Why Sweden is great for small kids
One of my big worries about moving to Stockholm was whether such a small city would have all the facilities for kids I was use to for Little Bear. In London, we were out every single day we had together. And to avoid going crazy with boredom, that requires a lot of variety and for activities to be affordable and accessible. I felt London was pretty good in that regard, despite the terrible wheel unfriendly transport system. Catering for around 8 to 10 million people, London had the infrastructure to be an ‘out and about’ kind of dad that I needed.
For the first 5 months the plan was for me to look after Little Bear full-time until we settled him into a new pre-school. Stockholm, with a population of around 1 million, was going to be a different beast from our old home. Or so I thought.
The first day we had on our own, when my wife started her new job, we went straight to one of the many ‘Open Pre-schools’ around the City. It was a big hit with Little Bear who, being the oldest there, was happy to be at the centre of all the songs and activities (probably being the only one old enough to understand what was going on). With the overrepresentation of dads, it was also a hit with me.
Contrary to what I’d heard elsewhere, Stockholmers turned out to be very friendly, and it was relatively easy to start to build a new network of friends here over the following months. My one tip if you’re planning on moving here is that it will become significantly easier to make and keep friends if you can speak the language, even badly. That inner cosy and friendly nature of Swedes is not so obvious when they have to speak English, but it all comes out when they’re conversing in their family tongue.
Given the freezing cold weather in Stockholm during November, next on the list was the kids' sections of the Museums. So far, every museum we’ve been to has had a big focus on kids of all ages. From the Technical, Police, Natural History and Maritime Museums, it’s all been about the kids having fun. The logic is pretty much the same. There are activities in each that let your kids be little engineers, police officers, sailors or dinosaurs. There was no limit of enthusiasm from Little Bear for each of these as he started to dictate which one we should go to each morning during breakfast.
‘Junibacken’, whilst costing to get in, is well worth it for small kids. If you live here, annual membership is essential. It’s a play centre themed on Nordic kids’ literature, from a life size Pippi Longstockings house and a giant block building room (my favourite), to a theatre story play grounds and the nationally famous ‘story train’ (Little Bear’s favourite). This place is amazing and it’s something London could really do with.
Initially a little lost in the new city, I finally found a good network of swimming pools (each with fun little ‘splash-pools’ with slides, boats and fountains for non-swimmers), well-stocked children’s libraries and even a trampoline park with toddler times!
There are also a series of ‘park-plays’ (parklek) around the city, where well equipped playgrounds are staffed, full of outdoor toys from bikes to hoops and hockey sets, and complemented by warm indoor areas and outdoor barbeque grills. During the winter, Little Bear made generous use of their free sledges too. Indoors there are free resources for messy play, craft and painting (and essential treats for the grown-ups).
There are no shortage of rules in these places, with kids learning to put their toys back when finished and take off their shoes when inside. I even noticed the kids patiently waiting for each other at the swings and on the bikes. Rules Little Bear hasn’t quite picked up yet. One boy, about 6, waited for Little Bear to finish cycling for about 10 minutes. When I told the Bear his turn was up, the boy said to me that ‘it’s ok, he’s only little, I can wait for him to finish’. That’s great kid, but it only works if my tot is actually conscious of the need to give up the bike within the next hour (he’s not fully Swedish quite yet).
Fancy a bit of walking? The islands of the city are surrounded by forests, so within minutes you can be dragging your tot through the trees and fields on a sledge (or running after them if it’s downhill).
Talking to friends living in other cities in Sweden, the other larger cities seem similarly well equipped for week-day parenting. I’m very happy to say that my initial fears about things to do with Little Bear in Stockholm have proved to be very much unfounded. This city is great for small kids.
Moving from London to Stockholm, this blog is about learning to become a Nordic Dad as I settle Little Bear into his new home
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