What makes Finnish pedagogy so special? This is a question which we get asked often, and to which there isn’t a simple answer. There are many aspects that make Finnish pedagogy unique, some of which are more easily explained than others. Today we wanted to look at two of those aspects more closely: playful learning and holistic teaching.
To play is to learn
In Finland, the importance of play and playful pedagogy is recognized at the ministry level. Play is a natural way to learn for children and when they play, they are naturally active, engaged and interested in what is going on. These are all prerequisites for effective learning; after all, research shows that our brain doesn’t remember things we find boring. And if you have ever tried to force a child to do something they weren’t interested in, you know what a monumental task that is! So why not utilize something that is inherently interesting to children and that creates the optimal conditions for learning?
There are multiple types of play and each of them is beneficial. For example, drama play allows children to explore real-life situations and emotions in a safe way; sensory play helps children learn about the surrounding physical world; group play develops social skills and cooperation; and fantasy play lets children use their imagination and helps in practicing empathy. Research has also found that children who play are less likely to exhibit problem behavior.
Although giving children free reign to play is not often possible in a teaching situation – after all, teachers have learning objectives to reach – guided play and playful activities can be used to teach almost anything. If you’re revising vocabulary with picture cards, for instance, you could hide the picture cards around the classroom and then begin the lesson by telling children that the picture cards have run away and that the children need to find them – and tell you which cards they found using the target language. Suddenly what could be a boring drilling exercise becomes an exciting search activity.
Teaching the whole child
Another special feature of Finnish education is the idea of holistic pedagogy. It is a multilayered term that, in its simplest form, comes down to taking the whole child into consideration. This has multiple implications for teaching. First of all, it means that a child’s whole being will affect their learning. A child will bring all of themselves to the learning situation, including exhaustion from a poorly slept night or excitement for an upcoming trip. Perhaps the clearest example of this in the Finnish education system is our free school lunches, because hungry children have a hard time focusing during lessons.
Secondly, considering the whole child means understanding that children learn in multiple ways, using multiple skills. For example, learning to write is not just about letter recognition, but also about vocabulary knowledge (language skills) and mastering the pencil grip (motor skills). Thirdly, because children use multiple skills to learn, each learning situation has the potential to teach multiple skills as well. Incorporating movement to a simple vocabulary exercise or turning the target vocabulary into a song is an easy way to add another layer to the activity.
A fourth implication of holistic pedagogy is not just seeing children as the complex beings they are, but also seeing the complex world they live in. The goal of education is to teach children the skills they need to thrive in their lives, and this includes helping them learn to navigate a world where problems are rarely solved with math skills or literary analysis alone. Instead, we use various skills and multiple areas of knowledge to solve the problems we face as individuals and as members of our society. One way Finnish schools help children practice this is organizing projects that bring together multiple subjects.
Playful learning and holistic pedagogy are guiding principles also in Moomin Language School. The younger the children, the more important it is that they get to play. Foreign language learning is wonderfully well suited for playful learning, as well as for teaching many other skills apart from language itself. We don’t expect children to master complex skills such as critical thinking while learning with Moomin Language School, but we can give them the first nudge and a guiding hand on their journey to who they are and how they want to exist in the world.
This text is based on our new fall webinar series that was kicked off today: The New Way to Teach Languages. There are three more parts of the series coming up – you can find the other topics and the signup form here:
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