Early childhood education and care
Day-care institutions for pre-school children
Children of pre-school age attend day-care institutions. All the Nordic countries offer both full- and part-time places. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring that a sufficient number of places are available. Private childcare schemes are also available.
In Denmark, Finland and Norway cash allowances are available for parents looking after their children in their own homes. The rules differ slightly between the three countries.
National rules on childhood education and care
The national childcare guarantee adopted in 2004 means that local authorities are obliged to supply places in age-appropriate day-care facilities for all children from the age of 26 weeks until school start.
Parents are also entitled to choose a place in a day-care facility in another local authority area. However, local councils may, for capacity reasons, decide to close waiting lists to children from other areas.
Local authorities are not legally obliged to provide all children with day-care.
All children under school-age have a subjective right to early childhood education and care. Early childhood education and care is part of the Finnish education system. The Finnish early childhood and care is based on an integrated approach to care, education and teaching, the so-called “educare” model, with particular emphasis on pedagogy.
Parents may also apply to the local authority for a subsidy for childcare in a private home. The Social Insurance Institution pays the amount directly to the institution/private individual looking after the child/children.
Some local authorities subsidise for young children being placed in family day-care while they are waiting for a place in a preschool. Rules and amounts vary. Act on preschool states that local authorities take the lead in providing a preschool place. It varies then between local authorities at each time what age that occurs.
The local authorities are obliged to provide places in kindergartens. Children turning one before the end of August are, upon application, entitled to a place in a kindergarten in their local authority area from August that year.
Pre-school activities include all activities for children from the age of one year until school start. These may take place in “pre-school”, family day-care or day-care institutions with pre-school activities. Local authorities are obliged to provide pre-school activities or family day-care to children whose parents work or study, children whose parents are unemployed or on parental leave. In such cases, children must be offered at least three hours per day or 15 hours per week. Pre-school activities are also provided for other children in need of such activities.
Places must be provided without any unnecessary delay, i.e. within four months of enrolment. Local authorities must take into consideration parents’ wishes regarding the type of childcare, and the place provided should be as close to the child’s home as possible.
In addition, all children must be offered at least 525 hours free of charge at a pre-school from autumn of the year in which they turn three (known as “ordinary pre-school”). Since 1 July 2009, family day-care homes have been replaced by a holistic and flexible family day-care concept known as “educational care”.
Children enrolled in day-care institutions and publicly financed day-care
The number of children covered by day-care schemes in day-care institutions and family day-care varies from country to country. The reasons for this include the extent of unemployment in the area, and the fact that for example the youngest pupils in pre-school classes in Denmark also spend time in youth centres and school clubs after – and, in many places, before – school.
The small figures for one- and two-year-olds in Finland are due to the home-care allowance option. In other words, parents on parental leave often care for more than one child at home. The entitlement to the allowance lasts until the youngest child turns three years old. The youngest child’s siblings, if they are also cared for at home, are entitled to the allowance until they start school. The long parental leave period in Sweden also affects the figures.
In all the Nordic countries, local authorities provide family day-care schemes, largely for pre-school children. Under these schemes, local authorities employ and pay child-minders to look after the children in their homes.
As is the case with day-care institutions, parents pay to have their children looked after in family day-care. Private family day-care is also available in all the countries, but only Norway subsidises it. Except for of Sweden, the Nordic social statistics do not include these types of childcares.
In several of the countries, special classes are provided to prepare young children for school. However, these operate according to somewhat different rules. Outside of school hours, children may participate in after-school clubs or attend day-care institutions.
In Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden the compulsory education starts in the year when a child reaches the age of six. In Finland and the Faroe Islands, it is at age seven.
Rules on pre-school classes in some Nordic countries
The pre-school class is subject to compulsory educational requirements. Over a year, this amounts to at least 1 200 class hours, corresponding to an average of 28 hours per week, divided into 45-minute lessons, over a period of 40 weeks.
Only a few schools provide pre-school classes.
Six-year-olds are entitled to a pre-school place free of charge, comprising 700 hours per year. Participation used to be voluntary but became compulsory in August 2015. However, prior to this change, nearly all six-year-olds were already enrolled in pre-school education.
From autumn 2018, the pre-school class is an obligatory part of primary school. Prior to that primary school was voluntary.
Day-care for children of school age
All the countries provide day-care options for children of school age. These consist of either special youth centres or integrated institutions that also care for pre-school children. In Norway, the school sector is responsible for the development of after-school clubs.
This is also generally the case in Denmark, Iceland and Sweden, but the options vary from one local authority to another. Different upper age limits are placed on entitlement to places at youth centres/after-school clubs.
User charges for childcare
In all the Nordic countries, parents are required to contribute to the costs of places in day-care institutions and of day-care in general. The amount of the charge usually depends on family income. In Iceland the cost does not depend on income, but cost can vary i.e. single parent households do often pay lower costs.
If parents have more than one child in day-care, a youth club or an after-school club, discounts are often given for siblings.
In all the countries except Sweden, children of parents with very low incomes may be assigned a place in a day-care institution or day-care free of charge. In all the countries, the charge may not exceed the actual cost.
In all the countries except Iceland, national rules govern user charges for childcare.