Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Calvin's new preschool -- a comparison between US and Swedish daycares

New preschool!
I blogged previously about the nightmare that is the Swedish daycare/preschool application system in Stockholm but in case you forgot about it, you can read all about it here and here.  Aside from the website  being almost completely useless and user-hostile, I managed to submit Calvin's application to preschool for August 2012.  With this system, there is no guarantee that you will be placed in a preschool near where you live, just "somewhere in Stockholm."  OK -- well that could easily be 45 minutes away by public transit.  Naturally, we would all prefer one within walking distance of our house so we can just walk the little guy back after a long day.  Since we are only enrolling Calvin part time, I would prefer not to have to commute an hour each way so I can go back to the house to work on my consulting projects.

Needless to say, we were thrilled (or hesitatingly optimistic) when we received a large packet of information in the mail.  ALL of it was in Swedish (of course), so with the help of Google Translate and a Swedish friend, we figured out that we were accepted to a brand new private preschool on our island -- about a 10 minute walk from our place.  PERFECT!  We were invited to an open house so we could meet the teachers and find out what is expected of us as parents.

Joann and Dave were in town for Calvin's first birthday, so I brought Joann with me since Jon had to work late.  I wanted to have her perspective on the place and she witnessed firsthand what we went through with the nannies back in Atlanta, so I knew she would have good advice.

When we arrived, I was surprised by how "under construction" the place was considering they were going to start taking kids in two weeks.  Other than that, it was sparkling new.  Nothing like new toys and carpet to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.  The toys were all perfectly lined up in rows just ready for the little baby hands to snag them.  Everything was orderly and pristine.  They gave an informational session and even though the teachers knew that 45% of us only spoke English, the entire presentation was in Swedish with the promise to pause and translate the important parts --- only they didn't.  They had PowerPoint slides with words on them that I have never seen before in my life.  I couldn't even begin to break them down and I feel like my understanding of basic Swedish vocabulary is fairly solid.  One woman raised her hand and was like, "can I get a hint here?"  Basically they talked in length about their approach to teaching (or I think that's what they were saying).  They would speak for about 20 minutes, laugh, gesture, and then give us English-only folk a 1 minute recap.  I don't think I missed anything too essential or at least I hope I didn't.

Having gone through this daycare song and dance with Calvin back in the US, I found this experience to be completely different.  For one thing, he is a lot older now and my questions are really different than they were when he was a baby-baby.  Back then, when he was 3 months old, all I really cared about was how they were going to feed him, pay attention to his naps, and pick him up when he was crying.  Now, my only questions were centered around how much outside play time he was going to have and the age of the other kids around him.  I felt much more calm, centered and like we were both ready for this transition.

While my mind was spinning trying to listen to Swedish for 45 minutes, Calvin and Joann played with all of the new toys in the other rooms.  He was busy putting objects away and driving on their fancy fun car mats.  He loves opening and closing doors and had a fun time in the kitchen, banging all of those mini pots and pans.  It was familiar to him because we have been going to the open preschools together for 3 months.  He knows the design, toys and he seemed really comfortable.  He didn't even notice me when I came back in the room because he was too busy playing and exploring.  I couldn't help but think back to what a wreck I was back in Atlanta when I decided that we couldn't do daycare because their shoe removal policy was atrocious (they wore those shoe covers outside which kind of defeats the entire point).  Now I just looked at him with a big smile -- he's going to be 110% ok with this.  He is going to have so much fun every day.  He loves interacting with other kids and he is really becoming a social guy -- he must get that from his dad.

Fun car mat!
A few notables on the differences I experienced between the two systems.  This is not to say that ALL US daycares are like this but this is what we were looking at in Atlanta:

Atlanta: $1,500/month -- full time, no part time option
Stockholm: max $175/month -- full time or part time (30 hrs, which is slightly less)

Essentials to bring from home
Atlanta: diapers, wipes, change of clothes, bottles with milk, pacifier
Stockholm: change of clothes, pictures of loved ones, 1 stuffed animal for nap time, pacifier (diapers and wipes are provided)

Teacher to baby ratio
Atlanta: 1:3 (though one teacher "floated" amongst the classrooms, so I observed 1:4 and often 1:5, which is ridiculous)
Stockholm: 1:3

Atlanta: 3 days: Day 1: you spend 1 hour getting to know the teacher and letting your kid "play"; Day 2: you leave your child for 3-4 hours and come back every once in a while to check on them; Day 3: leave your child
Stockholm: 3 days: Day 1: spend a half day getting to see the routine and schedule; Day 2: stay until after lunch; Day 3: if you and your child are ready, you leave at some point during the day

*The biggest difference I saw between the two intake systems was that the US daycare was fairly flippant about the process.  It was almost like they were going through the motions of trying to make the parents feel at ease about leaving their 3 month old with a complete set of strangers.  They kept telling me, "yeah yeah, we do this with babies all of the time."  In Stockholm, they emphasized in both languages, that it was very important that both parents and children feel safe and comfortable in the school.  They stressed that on Day 3, you can choose to leave your child or choose to stay longer and continue sitting in until you feel comfortable enough to leave.  You have to "say goodbye" to your child and hand them over to their care provider so that your child knows that you are leaving.  No sneaking off while they are distracted playing!
Sorry mom, I'm busy playing!

I feel more comfortable with our current situation for numerous reasons.

  1. Calvin is older -- plain and simple.  He cries a whole lot less so there isn't the worry that someone won't address his every whimper like I had before.
  2. Open preschools have set us both up for success.  He knows what is expected of him in these social situations and I know how he will behave and act.  It is reassuring to know that he enjoys all of the playtime and singing.
  3. I've done this before.  I've already "left" my baby with another person for care taking during the day.  Albeit we chose a nanny instead of a daycare, but I still left him for 9 hours each day.  I feel like it was much harder when he was younger and I survived it just fine. This doesn't feel nearly as heart wrenching.
I looked at the room of parents and saw the looks of terror, fear and anxiety on some of the moms' faces.  Nobody looked happy and I started wondering if I was crazy for being so calm.  One mom looked at her child's name posted on the cubby and said, "my baby!"  It doesn't matter how old your baby is when you "leave" them, the first time is always the worst.  I absolutely love all of my time with Calvin but I see it as super special "extra" time.  If we still lived in Atlanta, I would still be working and wouldn't have had all of these great experiences at home with him.  His attendance to daycare/preschool isn't the ending of our time together but a chance for him to develop further independence.  I remain lucky in that I'll still be able to go pick him up whenever I want to and it is just a quick walk around the corner.  But I'm not going to lie as I'm also looking forward to speaking on conference calls without a shouty baby banging toys in the background. Professionally, I need some quiet time to get my work done.  Chasing after Calvin to make sure he doesn't poke the dogs' eyes out while I'm writing a paper has been exhausting!

We are going to have to work on their pronunciation of his name though.  One teacher announced his name and I didn't even recognize it.  It took me a second because no other parent moved and then I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm Kelvin Yammies' mom" or at least that was what it sounded like.  Kelvin Yammies...
Some Swedish names and one American name
Ergonomic high chairs
tea time?
I call it a "pillow jacuzzi" and that is a rubber hedgehog in the pic

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