false notions of masculine and feminine is what we see as children. And, if, as children, whether we’re boys or girls, we’re raised mainly by women, then we deeply believe that only women can be loving, nurturing, flexible, patient, compassionate, all those things one needs to be to raise little children, and that men cannot do that, which is a libel on men. Of course men can do that. On the other end of it, they mainly see men in the world outside the home, or being assertive, aggressive, so they come to believe that women can’t be assertive, achieving, aggressive, intellectual. And that’s how we get our humanity? We’re deprived of our full humanity

This won’t change easily, I know, but it should change (and here is an excellent report for deep reading on how to make it change.  The report includes the best ever description I’ve read of why boys and girls and not driven by their sex, but by their gender roles:

Gender and sex are closely linked, in so far as one’s biological sex will determine which gender role (male or female) society will expect one to play (Dejonckheere, 2001).

Oh, and about the whole sexual predator thing, that overarching fear seems to be missing here in Sweden when it comes to guy teachers. I couldn’t tell you if the crime rates are lower here, or whether Swedes have more or less missed the crazy, anxious panic that American parents have been whipped into the past couple decades.

Nope, here men don’t become preschool teachers just because men don’t become preschool teachers.  But I’m sure glad the dude running my son’s class chose differently.

Photography: The destruction of the ghost dagis

It is called the ghost dagis (Dagis is the Swedish word for preschool. It is in our neighborhood, and it was condemned soon after we moved in.  For a while, the municipality mowed the lawn, and we played in its private, though decaying yard.  And sometimes other preschools would go there to play too, with the sounds of children echoing from behind the empty fence.

Then they let it go, and it got lost behind its big fence and between its stately neighbors.

We never heard any ghosts there, though.

They took down the ghost dagis these past few weeks, and I have been oddly fascinated, taking random, bad pictures with my phone, as the ghosts fly into the gray winter sky.

I like the graffiti here.

This was a week ago. There is nothing but rubble now.

Salvaging details …

Monday links – Europe works, the US tax code does not, and thank goodness for subsidized preschool

Going to try something – just links I’ve liked over the past week or two.  It’s everything I would put on Facebook if I did much on Facebook or if anybody who comes here saw my Facebook page.

Why Is Europe a Dirty Word?  – This column from Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times is superficial but important because it recognizes all the ways that Europe works, in contrast to important ways the US does not.  I think most Americans would be surprised to learn how many people see the US as a sort of failed state.

Behind Every Great Woman – BusinessWeek wrote a cover story about the men who stay at home to support their successful wives.  The problem?  It’s about role reversal, not equality.  A very small step.

Homemaker Dad, Breadwinner Mom – In a blog entry at the New York Times, Nancy Folbre takes on my point above.   And she gets into detail about something my wife figured out the first time we did our taxes in the US.  The system is so biased towards a stay-at-home parent that it makes almost no sense for many spouses – men or women – to work.  In Sweden, of course, both spouses have to work, which is another kind of pressure, but at least a more fair one.  Why not support child care activities and others tax breaks that would allow everyone to go to work – while preserving choice – instead of penalizing mostly women who often do go back to work but for what comes out to insulting wages?

Pre-K Converts – Which brings me to this post from DadWagon, in which Nathan Thornburgh talks about the sad state, and ridiculous cost, of pre-K education in New York City, but also the whole US.   Excuse me while I go metaphorically kiss the stable, competitive, yet secure Swedish welfare state.


the sounds of open preschool in stockholm from another American in daddyland

There is a new sheriff in Daddyland, so to speak.  As I look back wistfully from my office (note to bosses – I mean this figuratively), Gabe Stein has gone on paternity leave and started to blog about it.

Gabe – also an American – is taking a much more systematic and multimedia approach to the whole venture, complete with videos, interviews with Swedish officials and plans for interviews with real Swedish dads on paternity leave.

But the post that most got me is this one, where Gabe recorded the sounds of an open preschool, the usually municipally funded play areas where I have spend many, many days of my life.  There is a piece of the post below, but the real cool part is the audio file, which took me right back to, say, March, when Baby B was still a baby and I was packing snack bags and taking my daily nap …

From the post:

Open Daycare is free. It’s targeted to small kids who haven’t yet started real daycare. The goal is to create the most stimulating and fun environment for the children, while offering parents a place to connect with their peers. Open Daycare operates on a drop-in basis, with no registering …

The first Open Daycare opened in 1972. In 1991, there were over 1,600 Open Daycares in Sweden. The number has come down drastically since then. In 2004, there were less than 500.

in Sweden men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus.

In the US, the nature versus nurture debate seems almost closed to me – I read post after post about what boys are like, how boys play, how men parent versus women.  It all seems so scientific, like its a done deal, even before you get to the pop culture John Gray crap.  How do you argue with it?  It’s not even slanted pro-male anymore.  There are just inherent differences between the sexes.  Deal with it.

But it is not a done deal.  Here in Sweden there are big newspaper and magazine articles on how boys and girls are treated differently from birth, how even specially trained preschool teachers are more active with boys and talk more to girls.  It calls into question all these predetermined ideas on active boys with guns and social girls with dolls.  These “pro-nurture” articles are taken seriously here too, getting good play in the newspaper and then posted on open preschool walls.  And then parents show up at daycare parent meetings insistent that their boy be able to wear his pink backpack without teasing.

And now that I have a boy and a girl, I lean further and further towards nurture.  Sure, my girl likes pink and to dance.  But she also destroys anything I build in the sandbox and has a tendency to jump from high places and to tackle her little brother.  And, yes, the boy is obsessed with buses, boats and trains.  But he is also obsessed with dolls and dresses and likes nothing more than to sit quietly and draw flowers.

So that is Sweden.  And now, finally, in the U.S. , there is some pro-nurture buzz about a book by Cordelia Fine called Delusions of Gender, a volley in the nature versus nuture wars firmly on the nurture side.  Fine argues that we are way more alike than different.  All those supposedly entrenched gender differences, the ones we read about in popular literature and scientific journals alike?  Just a product of oppressive “neurosexism,” she says.

From Newsweek (linked above) on Fine’s book:

Our brains are like plastic—they adapt. So, sure, there may be slight variations between male and female wiring, but for the most part, the things that hold women back at work are culturally ingrained.

It may not be socially acceptable to discriminate anymore, but evidence suggests that if a woman were to disguise herself as a man, she’d probably fare better. As Fine puts it, those who’ve transformed themselves in this way—namely, female-to-male transexuals—report “decidedly beneficial consequences at work.” Zing!

trying to put swedish daycare in perspective

Coming off paternity leave, I feel like a decent parent.  Not smug, really, because I know that I got lucky to live in Sweden, where I could take leave, and not be forced to either work long hours or make a huge decision to quit and be a stay at home dad.  But, still, I think I made a decent showing of my time as a stay-at-home parent.

Now I drop off my son at daycare, and I feel like the worst parent ever.  He is fine overall, I think, but the leaving is the stuff of parent horror.

Dwelling on his sadness, I nitpick and get unhappy with the daycare – the groups are too big, the playground too muddy, why is his big sister in an annex location and not in the yard to take care of him?

I don’t know the first thing about American daycares.  I kind of assume that a decent daycare or preschool is on par with the ones in Sweden.  I mean, Swedes don’t exactly gush over their daycare system.

Then I watched this video from DadLabs, and they do gush over the Swedish preschool they visited back in 2008.  I can’t say that my kids’ facility is quite this nice – no organic food – but my children do have their own chef, “nodes” for smaller groups, kid-sized sinks and tables and the like.

Plus, his sister does play in his yard a couple times a week.   Today E said she saw them walking hand in hand as she was leaving.  So maybe I have not abandoned my boy in the worst possible way.

Just feels like it sometimes.