For more than a decade Finland's education system has been ranked as one of the best in the world (re PISA). Then at the end of 2013 there was concern that their ranking had dropped in some areas.
In January we decided to go to see for ourselves from a more specific perspective - to see whether we could learn from this long established Finnish educational system and to understand why so many Finnish educationalists are not concerned about the worldwide rankings - in the context of Woodland Adventurers - seeing ways to continuously develop our woodland adventures to enhance the experiences for all our visitors, both children and grown-ups.
Scandinavian countries are often famed for spending more time in the outdoors (in all weathers), integrating learning and development between indoor activities and outdoor activities. We determined that there seemed to be an important relevance to Woodland Adventurers in terms of our beliefs, ethos, values and more.
We discussed the general educational system similarities and differences with local Finnish people and we visited a Finnish pre-school / kindergarten - to find out what happens on the ground and whether there really are any significant differences between Finnish education and British education systems for this younger age group.
For context (based on information offered during the visit):
On the surface there wasn't a vast range of obvious differences between the child-care provision in the pre-school in Finland to the many pre-schools that we have observed in UK. However, digging a little deeper and the main differences observed existed in the approach of the staff who enabled the children more freedom to explore their own learning journeys, including exploring their own management of risk and experiencing more natural environments in all weathers. The approach of both the staff and parents was more focused on allowing the children to have positive experiences in environments that are natural in Finland, where they live i.e their home. In fact even the suggestion of not going outside was considered strange and unnatural, whatever the weather and temperature. When asked "how much time do the children spend outdoors?" the staff looked puzzled and struggled with understanding, the reason being that there is a genuine free flow and the children go outside when they want to go outside, unlike the UK where a special session is arranged called "Forest School" or "welly walk" or otherwise. On many days in Finland, the children will spend half their day outside whatever the weather and in finer weathers, often all their days. There were some subtle and important differences in that the children were provided appropriate outdoor clothing by their parents as a matter of course and when the children decided to go outside, they dressed / changed themselves with minimal / no staff involvement.
This appeared to result in happy and attentive children who were not under a time pressure to finish an interesting activity so that they can move on to the next curriculum topic so that they achieved the requirements, measures and tests of a Governmental organisation such as OFSTED. The children were allowed choice and freedom too explore their activities, their environments and their own interests (where the staff were more facilitators rather than teachers) without pressure to keep moving on.
So for Woodland Adventurers - it was reassuring to see others embracing the outdoors as a normal natural place to be, for learning, playing, exploring, adventuring and having fun. Coming back to the UK and reflecting - the outdoors is so much more natural than the artificial indoors and yet so many people spend vast lengths of time hidden away in the comfort of their four walls in the UK. We should embrace our natural weathers, breathe the fresh air and allow our children to explore more naturally - as whether we like it or not, we live in a country with diverse weathers and we should be enabling our children to embrace such weathers and live their lives full of real sensory and exciting experiences.
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