“Teacher’s role is tutoring, coaching, setting of questions, supporting. We have a very famous approach – scaffolding.”
In the middle of the forest there is a preschool/kindergarten that has no running water, no electricity, and only a stove for heat. It’s a cottage school and the children have their classes outside even if it’s raining, snowing or many degrees below freezing. If it’s cold, the children put on another layer of clothes. If it’s wet, they wear a layer of plastic. Every day, as is the Finnish tradition, the children are given a warm and healthy lunch. For these children, their warm lunch has to be delivered to the middle of the forest.
Even by Finnish standards, this remote and simple school is an exception to the rule. This may be the only preschool/kindergarten in Finland like this.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit this school myself; there had been so many visitors to the school that the teacher had to ask visitors not to come. Sari-Havu-Nuutinen, a researcher from the University of Eastern Finland, told me that when she visited the school the children had been studying snowflakes – they caught them in the air, they observed them with a magnifier, and they compared the snowflakes with pictures in a book.
Students packed one-liter containers with snow, heated the containers over a fire, and tried to figure out why each container left behind a different amount of liquid water.
They used milk cartons to make colored ice blocks and sculptures, and built sticks their own height to find things in the forest their same size.
Sari and I had long discussions about how Finns approach early childhood education and the name of the Russian theorist, Lev Vgotsky, kept coming up. I found Vgotsky’s pedagogical approach to be consistent with the teaching methods in many of the compulsory, high school, and university classrooms I visited throughout Finland.
What is the role of the teacher in this environment?
“Teacher’s role is tutoring, coaching, setting of questions, supporting. We have a very famous approach – scaffolding. It is a lot of scaffolding – setting new environments, new tools, new materials for the children to go on their own. It’s not giving answers or presenting the answers; it’s just providing the learning environment for them.”
Can you give me a specific example of what children had to solve and what the teacher did?
“In the early years there are many typical…problems. In this time for example I always say to the teachers the winter is a very special time for us and (the) seasonal changes, for example. So in short experiment, for example, we can look at the state of water, we ask children to go outside and explore the snow and then they go out and look what kind of snow and what we can do and then they notice, “Teacher, the snow is melting! We don’t have any snow!” And then we can say, “Why is it happening?” So the role of teacher is setting the questions, “Why” especially and then they probably set a question or answer and then the teacher can provide “Let’s try! Let’s make an experience” and the children often, because they are curious and they are interested in these things they want to go on.”