The pedagogy of ABC – FinlandWay® methods of language learning
Communication and language learning has always been important in early childhood education. The alphabetization is still one of the key areas both parents and school managers look at when choosing the best system and methodology for the children. There are several ways of teaching language skills, but how do we do it in Finland?
First, imagine a classroom of four-year-old children sitting in silence studying white assignment papers with shapes and letters on them, while the teacher observes.
Now imagine a classroom of four-year-old children exploring geometry through building a stronger castle for an imaginary king, and writing a shopping list of equipment and tools with guidance and participation of their teacher.
The first scenario is not only potentially harmful for children’s future motivation towards school, but also unsatisfying for the teacher. The second scenario, however, represents the methodologies of the FinlandWay® Schools.
What does learning future skills look like in early childhood education?
To teach a child to read and write is not about teaching them to repeat letters on paper.
Instead, learning can be made much more meaningful. The World Economic Forum has highlighted cooperation, critical thinking and creativity as future key skills in 2025 jobs. Why not start practising those skills as early as preschool?
As the understanding of future learning skills has changed in the past decades, the knowledge of high-quality teaching has been collected through research and implemented in Finnish early education. In the FinlandWay® programme learning of writing and reading, and the concepts of Phonological and Phonemic awareness are linked with the phenomenon-based learning approach.
Writing words about sports is not meaningful when children are exploring and making scientific inquiries about water. But writing letters in water (where they magically disappear), or painting words on the ground with water is both meaningful and fun in the context.
When children are having a project on technology, they can write letters with computers, print them out and colour in all the letters of their own name.
The big difference between FinlandWay® and the traditional systems is that in the FinlandWay® system teachers carefully pick activities that make the theme, phenomenon, and project come to life.
Understanding language learning through holistic development
Even before children learn to read and identify letters of the alphabet, they can repeat sounds and phonics they hear in spoken language. Pre-reading skills are developing when a child hears a phonic in a word and identifies where the sounds occur in the word.
Creating a secret language in a classroom is an example of a playful and fun way of exploring the phonics around us. Exploring rhymes in children’s everyday life is also an activity supporting the development of phonemic awareness skills. Eventually, when children start to use a pen, they become interested in actual letters and their world of secret symbols.
Phonological awareness refers to the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds of spoken language.
Phonemic awareness is the recognition of basic sounds in speech, and later of the letter-sound relationship.
In the FinlandWay® system the language, alphabet, and vocabulary learning is all connected with meaningful and age-specific communication together with systematic support of children’s Phonemic and Phonological awareness, which are supported from toddlerhood by rhyming and making different sounds. How does a mouse sound? How about a coffee pot? Or shattering ice?
With older children in the FinlandWay® system, phonemic awareness is supported by learning through singing songs and using rhymes in daily activities. Observing items and their features verbally encourages children to get interested in the mystical symbols and sounds of phonics and letters.
We offer children opportunities to see and use letters and phonic sounds in their everyday learning environment. Letter A can be a tent or slide for mice. Developing language awareness requires opportunities to use your personal voice, to whisper, to shout, to speak, and to sing.
Towards the Playful Teaching and Meaningful Learning
Children’s curiosity, creativity and ability to learn through play is universal. In FinlandWay® Schools, children are allowed to stand up and move when learning. They can start learning letters by drawing big shapes using their body, drawing on sand with their fingers and painting letters and words on papers on walls. We may build letters for giants with gym blocks or stones, or miniature letters for mice under the tables. We may even tape black paper under the table, cover the table with black cloth and write with chalk in the darkness and only guess what we’re writing and reveal the results later!
When letters, writing and reading abilities form an adventure for children in preschool, they become something to look forward to even more moving onto the first grade of primary school.
The FinlandWay® pedagogy provides opportunities for children to learn letters, words, writing, and reading through playful activities, where self-regulation and resilience to practice the skill and keep going is more natural because the activities are motivating. They raise curiosity and encourage exploration, are based on imagination, play, and interaction.
The extensive FinlandWay® teacher training equips teachers in our international network of kindergartens to use this unique method of teaching and allow children to learn in the best possible way.