By: Dr. Debbie Rhea
Almost three years later and I’m back in Finland to rejuvenate and explore some more. I have confirmed that Liink has the right purpose and is going in the right direction for children in the U.S. I arrived in Finland five days ago and rented the same apartment I stayed in back in 2012. While here, I have walked the same streets, watched the people, questioned the educators, and reflected on then and now all while having my time for play as well. What I have confirmed again is that physical activity, music, the arts, culinary experiences, the outdoors, leisure time, and especially saunas are still very important to the Finns. I have watched the families gravitate to the outdoors with their children in strollers or playing at a park no matter if it is raining or sunshine, windy and cold, or sunny and warm. The weather doesn’t stop the people from enjoying the outdoors. I also passed many individuals and groups playing their music for enjoyment or for performance. People are happy here. They are less stressed, less anxious, smiling more, and walking everywhere. The very aspects I picked up when I was here in 2012 were resonating with me again on this trip.
From an educational perspective, one aspect of Finnish education which is changing is the decision to add 60 minutes of physical education daily to the school schedule. This is great news! Once again Finland is showing that physical movement is at the root of learning. They have continued to require recess (unstructured, outdoor play) to happen for 15 minutes every hour of the school day. Now they are making sure the structured physical movement patterns are taught daily as well.
One aspect of Finnish education which has not changed is the respect the government gives to all content. Each class taught is considered a content specialization. They do not see art, music, and physical education as electives or specials, but instead see them as important as other content such as language arts, math, history, science, geography, foreign language, and so on. Every content has a number of hours it will be taught per week, but it is up to the teacher how that will happen. Many of the teachers have been teaching content as an interdisciplinary approach (i.e., science and math together) for a few years now because it makes so much sense. Other teachers still teach a content at a time. The Finnish government is emphasizing the need to teach more from an interdisciplinary perspective, although in order for this to happen, the university educators need to train teachers from an interdisciplinary approach as well. This concept will take time to change since we have taught in silos for so long.
The U.S. seems to be moving in the same direction as Finland when discussing interdisciplinary approaches. We are changing at the university level when doing projects and teaching classes, but it’s changing slowly. This change may take more time to impact the K-12 setting to be more interdisciplinary. I do think it’s the right way to go.
So, how is the Liink Project moving in a purposeful direction? We will observe the four recesses embedded in the school day and the character/ethics curriculum embedded three times weekly in four elementary schools this Fall. I visited with Dr. Liisa Hakala from the University of Helsinki today about these two changes taking place in Texas schools. She is the professor I worked with when I was here in 2012. She is very excited to see the results. We hope to see children thriving in the school setting with less anxiety, more confidence, better self-esteem, and better attentional focus as a result of this intervention. Ultimately, students will be able to achieve academically because of better brain function. Only a short time is needed to tell whether the intervention is working or not. Stay tuned.
Have a good summer and play often!