The Best Early Education in the World
What can the Finnish education system offer?
Why is early education important?
Children are developing their multitude skills and competences during the early years. They are constantly exploring and interacting with their environment and adopting knowledge, attitudes, skills, and ways of interacting in society. Perception of oneself as a learner is adopted in childhood and it will have a significant effect on learning during later years. Learning to learn skills and meta-cognitive competences won’t emerge by when a child enters the school, but require support and practice during the early years. Also positive attitudes towards learning and belief in one’s own capabilities are built already during the early years.
In a high-quality early education program children will feel belonging, appreciation, acceptation and they experience interaction where their needs, questions and interests are taken into consideration. We as educators should respect children’s stage of development and value childhood as a unique state in human life that doesn’t need to be hurried. Small children have the right to be educated by professional teachers who are willing to understand the child’s perspectives, and trained to support a child’s holistic development.
What is the idea of the Finnish early education model?
Finland’s Early Childhood Education and Care model (ECEC) has several underlying values: the rights of the child, intrinsic value of childhood, growth as a human being, equity, equality and diversity of families, and healthy and sustainable way of living. In the Curriculum children’s social, emotional, physical and academic needs are met through a structured program and goal oriented activities. Finnish Early Childhood Education is part of the lifelong learning path that can continue all the way to the highest university degree and continues in the working life.
The child has a right to a high quality ECEC. The purpose of the Finnish ECEC is to meet the needs of a child today and to provide a child with tools for life-long learning. It acknowledges a child’s right to a safe learning environment, which ensures children’s wellbeing, participation and continually provides opportunities for play, learning and recess.
Finland’s National Core Curriculum for ECEC emphasises learning of transversal competences; cognitive, critical thinking and learning skills, cultural and social communication and expression skills, taking care of oneself in daily life, multiliteracy and ICT competence and participation and involvement competences. In practice this means that children are not expected to memorize learning items in order to survive later in primary school. Instead the value of education is found in the joy of learning, in wellbeing that it brings and in development of competence to participate in society that the children already belong to today.
Why is Finnish education so good?
Finland’s National Core Curriculum for ECEC is best on the latest scientific understanding. It is prgressive and revised every 5 years. The National Core Curriculum values childhood as a unique stage in a person’s life cycle. In the Finnish ECEC children can be children, yet they are valued as full members of the society.
Pisa results have shown Finnish education model to be effective. Finnish ECEC supports the forming of deeper understanding and knowledge on abstract concepts instead of rote memorization of single facts. In-service teacher training ensures that all teachers have an up-to-date understanding of the National Core Curriculum.
Sometimes adults forget how important playing is to being human. Purposeful play can create deeper learning experiences that a child can adopt and apply. In FinlandWay®, play is an integrated part of the program and learning happens naturally within the play.
For children the meaning of play is created through the play itself. Play can happen anywhere, anytime and children make sense of the world around them through play. Language skills, mathematics, science subjects, social and cultural studies and physical education can all be taught and learned well within play. In addition to learning traditional school subjects, children acquire learning skills such as initiative taking, collaboration and self-regulation, most effectively through play.
In playful activities children are automatically adapting to the learning and setting the challenge level appropriate for themselves. Even when the activity or learning assignment is presented by the teacher, the children take the initiative to create, to interpret, to shape and to act around the context and the topic of the activity.
A play-based approach supports children’s emotional and social development as play creates a safe environment for the children to express themselves. In play children can make sense of their experiences and emotions. Interaction and cooperation between peers in play is significant for children’s social development. Participation in children’s culture is a child’s right and happens naturally within play. Based on our latest research findings we suggest that play-based activities in ECEC are considered through participation, wellbeing and learning in both an individual child and children in joint meaning making. Different experiences in play offer possibilities to construct thinking processes and practice different skills (Kangas & al 2019).
In FinlandWay program play is not an extra-curricular activity but it is an integrated part of the program from adult led activities to free exploration and play around different themes.
Children view the world around them holistically; they don’t split learning into school subjects. In phenomenon-based learning children can explore concepts that are part of their every-day experiences and the society around them.
The phenomenon-based approach makes learning meaningful to the children. It promotes teaching practices that take children’s interests and starting points into consideration. This is essential to teachers who aim to build teaching and learning on children’s existing knowledge and experiences. Researchers are stating that phenomenon-based learning implies that holistic real phenomena are studied as complete entities, in their real context and from different perspectives or subjects at the same time. In phenomenon-based learning the phenomenon itself is the starting point and object of studying and learning (Lonka 2018).
In a phenomenon-based approach, teaching and learning can be arranged around research topics through a process-oriented approach. Together children and teacher form questions about a chosen phenomenon and look for answers. The teacher supports the children to observe the research topic, to explore it through different learning areas such as mathematics and art and to understand how the topic is related to the world. Shared exploration of a research topic and hands-on activities allow children to be active and to learn by doing. Both the children and the teacher are learning more about the phenomenon that make up their environment when they act together in their environment to understand the phenomenon that is part of it. Learning becomes a shared journey between children, teachers and the learning environment when the learning is organised as a project and documented throughout the process. Documentation of the learning process is conducted by the children and teacher and the results are enjoyed together with the entire learning community and families.
Children are active agents of their own learning; our task as educators is to help them acquire new skills, independence and competences through a pleasant, creative and exploratory process.
Being active requires feelings of ownership of your own daily life and belonging to your own learning community. In the FinlandWay program children’s voices are heard and considered important. Children are supported by teachers to take part in designing their own learning. Through participation children learn to set goals and direct their actions in meaningful and proactive ways. In participatory pedagogy children are never left alone to struggle with their learning but the learning community supports every individual to meet their full potential (Kangas 2016).
Participation itself is a phenomenon of democracy and active citizenship. In early childhood education children are not expected to be able to complete democratic actions on their own but they need teachers’ support to practice and act on their developing skills in class participation and involvement. Participatory skills are:
1) Joy and belonging – a child experiences membership and belonging in the class and is treated respectfully as an individual.
2) Security and feeling of safety – a child experiences safety and feels that teachers and school community protect and support them. Learning environment is safe and appropriate and the atmosphere in class is supportive and equal.
3) Participatory learning – children don’t have participatory skills by nature. Children need to learn the skills of expressing initiatives, being heard, listening to others, negotiating, solving problems and arguments and sharing meanings with others.
4) Having influence and taking part – these democratic aspects of participatory pedagogy emerge in situations where children express their needs, make choices in the classroom, take initiatives and participate in joint decision-making. Also these are supported at the children’s level and teachers support the developing participation skills of the children. (Kangas 2019)
Methods of participatory pedagogy support children to take part, to have influence and to gain the skills that are necessary for thriving in a wider society. Through participatory pedagogy we can educate children to be responsible and willing to change the world for the better.
Our curriculum covers lesson plans and progressive, age-specific learning targets for ages 1-6. It is based on the 2018 national academic curriculum in Finland, covering:
- Languages and Stories (Alphabetisation and Literacy, Communication, Stories and History)
- Exploration (Numeracy and Mathematics, Natural and Social Sciences and Media literature)
- Arts and Performing
- Shared Well-Being (Motor Skills, Physical and Mental well-being, Social well-being)
- Our society (Socioemotional, Participation and Citizenship Skills)
- Values of responsibility, tolerance, empathy, sustainable development and inclusion are deeply embedded in our curriculum design.
Our program is localised and adapted to meet the local needs. FinlandWay® schools are successfully implementing language programs to meet national standards and bilingual and trilingual programs are also arranged.
We take into consideration the needs of specific child groups and individual children. We believe that a successful Early Childhood Education program considers the whole child and supports the starting points of every individual. FinlandWay® curriculum supports inclusive education and is adaptable to diverse needs.
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