What We Can Learn From Swedish Preschools

I received a rather snarky comment on my “What Should a 4 Year-Old Know?” post today.

While I’ve been contacted by teachers, librarians, principals, doctors and early childhood education experts who have said they wished more parents realized these things, this surly individual called me “blase” and “touchy feely” and said, “C****, we’re all screwed.”

The commenter, Eric, said that “we are so behind other countries that good jobs are bleeding from our borders to other nations…” and “4-year-old children SHOULD be able to write their name, know the planets, list several presidents AND count to 100…”.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to educate Eric on what those countries that are leading the world ARE doing in preschool.

It might not be what he thinks.

Head over to Teacher’s TV and watch this 26 minute video about preschools in Sweden.

As the narrator says,

Imagine a school where play and relaxation is paramount…

…Where there’s little formal learning and most leave at the age of five or six unable to read or write.

…Yet, just a few years after starting formal schooling at the age of seven, these children lead the literacy table in Europe.

The preschool director points out that there is no testing and that “It’s not the child we should evaluate, it’s the processes we do.”

The Swedish preschool’s motto:

Challenge, Discovery, Adventure

The video talks about what’s important in Swedish preschools — lots of time outside, natural foods, cooperation, exercise, security, play, life skills and most importantly, fun.  It also shows how these young children do in school a few years later, and lets them talk about what they think of it all.

What about the rest of the world?  Teacher’s TV has an entire series of programs that follow countries that teach in the best ways, and Hungary was featured for teaching math best.  Again, you’ll notice that they introduce formal learning later and the children do better. In Hungary, they begin formal school at age 6 and are not formally tested until age 14.

There’s plenty more to show the academic reasons for play-based learning for preschoolers.  Take a look at this excerpt from Should preschools teach all work and no play?

Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, agrees. In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.

“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.

According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.

“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”

When deciding what is best for your preschooler, I hope you will always follow the leads of your own heart, your own child and at the very least, follow the research.

Despite grumpy people who may think otherwise, doing things that are good for children is not bad for any of us.

For more on this subject see:


4 Reasons To Ditch Academic Preschools

Academic Preschools: Too Much Too Soon?

Academic Preschool

Pushing preschoolers — at what cost?

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12 Comments

Filed under the big stuff

12 responses to “What We Can Learn From Swedish Preschools

  1. Milagros

    I am so sorry to hear that such an ignorant and rude comment was made to your lovely post. It is a shame that not only people are absolutely clueless in regards to natural rhythm children have when it come to learning but that spitting out useless stats is what intelligence is measured by.

  2. Christine

    You are one amazing mother!

  3. I am sorry that someone would make a comment like that without having experienced the lifestyle that you are promoting.
    Thankyou for mentioning that Hungary does not formally test till about grade 9.Each year we are asked about NAPLAN testing here and we decline because our daughter is not comfortable with going back to the school she was bullied in.I think i will now research a bit more into what is normal in other countries.Thankyou

  4. Melissa

    Super information! and ditto what Milagros and Christine wrote :)

  5. Wonderful!!

    A friend from high school (lo these many years ago) posted a link to your “What a 4-year-old Should Know”, and I must say that I SO agree with everything you wrote.

    I love this post, too.

    Have you ever read Last Child in the Woods? The author’s premise isn’t exactly what you’ve stated — he is primarily desirous of getting children OUTDOORS, and mentions many studies that show that “green” time enhances learning.

    We’re in our 9th year of homeschooling. More and more, I want my kids to learn, yes, but I want them to enjoy learning, and to have fun exploring, and to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

    (I stole your Ad-Free Blog icon, too!! Love it. I’ve been ad-free for my five years of blogging, and was recently thinking about this, as one of my favorite blogs recently started to “monetize”. Most of her comments were positive, but it made me sad to realize that I would now have to question the bias of her postings, and the reason for recommending a product…)

    • Karen, I’ve heard of that book a lot but haven’t read it yet. It’s definitely on my to-read list! I really want to spend as much time outdoors with the kids as possible too, but it can be so tricky here in Minnesota. It’s currently bitterly cold and our treks outside have to be very short! The bright side is that it makes us really appreciate the seasons we can be outside more. :)

      • I totally understand, but from an opposite perspective: I live in the Phoenix area, and we pretty much do not go outside from mid-May to mid-September. Or, when we do, it’s short — from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned vehicle to the air-conditioned store. Or whatever. It’s challenging to find ways to enjoy real natural settings when everything is brown, and as dry and hot as the inside of the oven!

        Still… I think you would find the book very supportive and encouraging of your aims.

        No pressure! I’m not a book-pusher. :)

  6. I wish someone had spent more time teaching me “life skills” when I was little (esp cooking and cleaning because running a household and teaching myself how at the same time are a little stressful at times).
    Hooray for play!

  7. Amber

    Kudos to you for calling out the person who posted such an insulting comment and then courteously debunking their inflammatory comments with a well thought out and well researched retort. I feel even more convinced that play = learning. Thank you for your well written blog and keep writing!

  8. Trina

    While the comment was uneducated & unthoughtful, I am very grateful for this post! I just discovered your website, and then this post, and in turn teachers.tv – I love the feeling I get when I find fabulous websites that I know I’ll turn to again and again and recommend to friends. From one Minnesotan to another, I appreciate you!

  9. True. Sometimes it’s easier to believe what we’re told, and I think people get a bit protective of those ideas because reevaluating seems too hard. It’s good to go against the mainstream and really find out what’s best. Well done!

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