The national policies and historical roots of early childhood education (ECE) vary from society to society. In the Nordic countries, early childhood education and care (ECEC) policies have been built in the context of the welfare state. As such, they are closely connected to other welfare policy areas such as social policy, family policy and education policy, in addition to which a close relationship with labour policy is also evident. This article sheds light on the historical roots of Nordic ECEC policies by describing the commonalities and differences between the Nordic countries. The ‘Nordic model’ is commonly described as integrated. Education, teaching and caring form an integrated unit and the term early childhood education and care is therefore typically used when describing the ‘Nordic model’. It is also said to be based on a child-centred, holistic approach with an emphasis on participation, democracy, autonomy and freedom, while its track record of high quality ECE services is considered to be due in part to the use of a well-trained workforce.
The Nordic countries are, however, developing and redefining their ECEC policies in the global economic and cultural context, in which governments have to choose their priorities. Pressure to standardize ECE services is also apparent, and signs of erosion of the key elements of the Nordic model have been seen in recent policy debates. This paper discusses the current direction of Nordic ECE policy making and the future of the Nordic model.