Taking a break from house searching, school entrance exam taking and trying to discover the Danish equivalent to Target, Nani and I took a train to Sweden to visit our family for a weekend.
There is a long story here, one on which I can elaborate at another time, of how I came to have a Swedish family (I’m not Swedish), but for now I just want to say this: I absolutely love Swedish children!
Growing up in Poland I’ve heard endless stories about our Swedish family and their wild kids. According to my Polish family, Swedes let their children smoke, drink, stay out all night, drive fast cars, get dirty before going to a wedding, sleep with their windows open (a weird no-no in Poland), dress themselves, sit close to a television set and eat ice cream in the winter. As a child I wished I could be raised in Sweden.
As an adult, I was apprehensive about meeting my cousins’ kids. I’m not crazy about wild children. For me, two hours around children can often seem like an eternity. But here, two whole days and oddly enough, they didn’t annoy me in the least!
Two days and I did not witness one tantrum. Two days and not once did a child demand a smart phone, a video game or whine about which show to watch on TV (they watched almost no TV. Maybe a half an hour each day and gladly went to do other things when the TV was turned off). Two days of kids running around, mostly unsupervised, being responsible and kind to one another.
My cousin Camilla has two girls. Lilly-Ann, who’s 9 and Michaela, who’s 5. My cousin Yolinda also has two girls. Her older one, Alice, is 5 and her younger one, Luna, is 2.
They were so likeable from the get go! They introduced themselves, shook our hands (okay, maybe not Luna; but in a year or so, she will have impeccable manners as well) and made eye contact. Nani and I brought them small gifts, ones that could easily fit in a carry-on, but for which all children sincerely thanked us! The next day Nani and I got gifts of our own (bracelets and necklaces that they made).
These Swedish children have a remarkable amount of freedom. The five-year olds – supervised by the nine-year old – walk by themselves to school, to their grandma’s and to the playground. The weather was fantastic this weekend, so they spent most of the day playing on the playground. Not once did I hear any screaming or crying. One of the five year olds did hurt herself – she must have fallen, because her leg was scraped up and she had dirt on the one side of her face. But she just marched into the kitchen and ran some cold water to wash off the scrapes.
There was no smoking, drinking or staying up all night, but Lilly-Ann loves coffee and she drinks it straight. No cream, no sugar. She politely declined a chocolate cake to go with it.
Little Luna, who so far has not learned to say “no” (or “nej”) to everything, did not act like a typical two-year old at all. She didn’t throw herself on the floor kicking and screaming even once, did not scream bloody murder when she tripped and fell, and when she got tired, she simply went to bed, tucked herself in and went to sleep.
We went to look at horses (they all love horses and take horseback riding lessons. In the summer my cousin Camilla will be teaching her two girls how to sail) and picked flowers. We walked by a pre-school that made this project:
This might be the most remarkable project made by a pre-schooler. The kids took apart an old radio and cut up some scrap wood and metal. They painted it and nailed in some nails. Yes, this was constructed by children who are five years old or younger.
Pre-school in Sweden starts at the age of one! It’s not compulsory at that age, but Luna, who is 2, is now in pre-school. Pre-schools are staffed with professionals with degrees in pedagogy, not just babysitters. Here each child is encouraged to develop his and her own interests, and there is a strong emphasis on gender neutral education. Swedish curriculum, from pre-school on, emphasizes personal growth, morality and creativity.
My cousin told me that outdoor schools aren’t just for pre-schoolers. School aged children will often have classes outdoors, learing math by adding up acorns and writing the alphabet in the ground with sticks. On the “outdoor days” they even make their lunches outside on a camping stove!
From this brief introduction I gathered this: Swedish children are free to explore and learn on their own. But they know the rules and follow the rules. They are taught to love the outdoors. They are taught to help one another.
Of course, schools play a major part in these children’s development, but so do the parents. I spent a weekend in awe of my cousins’ child rearing skills. If only I had moved here sooner…