What do language, penmanship and sitting still have in common? They are all essential life skills that are practiced from an early age in Finnish early childhood education. At Daycare Ågeli, Moomin Language School brings English into the daily routines for holistic language learning.
A group of three-year-olds is practicing forming a circle and sitting still. The air is vibrant with excitement: finally they, too, get to start learning English with Moomin Language School. The Little My doll goes from child to child in the circle and everyone gets to introduce themselves in English or Swedish.
Then sitting still becomes too much; it’s time to move. The teacher takes out a drum and asks the children how they want to move around the classroom. “Like a bear!” comes the reply. Suddenly everyone is a bear cub walking around the room as the drum beats the rhythm. When the beat stops, everyone shouts in English “My name is…” and their name. Next the children want to imitate rabbits, mice, cats and snakes, and slowly even the shyest children find the courage to introduce themselves in English. Shouts of “My name is…” fill the room.
Learning like a three-year-old
A three-year-old learns typically by moving, playing and being active. Sometimes we work in small groups of three or four children, and other times all children are in one big group. We don’t always have the time (or the energy) to do everything in one go, in which case we divide the playful lesson into two smaller sessions.
This time, the topic of the lesson is buildings. At the end of the session, the children get to pick a coloring picture that most reminds them of their home. Then they gather around the table and practice holding the pen the correct way while coloring. As they color, children eagerly share stories of their own homes. “Our house is red and the door is blue,” one explains while coloring the picture red. “Here is our dog, yes, and here’s mom, dad, and me,” the child continues. The red pen moves to draw various circles next to the house to denote the mentioned characters.
Another child squeezes the coloring pen tightly in their small fist as they color while relating an imaginative story: dogs are fixing the roof while the house is on fire. ”There’s smoke on the ground,” the child explains and draws a line around the house. The next thing to appear is a pig who has come to sniff at the house. The teacher inquires whether the children remember what a house is in English. The reply sounds easily. “What about a home?” the teacher continues. The children take some time thinking about it until one remembers the answer. The word echoes around the table as the children try it out. “Home, yeah. Home.”