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Ten things you should know if your child is starting school in Sweden

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Ten things you should know if your child is starting school in Sweden
Children at a school in Norway. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB

It's the big day! Your baby's all grown up and ready to start at your local Swedish school. What do you need to do to prepare?


Many foreigners feel that children start school in Sweden alarmingly late, with most of those starting 'nollan' (zero) or 'förskoleklass' (pre-school class) already six years old. But it can still feel like a wrench sending them away. Hopefully this list will make the process a little easier. 

What sort of school bag do they need? 

Most children starting school have rucksacks rather than satchels, as for the first few years they tend not to have much paperwork to bring home.

They will also need a sports bag, usually a waterproof one with a drawstring, to keep gym shoes and gym clothes in.

You may also want to send them with a tote bag, or other simple bag, to store any spare clothes you leave on their shelf or peg. 

Children in Sweden seem to hang small fluffy and shiny things off the backs of their bags with little clips, so buying one or more of those might provide your child with a conversation topic. 

A child plays in the rain. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB

What clothes do they need? 

Schools in Sweden are not allowed to have uniforms (and free schools which have tried to bring them in have been reprimanded for violating children's right to free expression). But there are still things that you need.

These include: 

  • Rain clothes and/or a winter overall. In the zero class, many Swedish children bring the same type of outdoor clothes they would have had at preschool or dagis, so they will need waterproof trousers and a waterproof jacket (or an all-in-one waterproof overall), and also a warmer insulated set of outdoor gear for when winter temperatures arrive. 
  • A winter and/or autumn jacket
  • Waterproof boots. Children in the zero class still spend a lot of their breaks and after-school hours jumping in puddles, so will require a pair of waterproof boots. These could be standard children's winter boots, but most parents will also send a pair of rubber boots (or wellies). 
  • Gym shoes, gym shorts and top. Not all schools make children change before gym, particularly in zero class, but most do. If you are organised, you will internalise your child's timetable and send them with a gym bag packed with fresh gym clothes on the days when they have gym.  
  • Spare underwear. Your child may still not have a 100 percent hit rate when it comes to making the toilet in time, especially in an unfamiliar setting, so one or more spare pairs of underwear are advisable. 
  • A spare pair of trousers/leggings/dress
  • A spare sweatshirt or jumper
  • Gloves/mittens, ideally waterproof. Depending on where you live in Sweden, your child probably won't be needing these for a few months.

It's a good idea to mark the clothes with at least your child's first name. You can buy name tags or namnlappar online where you can write your child's name, school and your phone number to increase the likelihood of things making their way back to you.

But changing rooms in zero class are chaotic places and by the time Christmas comes, you are likely to have lost most of the clothes you sent your child to school with. Most schools will have a lost property box which you can check periodically in the hope of recovering at least some of your child's lost things. 


Unlike in schools in many other countries, schools in Sweden typically supply all stationery. Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/Imagebank Sweden

Do I need to buy them any stationery? 

Unlike when children start school in many other countries, you do not have to send your child to school with stationery or a pencil case. Your child's school may explicitly tell you not to do so. You can buy stationery for home, if you want. 

Do you need to buy textbooks? 

In Sweden, the school is supposed to supply any textbooks, but budgets being what they are, they often don't, with your child instead being given print-outs. If you want to help your child at home, it can be worth finding out what coursebook the class is using and buying the workbook for use at home (but few Swedish parents would actually do this, so don't feel like you have to). 


Can your child bring a soft toy or other toys? 

Soft toys, teddies or other toys are normally not allowed at school (apart from the little ones that hang on backpacks), but the whole class may occasionally be allowed to each bring in a soft toy as a reward on a leksaksdag, or "toy day".

What food or drink does your child need to bring? 

All children in Sweden are fed at school, so they only thing you'll likely need to provide is a fruit and a bottle of water.

We would recommend apples or easily peelable citrus fruits like clementines or satsumas over bananas (which turn to mush in backpacks) or oranges (which require an adult to peel). If you insist on sending bananas, you can buy plastic banana protectors. 

Do you need to come for the first day? 

Schools may have a gathering of children and parents before the start of the the zero class, with each of the parallel classes meeting their teachers along with the parents. Some schools will have already held this at the end of the summer term and parents will also be called in for a separate briefing where they are informed about what is expected of them. 

Can I sit in with my child in class? 

Parents are expected to attend daycares for the inskolning acclimatisation process, but the same is not the case for the start of school. You have no right as a parent to sit in on your child's classes. Many class teachers and headteachers are, however, willing to accommodate parents who feel their child needs support on the first few days, or indeed, who are just curious about how the class works. 


How is it different from dagis? 

Förskoleklass in Sweden is less different from pre-school than you might expect, with the focus very much on training the children to sit in a classroom and other social skills, rather than on reading, writing and maths. Foreign parents impatient for their children to learn to read and write to the same level as children in their home country should be prepared to wait until their child's second year (or the first class) before this starts to happen.  

The big difference from dagis is that school is compulsory, there is a so-called skolplikt, or "school duty", so children are expected to be at school even if their parents are at home, unlike preschool rules where your child is expected to stay home if one or both parents has the day off.

This means the end to your family's four-day weekend breaks in European cities or trips outside of the school holidays.


How strict schools are about this varies and it is hard for them to verify that your child wasn't actually sick on the suspiciously convenient klämdag falling between a public holiday and a weekend.

We would still recommend that you don't take your children out of school, not least due to the fact that parents caught breaking skolplikt can be fined.

After-school activities/care is an extra which you need to pay for. Photo: Ann-sofi Roenkvist/Imagebank Sweden

How do after-school activities work? 

While the length of the school day varies from municipality to municipality for the zero class, it can be as short as four hours, with the compulsory part of school finishing before 2pm. 

Unlike in many countries, the after-school activities part of Swedish schools, called fritids, or "free time", is an optional extra which you need to apply for and pay for (normally a little over 1,000 kronor a month). In addition, a child is not normally eligible for fritids if both parents are not either working or studying. 


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Stephen 2023/08/04 08:33
Very helpful information here.

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