Following Finland

Our first days of school


Lou, our two-year-old, started at school on Thursday.  He is attending an “English Playskool” which has Finnish teachers speaking both Finnish and English and about 40 kids ages 3-7. Lou, who will be three in July, is the youngest but so far he is undeterred. When we went on Thursday we thought we were merely going for a visit to tour the place but when the kids in his class were getting dressed to go outside he wanted to go with them. “They are going ice skating,” we were told.

“Does he need skates?” we asked.

“We will have them,” they replied.

“Does he need a helmet?” we asked.

“Ideally yes but, if not, he does not have far to fall,” they replied.  And off he went.

That night at dinner, I asked Lou about ice skating.  “I slipped,” he said.

“I fall down,” he continued.

“I cry,” he added.

“Did you get back up?” I asked.


“Are you excited to go back tomorrow?”  I added.

“Of course!” he said and shoved a big spoonful of peas in his mouth.

My first afternoon at school was a little different. I was in a grade 9 Civics class (15 year-olds) at Normaalikoulu (see above), a secondary (grades 7, 8, 9) and upper secondary (grades 10, 11, 12) school that also serves as a teacher training school. In Jyväskylä it is one of three schools (of the “high school” persuasion as we’d call it in the U.S.) but the only one that is a teacher training school. Marjo, the teacher, was delivering a lesson on price change and inflation to a class of 18, 11 girls and 7 boys.  Her delivery was via some slides, a document camera to project her workbook, and lots of questions which prompted the students to chat in small groups of two and three before they had a silent reading task and an independent Youtube-watching task (each kid at the school has his or her own iPad). The class goes for 45 minutes then there is a 20-minute break (scheduled, every day) then another 45 minutes of class.

First impressions for me… a class I’d enjoy teaching or taking, majority of students were engaged, nothing radically different from what I might be doing in my own classroom except for that 20-minute break in the middle. I walked around the school during the break. Lots of students were on their phones either individually or in small groups. Several students played pool in the main foyer of the school (yes, on a beautiful pool table and, I might add, that hearing the heavy clink of billiards balls hitting one another as I walked down the hall in a school was very comforting). Others went outside for some fresh 0 degree air. The longest break I ever really give my students in a 95-minute class is 3-4 minutes during a transition between activities. Hmmm… will keep an eye on this practice here and in other schools I visit.

Am I excited to go back tomorrow? I asked myself.

Of course! I thought and shoved a big spoonful of peas in my mouth.