Dialogue

Hans Jacob Sundby: „Children must feel, that they are valuable”

Business card
Name, surname: Hans Jacob Sundby
Father: to five children.
In the free time I like to: run or find a quiet place to be alone. 
Favourite food: rack of lamb (pinnekjøtt in Norwegian) on Christmas eve  
Life motto: always try again. 
What I have learnt from the children: get over it and continue to have fun.  

 

„A good and valuable kindergarten employee is the one, who treats children as subjects – as a person with feelings, intellect and their own thoughts -, not as an object, a thing,” in a conversation about a children-friendly kindergarten says a teacher and a father to five children Hans Jacob Sundby from Norway. His and his wife’s created kindergarten “Creakids” (In Norway - „Læringsverkstedet”) and it’s conception has quickly gained popularity in Norway and abroad, for example, in Latvia. 


Hans Jacob Sundby and Randy Sundby are teachers and they opened their first kindergarten in Norway in the year 2003. All of their five children have studied in their kindergartens are well. When the enthusiastic pair gets asked the question “How many more kindergartens are they planning to open?”, they answer: “How many more children need to hear that they are valuable?”

 

I’ve read that right now you have opened around 150 kindergartens. In which countries are they located? 
Right now we have 230 kindergartens and two schools in Norway, 70 kindergartens and 10 schools in Sweden, two kindergartens in Dubai and four kindergartens in Riga. 

 

How did you decide to open a kindergarten in Latvia? 
An acquaintance of ours, who knew about our kindergartens in Norway, encouraged us to open a kindergarten in an ex-office building. I lived in Riga in the years 1991 and 1992, and I am happy to do something again in this beautiful place. We are very grateful to Daina Kājiņa, our Latvia’s kindergarten manager, because she has created everything that we have in Riga. 

 

Your first kindergarten in Norway opened 16 years ago. In your opinion, what is the main reason, why “Creakids” has such big achievements? 
We opened our first kindergarten in Norway in the year 2003. Right now our kindergartens are attended by around 25 000 children, and we have 6000 employees. Both my wife and me are teachers; my wife Randy is a special educator. Our kindergartens are a 100% family enterprise. From the first day it was clear to us that this company was going to be our life. And, seeing as we have five children, we would want to give our kindergarten philosophy down to the next generations. It is not financial motivation that moves us forward. At first we created our own value platform. And these values aren’t empty billboard or a flyer; they are a live, vibrating culture. From the bottom of our hearts we want to create an environment for the children, where they can flourish and develop. 
The aim of “Creakids” is to develop and lead the best kindergartens in Europe, where our children feel, that they are valuable, where parents feel safe and where our employees have the opportunity to do excellent job. The main idea of  “Creakids” is that every single person is valuable. They are valuable not because of what they do or say, but because of who they are. 
In our kindergartens we use a self-made social competence programme “Heart programme”, that develops the sense of self esteem and promotes social interaction in adults and children. 

 

Did your ideas on what a kindergarten should or should not be come from your own experience in kindergarten? 
I didn’t go to a kindergarten. 

 

And what about your own children? Have they gone to a kindergarten? 
All of our children attended “Creakids” kindergarten. Our oldest children attended the first kindergarten we opened, when me and my wife both still worked there. Our youngest son attended one of our nature kindergartens, where he spent every day for five years outside. He liked it so much! However, after that followed a difficult time, when he needed to adjust to sitting calmly at school. Our son, who has down syndrome was the first child with special needs in our kindergarten. After him a few other kinds with the same syndrome have attended our kindergarten as well. 

 

You have been in many kindergartens in different countries. In your opinion, what are the biggest mistakes or even sins that are done in kindergartens? 
Every kindergarten needs good employees and I am certain that a good and valuable kindergarten employee is the one, who sees children as subjects, not objects. If a child is treated like an object, rather than a human being with feelings, intellect and their own thoughts, then that is the cooperation – in adults eyes children are “things”, that need to be looked after and offered activities, without engaging themselves in them. However, a good educator follows the interests of the children and learning happens through games and fun throughout the day. If children are subjects in the eyes of the adult, they will listen to what they say with interest and they will want to engage and participate in the offered games and activities. 
All of this is about the development of the child’s self esteem and the belief that a child can be taught and helped in creating relationships and cooperation with other children and adults. 

 

In your opinion, what is the best age for children to start kindergarten? Many experts say, that it’s three years, and many parents feel guilty, if they send their child to the kindergarten earlier. 
Every child has to be assessed individually – it’s when he or she feels safe enough to leave their parents and start the contact with other children and adults. I don’t believe that there is one answer and one age that is good for every situation and every child. 
Moreover, many parents don’t have the choice on whether they will stay home with their child or go to work. I believe, that a good kindergarten is capable to support the family and provide the child with a safe environment and caring teachers. The family and the kindergarten have to cooperate. And it is very important, that the kindergarten talks to the parents about their child, inform them about what they did during the day, so that the parents understand how much good their child gets and experiences there. Then the parents won’t feel guilty. 
However, yes, there is the fact that at the start the little human needs a caring and responsible caretaker that is the child’s “safe base” and the foundation, from which the little human can successfully develop – that is according to the attachment theory. Unfortunately, not always do the kids have this stable and safe environment at home. There are children, for whom a good kindergarten can be very helpful. 
The social learning theory highlights that children learn from each other in a social context – through observing and imitating each other. If the circumstance and environment at home means that the child doesn’t have supporting playmates, they definitely will have them at a good kindergarten. 

 

If you decided on opening a school in Latvia, I think, that the families, that already love “Creakids” kindergarten’s philosophy would be very happy. Do you have any plans on opening a school in Riga? 
We entered the school world in the year 2018, and now we have 10 schools in Sweden and 2 in Norway. Right now we don’t have special plans regarding schools in Latvia, but there are all the possibilities to make it happen. 

What do you like in your job the best? And maybe you can tell me what your wife likes to do best in you family enterprise? 
I like the challenges of leading an enterprise, solving different problems, work with different people, while going towards the same goal. I like when I have a big amount of work and then you have to set your priorities and try to think smart. And I also like that the development of “Creakids” is so rapid, and things change fast. 
My wife Randy likes leading seminars to the leaders of education – she has many excellent ideas on how to teach children through games. In these seminars she inspires motivation to see the special in every child, so they can achieve more.

 

The author: Inga Akmentiņa-Smildziņa
Photo: from a personal archive, from left Randi, Ingerlinn, Karolina, Veline, Hans Jacob, from left in front Hans Olai, Hans Julius.

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