How does Finland prepare children for formal education in early years?

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

How do early childhood educators in Finland prepare children for formal education through playful pedagogy? And is it scientifically proven that play really promotes learning?

What is the mission of ECEC in Finland?

The mission of Early Childhood Education and Care in Finland is to: Promote children’s holistic growth, development, and learning in collaboration with their guardians.

The aim is to nourish and teach children in all learning areas. It is vital that children are happy. Their well-being is the most important thing.

All this work with the children does not work out without engaging the guardians. Effortless, trustworthy, and open communication with the whole family is valued in Finnish early childhood education.


What is essential in ECEC in Finland?

Essential to Early Childhood Education and Care in Finland is: Understanding the importance and pedagogical possibilities of play in the promotion of wellbeing and learning. (Finnish National Agency for Education)

Play is the most important tool in early childhood education. Learning happens through play. Children practice new skills, test their own ideas and theories, process fears, and express feelings in play. Children learn through all those experiences in a natural and most of all - fun - way.


Highly or loosely structured classroom?

Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle state in their book Let children play that a Classroom with rich child-initiated play and a Playful classroom with focused learning brings the best results in learning. Children should be able to explore the classroom with the active presence of educators. Children also benefit greatly if educators guide learning with rich educational activities.

Educators should give plenty of space for children's play, guide it gently and offer materials, tools, and ideas to enrich it. Topics for play should come initially from children, but adult guidance and monitoring are needed.

Talented educators see when the children's play is too free and wild. In those situations, some steering and guidelines are in place. In turn, too many rules and warnings suppress children's ideas and creativity so the educator should not be too controlling either.


What are the positive sides of play?

  • Play promotes the child’s development, learning, and well-being.
  • Play motivates children and brings joy while allowing them to learn new skills.
  • Experiences that stimulate the children’s emotions, curiosity, and interest inspire them to play.

(National Curriculum Guidelines for early education in Finland)


Is it scientifically proven that play actually promotes learning?

Simply, YES.

“Brain health underlie academic performance”.
(National Academy of Sciences, 2013 in Sahlberg, 2019)

“Neuroscientic studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth in
the brain.”

(Pasi Sahlberg, 2019)

According to Pasi Sahlberg:

Play is how children explore, discover, fail, succeed, socialize, and flourish. It is a fundamental element of the human condition. It's the key to giving schoolchildren skills they need to succeed - skills like creativity, innovation, teamwork, focus, resilience, expressiveness, empathy, concentration, and executive function.

Expert organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Centers for Disease Control agree that play and physical activity are critical foundations of childhood, academics, and future skills.


Who is Pasi Sahlberg?

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator, scholar, and the author of Let the children play - For the learning, well-being, and life success of every child (2019).

Introduction about the book Let the children play:

According to a professional association of 67,000 pediatricians, “the lifelong success of children is based on their ability to be creative and to apply the lessons learned from playing.”

But play - including physical activity, the arts, and even free play - is being eliminated in our society and schools and despite the huge financial investment, these education policies have not improved learning.

In Let the Children Play, the authors, both fathers of school-age children, tell how switching countries — Pasi Sahlberg brought his Finnish family to the United States, while William Doyle brought his American family to Finland — shocked them into writing this book.

With research breakthroughs and case histories from Finland, China, Singapore, Scotland, New York, Texas, and around the world, the authors reveal how intellectual and physical play is the ultimate engine of transforming education — the key to giving our children the well-being, happiness, and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century, including curiosity, creativity, teamwork, problem-solving, communication, and empathy.

Written for parents, educators, and policymakers, this book reveals a striking vision of an inspiring future of our children's education - and how to make it happen.


Happy learning!