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Learning with joy makes Finnish daycares special

jussi hellsten

Jussi Hellsten / Helsinki Marketing

Finnish kindergartens encourage children to be themselves, writes Julia Bushueva.

When I decided that I would move to Finland nine years ago, I certainly had my reasons, among which were the high-quality university education, clean natural environment, security and safety. One reason that I did not have on my radar at that time but that has played a top role since I became a mother almost seven years ago is Finnish preschool education.

Global surveys such as PISA often rank Finnish children among the top performers worldwide. However, the success story starts from the early days – already in daycare.

Children are given a significant amount of freedom at Finnish kindergartens, which motivates them to become independent and self-sufficient. For example, my son started kindergarten when he was 11 months old. There, he learnt to be independent before he started walking – eating by himself, putting on his socks and shoes, and washing his hands.

Finnish kindergartens encourage learning through play and joyful activities. Image: Jussi Hellsten / Helsinki Marketing

Most importantly, Finnish kindergartens allow children to be children. The job of a kindergarten is to give kids space and tools so that they can explore the world at their own speed. Instead of filling out worksheets, kindergarten teachers make sure that kids spend time playing, seamlessly developing language, maths and social skills. In fact, playful learning opportunities, both spontaneous and guided, are required in the Finnish curriculum for kindergartens. The Finnish saying of “what one learns without joy, one forgets without grief” explains this concept in a nutshell.

“The job of a kindergarten is to give kids space and tools so that they can explore the world at their own speed.”

Children spend a sizeable chunk of their day outdoors, getting their hands dirty and learning in the natural environment, even if the weather isn’t the best. Each season brings its own joys – eating snow and icicles, digging in the sand and climbing rocks, walking through puddles or running in the rain. In Finnish kindergartens, children are encouraged to explore nature and be themselves without restrictions. As they say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Fortunately, Finnish children’s clothing is designed for the toughest weather conditions with minimum maintenance – you just brush off the dirt and hang it to dry. Easy peasy!

Children in Finland spend a lot of time outdoors and learn new things about the natural environment. Image: Jussi Hellsten / Helsinki Marketing

Does Finnish kindergarten sound unstructured and disorganised? Do not be deceived – kindergarteners have an activity programme that changes every week and includes singing and playing musical instruments, baking, painting and doing crafts, along with walks to nearby forests and parks. One year before comprehensive school starts, kids in Finland enrol in preschool, where they learn calendar, numbers and letters by playing board games, doing fun tasks and exercises.

Every year, my Why Finland? list gets longer. My top reason, however, has long been Finnish preschool education. When I go to pick up my son from his kindergarten after work, I usually find him with a considerable amount of dirt on his overalls and an equally impressive smile on his face.

Article originally published in February 2019.

Julia Bushueva
Editor-in-chief, Good News from Finland