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What you need to know about preschool in Sweden

Starting preschool is a big step for every child (and parent!), especially if you are not sure how it works or how to apply. This article will aim to demystify the process and give you an idea of what to expect.

What you need to know about preschool in Sweden
Around 80 percent of children aged one to five in Sweden attend preschool. Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

What age do children start preschool?

Children in Sweden are allowed to attend preschool (förskola) from age one to age six – but it is entirely voluntary, unlike schooling after age six. However, most children do attend, and it can be a useful way of helping your child make new social connections – especially if your child has had limited contact with other children.

What kinds of preschool are there?

The most common type of preschool is förskola, where children aged one to six are looked after during the day by preschool teachers and childcare workers. Children are given breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and, depending on their age, they will also have a nap. You may also hear the terms dagis or even lekskola – these are just older terms for preschool which are the words many Swedes grew up with.

Outdoor preschools (uteförskola) have a focus on outdoor activities, where the majority of the day is spent outside, weather permitting.

Preschools can be public (kommunala) or private (fristående). Public and private preschools are subject to the same rules and laws about the quality of education they provide, and private preschools are not allowed to charge a higher fee.

A less formal option for younger children and children without a preschool place is open preschool (öppna förskolan), where children attend alongside their parents on a drop-in basis, and parents do not need to sign up in advance. Here, parents have responsibility for looking after their children, so they are more of a meeting place for families and children rather than a childcare offering. Children can attend open preschool from birth.

If your child has special needs, your preschool can usually provide support. However, you can also apply to a preschool specifically for children with special needs (förskola för barn med särskilda behov), which may be able to provide special equipment or resources.

Preschools are generally open weekdays between 06.15am to 6.30pm. If you work outside these hours, you can apply for your child to attend a special hours preschool (OB-förskola).

Finally, if your child does not already have a preschool place, they can attend general preschool (allmän förskola) for free, up to 15 hours a week if they are over the age of three. Children who already attend preschool pay a reduced fee after they turn three years old.


A father dropping his child off at preschool. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

When does my child attend preschool?

As a rule, your child is entitled to attend preschool during your work or study hours. If you are unemployed or on parental leave with another child, then you are also entitled to send your child to preschool – the amount of hours differs between municipalities. Preschools are closed on public holidays as well as two days a year for activity planning, where children will usually be at home or at another nearby preschool.

How does it work?

If you would like your child to attend preschool, you need to apply. In some municipalities (such as Malmö and Gothenburg) you have to apply to private preschools directly. For public preschools, you need to apply via your municipality’s website. In other municipalities (such as Stockholm) you can apply to private preschools via your municipality’s website. Make sure to check the rules for where you live.

The earliest time you can apply for a preschool place differs between municipalities. In Malmö and Stockholm you can apply to join the waiting list for a public preschool place as soon as your child is born. In Gothenburg the earliest you can apply is when your child reaches six months.

If you apply at least four months before you need a place, then you are guaranteed a preschool place starting between the dates you provide in your application. In your application you can list between one and five preschools – but there is no guarantee that your child will be given a place at one of these preschools, so it pays to apply early.

In most municipalities you need to have BankID or an equivalent e-identification tool to apply online. It is possible in certain situations to apply without this, but you will need to contact your municipality’s preschool office (förskoleförvaltningen) directly.

Your offer will be sent via email or post, and you usually need to accept within a week. There is no fee for applying to public preschools, and places are allocated via a queue system, with priority for siblings of children already attending the same preschool. If you are unhappy with your offer, you can reject it, but you are not always guaranteed another place and may have to reapply, which can take considerable time.


The cost of childcare is capped in Sweden, so you’ll never pay more than a certain figure. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB scanpix/TT

Preschool is not free in Sweden, but fees are income-based, with a maximum fee of 1,510 kronor ($175) per child per month (fees for 2021). There are also deductions for each child if you have multiple children attending preschool at the same time – in this case the maximum fee would be 1,007 kronor for the second child and 503 kronor for the third, with parents paying no fee for any further children. Children over three are entitled to 15 hours of free preschool education per week, so these are deducted from your fee once your child reaches this age.

To get an idea of how much you would have to pay based on your income, you can use this calculator (in Swedish – similar calculators exist for other municipalities). These fees are adjusted yearly by the Swedish school authorities and are applicable to all municipalities. If your child has a preschool place, you have to pay even if you do not use it – over summer or during holidays, for example.

Note that native language education (modersmålsundervisning) is not offered at preschool stage in the same way as in school – your child will not be offered classes in their native language, but national guidelines state that children should be able to develop their native language alongside Swedish. The bigger cities usually have some private English-language or bilingual preschools, which you may have to apply to directly.

What happens when my child gets a place?

Once you have accepted your offer, you will usually receive further information directly from your preschool. This will include a form you will need to fill out about any medical information or allergies your child may have which the preschool staff need to be aware of, as well as information on any other languages spoken at home so they can best support your child.

You will also receive information on what your child needs to bring to preschool. This is mainly clothing – it is a good idea to write their name in everything so that nothing gets lost. Some preschools provide nappies (diapers) and some ask parents to provide their own – check with your preschool if you are unsure.

When the time comes for your child to start, you will attend preschool alongside them to help them settle in. This period is called inskolning and usually takes between one and two weeks, so you will need to take time off work or take out parental leave to cover it. This is also a good chance for you to get to know the other children in your child’s class, your child’s teachers, and some of the other parents.


Write your child’s name in their clothes, because clothes will get lost. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB Scanpix/TT

Where can I find more information?

Most municipalities provide some information about preschools in English, and you should be able to contact them directly if you have any further questions. Preschool rules can differ between municipalities and between individual preschools so it is always a good idea to check what applies in your particular situation.

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FAMILY

How to use all your parental leave in Sweden before it expires

The parents of fully 70 percent of children in Sweden fail to take all the parental leave available to them before it expires. But there are some tricks to make sure you use it all.

two parents and two children in a car
You could save some parental leave days to use for a long holiday – but be careful so that they don't expire. Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se

“The Swedish Social Insurance Agency has decided that you will not receive child benefit for Finn from December 24th to January 8th,” read the letter that dropped into my secure digital mailbox over Christmas. 

My son turned eight on December 23rd, and as he was born just a week before a new more generous policy became valid in Sweden, that marked the end of our eligibility for child leave.

And just as had happened with his elder sister, we had let his leave expire with more than a month of leave yet to claim.

It turns out, we are far from alone.

The parents of fully 72 percent of the children born in Sweden in 2010 failed to claim all of their shared 480 days of parental leave by the time they expired in 2018, according to the latest statistics from the Social Insurance Agency. On average, parents in Sweden failed to claim about a month, but 21 percent of parents had, like us, failed to claim more than 60 days.

In total, that amounted to 1.4 billion kronor ($154.4 million) in unclaimed benefits, and according to an analysis by the agency, it was those with the lowest incomes who had the most days left over.

A graph showing how many days of parental leave was not claimed for children born in 2010, divided up by (from left) low-income, mid-income and high-income families. The dark green shows days paid at 80 percent of the salary (sjukpenningnivå) and the light green the lowest-paid days (lägstanivå, 180 kronor a day). Photo: Försäkringskassan

A change in the rules since my son was born has made using your days quite a bit easier. Parents of children born after January 1st in 2014 (a week after my son), can now continue to take out leave until their children’s 12th birthday.

But be aware that all but 96 of these days expire when the child turns four, so the race is still on.

If you want to understand how parental leave in Sweden works, here’s The Local’s detailed guide to how the system works

But to avoid other foreigners in Sweden suffering the same disappointment as I did, keep scrolling for some tips for how to make sure you use all that leave.

Take leave together 

Swedish rules allow both parents to take leave at the same time. In the first few months, this can really take the pressure off the mother, allowing her partner to take over while she makes up for lost sleep, or takes a precious hour or so to herself. 

The rules allow each couple to claim a maximum of 30 of these so-called dubbeldagar or “double days”, which taken together will use up 60 days of leave. 

These days cannot be taken from the 90 reservdagar, or “reserve days”, which are tied to each parent to prevent fathers from taking out days at the same time as leaving the mother to do all the actual childcare. They also can only be taken before the child is one year old. 

Claim leave for ordinary holidays 

My mistake was to see parental leave as something to take only when I was off work specifically to look after my children. In fact, you can take it out any time you are not actually working: when you take time off over Christmas, Easter, during the sportlov or höstlov school holidays, or over the long Swedish summer. 

“My husband takes all of the school holidays and the summers off so we can travel and all be together,” says Martha Moore in Malmö. “I’m a teacher, so I will probably give all of my days to him, since I get to be off when my kids are off anyway.”

You can even claim for days which you are also claiming as holiday from your work, or days which are public holidays in Sweden, but you can only claim parental leave for these days at the so-called lägstanivå, or base level of 180 kronor a day.  

You can claim some days at the same time as the other parent. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a very long holiday 

One Australian living in Stockholm said she was off to Thailand for two and a half months this February in order to use up some of the days from her second child, which are due to expire when she turns four later in the year.

She recommends planning one long holiday to use up any of the 384 days that will expire when your child turns four, and then saving up the other 96 days for a second long holiday before they turn 12. 

She is putting her eldest child into a Swedish school in Thailand while they are there, using one of the chain of Swedish schools set up in Thailand, primarily for parents holidaying on their parental leave.  

She deliberately didn’t use as many days as she could have in the first 12 months, so that she and her husband could do this. “My tip is to not use many days at all paid that first 12 months, and to burn your savings instead,” she says. 

As her child is more than one year old, she and her husband cannot take leave simultaneously, however, so he is using holiday time he has saved up. 

Take leave before the birth 

The pregnant parent can start taking parental leave and collecting benefits up to 60 days before the due date. It’s actually compulsory for the mother to take two weeks of leave in connection with the birth, which can either be before or after. New fathers or secondary caregivers can also start taking leave up to ten days before the birth. 

This could be a waste of days, however, as if a difficult (or, let’s face it, even fairly normal) pregnancy makes it impossible to do your job, you can claim sickness benefits instead of parental leave, and get the same level of benefits without using up any of your 480 days. 

This does not apply, however, to “normal pregnancy difficulties such as back pain and fatigue”, so to claim sickness benefits, you will have to convince your doctor to certify that you have pregnancy difficulties that are “unusually severe”. 

A father carrying his child in a Baby Björn in Sweden. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Take a chunk out to do private projects 

People less good at forward planning sometimes take a chunk of leave just before their child turns four or twelve (or eight if they were born before January 1st, 2014), even if they don’t have anything planned in particular.  

You can use this time to do the sort of home chores that it is so hard to find time to do once you have children. 

“I had a colleague who took two months’ maternity leave when her daughter was seven years old,” says one woman in Malmö. “She took it as a vacation in the summer to fix her apartment.” 

Use parental leave to work a short week 

Once the child is in preschool (dagis or förskola) many people, including Moore’s husband, use parental leave to take Friday and/or Monday off work for six months or more, allowing them to spend more time with their child.

This is obviously something you have to square with your employer, but in Sweden most employers are more than willing to put employees on 80 percent. 

You can either use this time to take some of the pressure off your partner during their parental leave, or to reduce the amount of time your child spends in preschool.

A parent walking their child in a pram through a snowy Stockholm. Photo: Jann Lipka/imagebank.sweden.se

Use parental leave to work short days 

You don’t need to take each allotted day as a full day, you can also reduce your working day by three quarters, a half, one quarter or one eighth, and receive proportional parental benefit for the time not worked.

Parents of a child under the age of eight can reduce their working hours by up to 25 percent, whether or not they decide to take parental benefit for the remaining 25 percent.

This can be extremely helpful in making combining childcare and work a little less stressful.

Claim leave for weekends 

You can claim parental leave on weekends as well as on normal weekdays, but unless you normally work on the weekend, you can only claim these at the lowest base level of 180 kronor. 

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