For students in Finland the journey of becoming lifelong learners start before school, in Finnish kindergartens. With no homework or mandated standardized tests, they spend their time playing, exploring and learning to learn. As a result, Finland has a 100% literacy level, top performers in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and children who love going to school. We were curious about what makes early education in Finland fun, effective and unique. So during last week’s Fun Learning Educator Training, we asked a group of kindergarten teachers to break it down for us. This is what they had to say.
1. Play-based learning
“Children play a lot. We do have a curriculum and kindergarten’s own plan. But teachers are free to create our own way to work.” – Anna from Tampere, Kindergarten Teacher
Preschoolers in Finland spend their days in the kindergarten playing and exploring. There are of course different types of play such as digital play, active play, creative play, social play and free play. While some of it is structured, for the most part
children are encouraged to play freely and independently with their peers. According to extensive studies play and exploration are the most natural forms of acting and thinking characteristics for children. Therefore, with a predominantly play-based approach Finnish kindergartens integrate different types of play to optimize children’s learning experience. In other words they have mastered the art of making learning fun!
2. Spending quality time outdoors
“We take trips to the forests. Even if we are in the city center we have parks and forests we can go to. Children love that and we have really special moments in there.” – Ulla from Helsinki, Kindergarten Teacher and Manager
Finnish landscape is truly enchanting with an abundance of forests, parks and lakes round every corner. Furthermore, the country also experiences all four seasons from hot summer days to subzero winters. Finnish kindergartens introduce children to the nation’s ever changing climate by spending time outdoors with the kids. Therefore, in every weather toddlers and teachers gear up in appropriate clothing and play outside multiple times a day. They escape into the nature, away from screens, ready-made toys, and the hustle and bustle of life indoors. Often kids make their own toys using sticks and other things they find in nature, which also boosts their creativity and imagination.
3. Dedicated team of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) professionals
“Children have contact with teachers and other adults in the kindergarten a lot. We interact and play with them, and also observe them all the time.” – Maria from Córdoba based in Helsinki, Kindergarten Teacher
Running a Finnish kindergarten is a team effort by a group of highly trained professionals in ECEC. Therefore, this includes teachers, nurses, therapists, special education teachers as
well as other specialists in the field. Children have constant contact with this team of professionals, while continuously interacting with their peers as well. Moreover, each child is given special attention and is closely observed in different situations throughout the day. The kindergarten also maintains a continuous dialog with parents. The aim is to ensure children receive the best possible support to develop their overall well-being at school and at home.
4. Mixed age group pedagogy
“One of the most special things about Finnish kindergartens is the mixed age group pedagogy.” – Essi from Jyväskylä, Kindergarten Teacher
In a Finnish kindergarten you will often find children from the ages 1 to 6 years playing and learning side by side. While children are further divided according to more specific age groups, they spend a lot of time together. Firstly this enables younger children to look up to and learn from their older
counterparts during day to day activities. On the other hand it encourages older children to be more caring, compassionate and empathetic towards the younger students. More importantly, they get to be mentors and role models, taking on the responsibility of leading through example. Our society is made up of people from all ages and different walks of life. Therefore, students in Finnish kindergartens get an excellent orientation to the real world through mixed age group pedagogy.
5. Special focus on emotional skills
“We help children to use their senses and understand how they feel right now. And why they feel this way.” – Salla from Mikkeli, Kindergarten Teacher
Following a holistic approach, early education in Finland strives to develop mental, physical, social and emotional skills of children. This means little children are taught how to use their five sense to understand the world around them. Furthermore, they are guided on how to regulate the feelings
triggered by their senses. If a child sees a beautiful flower and feels happy should he pluck it? If he is frightened by hearing thunder what must he do? Moreover, if he is sad, angry or uncomfortable is it because he is hungry or cold? Or is it something bigger like a fight with a friend or a situation at home? Most importantly, does he know how he is feeling right now can change after a little while? In Finnish kindergartens children discover effective and positive ways to balance their emotions and express themselves.
6. Child-led approach
“In Finland we have a child-led approach. Children know much better how they want to learn.” – Olli from Järvenpää, Kindergarten Teacher, Director and Fun Academy Trainer
The teacher’s role in a Finnish kindergarten is to support and enable learning. Children proactively engage in the learning process taking more control of how they learn. The classrooms are far from the traditional setup of rows of
little desks and chairs where children sit at rigidly, looking up at a teacher who is authoritatively standing over them. Instead teachers sit with students discussing and playing together with them. As a result children quickly identify their own strengths and interests, as well as preferred methods of learning. Thus, when the focus is on ‘how’ kids learn, what they learn or ‘knowledge’ follows naturally in an effortless and fun way.
7. Respecting children and educators as individuals
“Respect is the substantial foundation we have in the education set-up in Finland. We respect students and educators as individuals.” – Saara from Espoo, VP of Education and Master Trainer at Fun Academy and Kindergarten Teacher
In the Finnish education system students and teachers are respected as individuals. Their unique personalities are
celebrated and individuality is treasured. Children are not considered as empty jars to be filled with knowledge or blobs of clay to be molded. Instead they are treated as little sprouts, and nurtured to grow in the direction they prefer. Furthermore, teachers are highly trusted and given the autonomy to decide the best way to teach their own students. Moreover, they are empowered with extensive training, as well as high quality learning resources and tools. Finnish early education is a collaborative effort to help every child become the best versions of themselves within a safe, empowering and fun learning environment.
Watch out for our next week’s blog where we asked kindergarten teachers around the world to describe what Fun learning means to them.
Learn more about Fun Academy Educator Training, and Fun Learning resources and tools curated by our pedagogical experts.