Finland is often applauded for its great education system. Earlier this year the Finns announced the intention to move towards* secondary education that is topic-based, rather than subject-based in order to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of real-world problems. Finnish educators hope teaching in this way will help students draw connections between disciplines and find previously undiscovered areas of interest. A similar strategy applies to the Finnish approach to the youngest learners. Rather than focusing on math and literacy, Finnish kindergartens are all about play.

In his Atlantic article, Tim Walker describes seeing both free play and more pedagogically focused play in Finnish kindergartens. Both kinds of play are explicitly required and are being emphasized even more in the newest version of the curriculum. Walker writes:

“‘Play is a very efficient way of learning for children,’ she told me. ‘And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy.’

The word ‘joy’ caught me off guard—I’m certainly not used to hearing the word in conversations about education in America, where I received my training and taught for several years. But Holappa, detecting my surprise, reiterated that the country’s early-childhood education program indeed places a heavy emphasis on ‘joy,’ which along with play is explicitly written into the curriculum as a learning concept. ‘There’s an old Finnish saying,’ Holappa said. ‘Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.'”

Kindergarten: While American Kids Read, Their Finnish Peers Play

Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom. Please consider disabling it for our site, or supporting our work in one of these ways Subscribe Now > “The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me.

*This post has been modified to reflect that Finland has not yet rolled out topic-based secondary education across the country, but is moving in that direction.

  • Carrie Birmingham

    I absolutely agree with your main point, 100%, and I am grateful for your work here. But in our efforts to improve children’s lives, we should be careful to be accurate with our evidence. Finland’s schools did not make all secondary education topic based, but they have begun to make some secondary education topic based. Take it here, straight from the Finns: http://www.oph.fi/english/current_issues/101/0/subject_teaching_in_finnish_schools_is_not_being_abolished

    • Katrina Schwartz

      Thanks for pointing out that very important detail, Carrie. The post has been updated to reflect a move towards interdisciplinary learning without implying it is already happening everywhere in Finland.

      • Carrie Birmingham

        I feel so listened-to! 🙂

  • Justin Wolf

    The pessimist in me says we have not moved to play-based learning because companies involved in education have yet to define a revenue model around it.

  • Bo Mielczak

    Good to know, but do you know that Finland is the size of a half of Ney York city, very monogamic in culture and race. Although they have also emigrants (3.7%), but they are mainly from Europe, hand picked with a high market place value. They have very strick emigration law. They do not accept more than 10 000 emigrants a year.Education system is centralized starting at baby age, lead by Finish Education Ministry. After the 9 th grade they either follow the college track or vocational school (3years). Teachers must have Masters degree, their profession is very respected, well paid and very competitive ( only 10% applicants make it). Teachers are paid higher than people holding comparable degrees. Their education system is tuition free. Finland and U.S. Are as far apart as they can be. What works there, most probably will not work here. So as I said- it is nice to know about different educational ideas.

    • Jeff Turple

      Finland is half the size of NYC? Perhaps you are thinking population, but even that isn’t true. If you are going to make an argument, at least make sure you have your facts straight.

      • Bo Mielczak

        Obviously, I’m talking about population-Finland 5.5 millions, New York 8.5 million, metropolitan about 20 million, so I was not much mistaken, but this is not important in my argument. By the way, do you even know where is Finland located?

        • Jeff Turple

          I know exactly where Finland is. I think your argument about emigration is weak. Is emigration directly correlated to good ideology? I think it is typical Americanism to think your ideology around is education is correct. Finland has proven that their educational system, although unorthodox, is very successful. Can you say the same about yours?

          • Bo Mielczak

            Actually, I’m not American,but eastereuropean. I see I cannot make any thinking short cuts and estimations. My point was that it is easy to do AYTHING in society that everyone (including brainwashed children by education ministry through their national curricula) looks the same, marches the same, breathes the same and therefore has high level of culture and is size of roughly of the New York City. As I said- it is nice to know it, but comparing and wishing for US without knowing all the background (I’m not claiming to know all) is complete utopia and actually just funny.

  • Javier Gaspoz

    What the…! This article doesn’t answer the question introduced in the title. It doesn’t even address it in the text! That’s misleading and bad form. Please change the title of this article.

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