How is Play important in Finnish education? 

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Finnish Education in India

For the past decade, play and playful learning have been used in the media as examples of the excellence of Finnish early childhood education and as a concept of the nature of Nordic education. In the Children First – Designing Sustainable Early Childhood Education conference, play and playful pedagogy are viewed as critical components of adapting and changing learning cultures to meet future challenges.

In Finnish pedagogy learning objectives, the definition of play as a space for learning, interaction, wellbeing, and creativity is emphasized at the national curriculum level, which guides practices and shapes teacher education programs. Play has been shown to increase joy and pleasure, making it a motivating activity that should not be used solely to achieve cognitive learning goals.

“Learning is also conceived in terms of the child’s active agency. Learning is all-encompassing and occurs everywhere. Children learn through play, movement, exploration, working on various assignments, and expressing themselves, as well as through arts-based activities… Play is important for the learning of young children in early childhood education and care. It motivates and delights the children while allowing them to learn and acquire new skills. It is critical in early childhood education and care to understand both the intrinsic value of play for children and the pedagogical significance of play in learning and children’s holistic growth and wellbeing.” (Chapter 2.5, Conception of Learning, National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education)

According to David Whitebread, director of the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning at the University of Cambridge, play at this stage of child development can successfully engage them in the process of learning. When children are engaged in a task they enjoy, whether it is acting out a story or building a structure, they become motivated to constantly refine and improve their task and to increase the challenge. “You can see how play can help children become powerful learners from a psychological standpoint,” he says.

Importantly, in Finland, early childhood care is designed and funded to ensure high uptake: every child has a legal right to high-quality pre-school care. Children from various backgrounds attend Franzenia, as do all daycare centers. Fees for five-day, 40-hour-a-week care are capped at a maximum of €290 (£250) per month (free for those on low incomes). Daycare is used by approximately 40% of 1-3-year-olds and 75% of 3-5-year-olds. Optional pre-school enrollment at the age of six is 98%. Daycare, which was envisioned in the 1970s as a way to get mothers back into the workforce, has also become about “lifelong learning and how we prepare young children,” according to Marjoniemi.

The latest round of budget cuts to Finnish education is €2 billion, or 8%, but early years and primary schools – the bedrock of the system and the point where learning skills can be most successfully embedded – have been relatively protected, according to the OAJ.

Play is more than just play

Every modern society recognizes the value of play in the development of children. However, how play is interpreted in the early education context; what type of role it is given in everyday work or teaching method varies depending on the country’s cultural, social, and political context. In Finland, we approach play through a sociocultural lens to understand educational practices in a specific time and context, and we do so by fostering dialogue between educational cultures.

As a result, it is critical to define and reflect on the concepts of play and playful learning before setting goals for it. Play can be imagined, dynamic, interactive, enjoyable, relaxing, developing, motivating, or creative.

For years, teachers and teacher trainers in Finland have described children in play as more competent and skilled than in other areas of their lives (following Vygotsky naturally). More importantly, the goal is to comprehend what has to do with learning and, later, teaching. To understand Finnish teachers’ perspectives on playful learning, we must first examine their understanding and values of children. In Finland, children are viewed as competent and active agents who shape their own learning, environment, and social structures. Finnish people, like other Nordic education experts, see children as beings rather than becomings.

This means that in the context of early education, children’s self-initiated actions, interests, emotions, and interactions are respected.

Children are scaffolded to make meanings rather than giving correct answers, to discuss and demonstrate their concepts rather than listening and memorizing, and finally to be creative and design their own learning rather than following teachers’ guidance. All of this shapes educational practices and transforms Finnish kindergartens into places of playful learning. However, and it goes without saying, Finnish early childhood education is not without academic, social, and motoric goals, nor should it be!

Teachers guide their students in math, language, natural science (called environmental science until the third grade), ethics, arts, and physical education. The secret is that teachers value children’s conceptions and prior knowledge and create a learning environment in the classroom with activities based on playful interaction and pragmatic experiences in which children can explore, create, and make learning happen.

Individual children’s learning processes can vary in Finnish classroom activities, and the process – not the learning outcome – is critical for both the children and their teachers. The new national curriculum defines Finnish early childhood education culture as “culture that encourages children to play and recognizes the importance of play for a child’s well-being.”

A recent publication on play in various cultural contexts challenges teachers, directors, developers, pedagogical experts, and researchers to define their concepts of play in order to reflect the environment and culture of early childhood education:

Because of differences in culture and context, as well as steering documents, descriptions of play, free play, and play-based learning may differ across countries.

Play in early childhood education activities is planned differently in different countries based on cultural understandings and guiding documents.

The teacher’s and the child’s roles in play may also differ. Some countries may advocate for increased teacher involvement, whereas others may advocate for increased child choice.

Space and time are important considerations when it comes to play. Some countries, such as Australia, may have fluid understandings of the role of space and time in play, whereas others may be more rigid (such as Finland).

Parents’ roles in early childhood education may also differ. Some countries welcome parents to stay and participate in activities with their child, while others do not encourage parents to participate in play.

Thus, the Children First conference, as well as other symposiums, meetings, and conferences, are important spaces for cultural discussion of play, play-based learning, and playful teaching in general, as well as for collaborative meaning-making and critical reflections on early childhood education policies, practices, and research.

Allowing researchers to debate and review each other’s research-based conclusions about what, where, and why play is important in education is not only beneficial. It is also insufficient to concentrate solely on descriptions and narratives of pedagogical practices.

Conclusion

High-quality educational practices in the field of play, as well as policies that encourage playful learning in practice, are not to be copied from other organizations, institutions, schools, or countries. They emerge as a result of ongoing processes of reflection, discourse, and development in a multivocal and dynamic community.

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