The Finnish way to a happier childhood - Putting Children First

It is snowing! Transforming our landscapes, and hopefully proving fun for the children.

As I look out and see the snowflakes dancing in the sunshine, I am reminded of my past winter trips to Finland, where I have family and friends. Where, because they are used to very low temperatures and permanent snow across the winter and early spring, snow does not stop anything, transport, schools, health, businesses and of course, most important for children, their nurseries, after school clubs, and youth leisure and sports activities.

I know Finland is good at promoting children's happiness, by trusting teachers, no testing until one final exam, regular outdoor play breaks, free hot meals, lots of play and leisure after school clubs (not costly to parents) all make for happier children - and this is another reason why we need school age childcare to be saved now, to be there and ready to expand to support children when we get out of this pandemic.

At a time when we are pushing for better support to the school age childcare sector in Scotland, as we know many are under real threat of closing completely, one of the things I reflect on is just how important the sector is now, but also how even more important it should be in the future.

You will be needed to help children recover from perhaps the most traumatic time of their lives. And to be part of rebuilding a better balance in society for children and families.

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The School Day Debate

There are media headlines right now about extending the school day/terms to help children “catch up” on “learning loss”. For beleaguered teachers trying to provide online home learning classes and teaching children in class because of their own needs, or family keyworker status, this must be the final straw in terms of lack of appreciation of what they have been doing for the whole last year.

We at SOSCN do appreciate and thank teaching staff for your support and for working together with colleagues in the school age childcare sector to support children and families in your joint care.

Children learn, of course, through formal instruction, from those trained in how to do this well, but they also learn from good relationships with their family, and through play, social connection and strong and happy relationships with each other and the staff in school age childcare too.

Children are learning all the time, in different ways

The Covid 19 Coronavirus restrictions and effects have meant so many are learning about loss, fear, and isolation, with all existing inequalities exacerbated, and felt far more keenly. Children from across all the social divides are collectively, children of the pandemic, all are affected, and many will need help in the future.

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Putting Children First

The Baby box is rightly a success in Scotland, Finland provided this well over 20 years ago, and their education system may also be worth copying in part too!

Children start school at a later age, but with free access to nurseries early on, their school day is shorter, with frequent breaks for outdoor play and a free nutritious hot lunch. There is a range of play based after school clubs, often located in parks, so children can play inside or out. For teenagers, there are sports and leisure activities on offer, but they are trusted to be home by themselves too.

Teachers are highly respected and generally are trusted to deliver their own curriculum, with some regional guidelines, there is extra support for children who need it, and children are not tested, with only one exam at the end of schooling.

Despite the shorter terms, school days, and years of formal education, Finland is usually high on the PISA scoring system, although that is not their primary aim, instead, their goal is for children to have a happy childhood, in a holistic way, which addresses their physical needs, social, emotional, and intellectual development and which addresses inequalities too. Those types of aims are not far away from the Getting it Right for Every Child approach, embedded in our Curriculum for Excellence too. And, of course, The Promise, made to every care experienced children and young people.

School age childcare services, holiday clubs, outdoor play services, youth and leisure services are an integral part of the childhood of children in Finland, so there is a model which can be adapted for Scotland. This model gives our teaching and childcare professionals better respect, state supported sustainability of services that children need, and places to go to feel safe, loved and appreciated.

This also gives families recovery time to rebuild their lives after the pressures on everyone in the past year.

If we are a country putting children first, then all school age childcare services should be well supported in the first place, for the sake of children's wellbeing and development and joy in life. This then enables parents to work, reducing the effects of lower incomes, supports gender equality and overall must be part of the infrastructure to rebuild the economy.

Irene Audain MBE Chief Executive


My sources for the Finland facts in this blog are from extensive research we did on Finland's education and play sectors for the Learning About Play Report (Summarised here) some years ago, information directly from friends and relatives in Finland, and inspired by this recent, short, article in TES.

Coronavirus: What our schools can learn from Finland's education system | Tes by Gemma Clarke

last updated: 10/02/2021