I found this article over at Mathman's blog and knew that I had to read it since I am a preschool teacher. It is a quick perspective of one women who lives in Sweden and her discussion of the Swedish early childcare system. The first thing that struck me is that according to Swedish law, parental leave is 18 months. This means that parents are able to stay home with their children to help them to gain the experiences and knowledge they need for the first year and a half of their life. I know in many US childcare settings children start at closer to three months of age. I know this is obvious, but that is a difference of fifteen months. That amount of time is huge in the development of children. The first year of a child's life there is more brain growth and development than in any other time in their lives. So the ability of the family to be able to help the child to gain these experiences and not have to put them in childcare is to a great advantage to the family and specifically the child. This also allows the parents to bond with the child and create important attachments between parent and child that will last well into adulthood according to the theories of Bowlby and Ainsworth.
Second, the fees for Swedish childcare are determined according to the household income with a maximum set at about $200/month per child. Now I don't know if you have ever looked for childcare for a child, but according to this site childcare will cost you from $100 to $400 per week per child, which sounds about right to me. So that means you will spend at least $400/month on childcare alone and for a higher quality childcare you are looking at $1600/month. So obviously Sweden's childcare which is all high quality as it is government run or at least it is all of a similar quality is a quarter of what we pay here for what I am guessing is similar care. In addition, the Swedish government provides a monthly allowance for each child that almost totally covers the entire cost of the early childcare.
Third and finally, this point may be a bit more theoretical and not make total sense to you if you are thinking about your own early childcare, but the Swedish childcare curriculum focuses more on the needed social skills and the needed abilities to work as a community in the classroom over more academic skills such as reading and math. Now I know some of you may say that we need to force kids to learn to read and do math as they will not know how to do it when they go to kindergarten or into elementary school, thus setting themselves up for failure when they have to take the mandated testing in third grade for No Child Left Behind. Well, first, the NCLB crap is just that, it is crap. Standardized testing does nothing more that reward a teacher who can teach to a test and students who can take a standardized test. So as a student, if you are not a good test taker you are screwed, no matter if you know the material or not. And if you are not a white, middle class child, most research shows that you are at a disadvantage anyway when you take the standardized test as they are written for and by white, middle class people.
I could, of course, go on about NCLB, but I will stop there to show the other fallacy in the whole idea that children need to be taught to read and do math in preschool prior to going to kindergarten. That is simply that if a child does not have the skills to function in a classroom, their academic skills become almost void. I have had and still do have children who know their ABCs and can count, in fact I have one now who at three could say all of his ABCs and could count to 100, but he is disruptive to the rest of the class, he does not know how to sit still and he does not know how to listen to the teachers. So his knowledge does him no good as he is not able to learn new information because he lacks the skills to function in a classroom. Most kindergarten teachers will tell you that they would prefer to have a child who only knows a few letters, but can sit and listen in the academic setting than one who knows all of his letters and can count, but cannot sit still for more than five minutes. This information comes both anecdotally from friends of mine who are kindergarten teachers and from articles I have read from a variety of different sources from Newsweek to more academic and carefully researched journals. So, if the Swedish curriculum focuses on children being ready for school socially and emotionally, they will become more ready academically.
As Americans we wonder why our education system is lacking when compared to most any other nation (18th out of 24 nations worldwide according to a study by UNICEF in this article). We force parents to put our children into day care at too young an age, only the most wealthy can afford high quality childcare and we do not teach children how to function in a formal education setting. As was said by my mom when I emailed her this article, "I am sure there are advantages to the American education system, I am just not sure what they are."