Well it was a long time coming, but I can finally start to share some of the findings of my Handwriting and Keyboarding survey with you. However, before I start with the survey findings I want to report on my visit to Finland in August and September 2016.
What about Finland?
I was lucky enough to spend five weeks visiting schools and preschools in one of the most beautiful parts of the world that I have ever had the good fortune to visit. At preschool and school all children are provided with a hot meal for lunch that is prepared at the school. All children eat the lunch that is provided. If they have special dietary requirements, the school kitchen can cater for these. Children do not take any food to preschool or school. Lunch is served cafeteria style and children sit at tables and eat with a knife and fork. Children are encouraged to try a little of everything. While visiting, I ate the school lunches and was very impressed with the food and the way the children conducted themselves.
In Finland children go to Preschool the year that they turn six. The school year begins in August as does the preschool year. Six year old children attend preschool every day for four hours for one year and there is no cost to parents. The preschool classrooms I visited had two qualified Early Childhood teachers and two qualified Early Childhood assistants for a class of 20 six year old children. The preschool program is play based and so children spend their day engaged in both structured and unstructured play activities. This varies from: construction with Lego; playing with dolls in the home corner; playing a variety of board-games; completing jig saw puzzles; listening to stories along with creative pursuits like craft, drawing and painting.
At preschool children are taught how to write their names in capital letters. They are also taught the alphabet in capital letters. Preschool is not the place to focus on learning to read, write, or formally engage in mathematics; that starts in school.
The atmosphere is relaxed but busy and very positive. It seemed to me that children would come out of preschool with some very important skills and messages to take with them to school. I have listed these below, in no particular order.
- Listening skills – children learn to be active listeners through the conversations they have with adults and other children as well as listening to stories.
- Attentiveness and concentration – I observed children playing the same board game for 45 minutes and others who worked in pairs or small groups to complete quite complex jig saw puzzles.
- Perseverance – you finish what you start, and then you clean up. If you are playing a board game, you don’t give up because you aren’t winning, you finish the game and the winner packs the game away.
- Sense of self as a learner – children seem to demonstrate positive self-esteem without appearing over confident. The feedback they receive is based on ‘having a go’ not getting the best score. They are however normal children, so there is always some healthy competition. There is no ‘testing’ but the teachers interview each child from time to time to find out what things they would like to explore.
- Creativity – children are encouraged to draw, paint and to make things using craft materials. They are provided with beautiful quality resources (e.g. pastels and paints) and are given the time and support to be creative.
- The alphabet (in capital letters) and how to write their names (also in Capital letters). While the program is very relaxed, children are exposed to writing and reading and teachers told me that 25% children ‘accidentally learn to read and write’ at preschool.
- Fine motor skills develop through the drawing, craft and art activities. Interestingly, children are taught how to hold a pencil during drawing rather than writing. They do far more drawing than writing at this stage in their learning and drawing provides lots of opportunities to develop pencil grip, without the pressures of learning to write at the same time
- How to work with books – children listen to stories and handle books in a very relaxed way.
- Respect for their teachers and other children.
While none of the above are surprising, I remind you, that these children are in preschool the year they turn six years of age and given that the school year starts in August, many can be 6 ½ before starting preschool. My next posting will look at starting school in Finland and discuss how writing is introduced to children in the first year of school.