By Corrine Previte, 5th grade teacher
This past summer, I was able to take an Advanced Human Development class at Gordon College towards my masters. One of the assignments was to write a paper pertaining to childhood development. I decided to write about the development of children in the Finnish school system. Why did I decide to research this topic? Finland is one of the top-rated schools in the world and I was curious on why that was. This led me to dive straight into my research.
Over the course of my research I came across a book titled “Teach like Finland” by Timothy Walker. A Boston native himself, decided to take the plunge and teach abroad in Finland for a year. He soon discovered that maybe the Finns were doing something right. For instance, students in Finland take fifteen-minute breaks for every forty-five minutes of instruction. During this time, students usually went outside to play and socialize with friends. Walker had begun to notice that children would come into his classroom with a “bounce in their step” rather than “dragging their feet.” According to Anthony Pellegrini (author of Recess: Its Role in Education and Development) his findings “confirm that frequent breaks boost attentiveness in class” (Walker, 2016, 11). Another professor from McGill University believed that “giving the brain time to rest, through regular breaks, leads to greater productivity and creativity” (Walker, 2016, 13).
After reading this part of the text, I started implementing this strategy into my classroom with my fifth graders and have found that the kids are more motivated to learn and ready to tackle their next task. One of my students stated that “brain breaks are fun, they just help us get ready for things, like tests.”
Another strategy I have used that is recommended by the Finns is mindfulness. I am currently using “Ready, Set, Relax” by Jeffery S. Allen and Roger J. Klein, which is a research based program. According to Teach like Finland, mindfulness not only helps kids remain attentive but it also helps them have greater empathy, emotional control, and optimism. It also helped with their cognitive control and stress physiology and showed “greater decreases in self-reported symptoms of depression and peer-rated aggression” (Walker, 2016, 52). By using this program, I have noticed that after we have done a mindfulness activity, students are more relaxed and able to transition smoothly to the lesson we are about to begin. Students are also eager to do it and want to do 1-2 mindfulness activities before we even begin a lesson. One of my fifth graders stated that mindfulness is “fun, it feels good because we get to sit down and relax after recess, it calms me down. It helps me to stay focused.” Another student stated that “I like it because it relaxes me and makes me feel less stressed.” Overall, as a teacher in the United States, I think we can all learn something from Finnish schools and maybe if we can’t implement all of their suggestions, we can implement some of their techniques in order to create a happy, healthy, and peaceful learning environment.