Date: Jan 26, 2014 3:00 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: After School With Finland's 1st & 2nd GRADERS

From TAUGHT BY FINLAND [Tim Walker, an American
teacher in Finland, discovering Finnish education
as he teaches in Helsinki], Sunday, January 26,
2014. See
American teacher in Finland, discovering the brilliance of Finnish education



By Tim Walker

"We just think seven- and eight-year-olds should
have free-play in the afternoon. There's no need
for them to do an eight-hour workday." As I
listen to Juulia, an afterschool leader at my
Finnish school, I'm shuffling my feet to keep
warm in the bitter cold. Iltapäiväkerho
(IP-kerho), "Afternoon Club", has just ended and
she's about to head home. It's 4:00 PM.

Juulia is introducing me to a strange new world
where seven- and eight-year-olds spend hours
after school engaged in free-play, pursuing their
interests with friends. These children are
welcome to complete their homework during this
time, but this is never required of them. They
get to choose what they want to do and when.
Nearly 70% of the first and second graders at my
school attend IP-kerho.

This afternoon club is subsidized by the City of
Helsinki and parents only pay 80 euros (a little
more than $100) per child each month. That's
about $5 each day for nearly four hours of
childcare and a snack.

The IP-kerho model is common throughout Finland
and municipalities often subsidize these clubs.
Not all afternoon clubs emphasize free-play, but
many do. IP-kerhos can offer special programs to
the children, too. At my school's afternoon club,
drumming, astronomy, and drama classes have been
offered for a small additional fee. Private clubs
also exist in Finland.

At my school, IP-kerho begins at 12:15 PM every
day. Why so early? First graders often finish
their school days by 12:00. Second graders have
light schedules, too.

In Finland, first and second graders typically
spend just four hours at school each day. At my
American school, this would have been a half-day
schedule! For Finland's youngest students, I've
argued that half-days happen every day.

Since having this realization, I've been on a
mission to understand the other half of the day
for these first and second graders. I decided
that I needed to see my school's afternoon club
in action.

Inside the IP-kerho

Chaos. That's what I'm thinking when I take one
step into one of the playrooms. It's loud and
crowded. Sprawled around the small room are more
than 20 first and second graders, chatting and
moving around boisterously. What I'm noticing
contrasts sharply with my observations in a
Finnish first grade classroom.

But the longer I stand and watch, the more I'm
seeing that there is a sense of order here.
Several first and second graders are huddled
around a table, playing an Angry Birds board
game. There's another table where a handful of
students are coloring and drawing. A couple of
second graders are leaning against the wall and
humming as they leaf through a large atlas. Below
them, two girls quiz each other on math,
scrawling addition problems on a small blackboard.

There's a door along the back wall that leads to
the "quiet room ", a place where students
voluntarily choose to go if they need a peaceful
spot to play. I find three girls whispering as
they snap legos together.

The IP-kerho leader is hanging back and
supervising from a distance. He's available to
the students, but he's not dictating what they
should be doing.

It may be loud and busy, but this is truly the
kind of deep engagement that teachers and parents
long to see. No one's complaining of boredom. I'm
not hearing bickering among the children. And
there's a refreshing absence of screen-time, too.

These are young children who are exercising their
creativity, collaborating with each other, and
naturally developing their blossoming academic
skills. And to think, no one has forced them to
do any of these things. They've made their
choices freely.

Free-Choice: Time, Space, and Materials

Earlier this week, I asked Ritva, a bilingual
first grader, if she liked IP-Kerho. She nodded.
When I pressed her to say why, Ritva didn't miss
a beat, "I get to do what I want."

Choice is at the heart of what I'm seeing during
this afternoon club. These young children are
given freedom to pursue their own interests when
they play.

Although the act of providing time to play is
important, it's not enough in and of itself. The
play-space matters and so do the materials.
Imagine the response of these children if they
were told that they could only play in a
completely empty room. Would anyone expect to see
them engaged in deep play?

At this IP-kerho, the children have three
different places to play and each spot has its
own set of materials. They can go outside to run
around on the playground or the soccer field.
Another option is the gym where students can
shoot hoops, swing on gymnastic rings, and play
floor hockey. As I described earlier, the
children can also choose to spend their time in
one of the well-stocked playrooms.

There are eight IP-kerho leaders who spread out
across these locations. The children choose where
they want to go and when. It's free-play in the
truest sense.

As a first and second grade teacher in the Boston
area, I never saw students this young look so
refreshed after 12:00. The balance of academics
in the morning and play in the afternoon must be
nourishing them.

This afternoon club is providing them with the
time, space, and materials to pursue their
interests freely. These children are glowing on
this half-day. It's heavenly
This is the first blog post in "After the
Half-Day", a series about what happens after
school for Finland's youngest students. Special
thanks to my school's IP-kerho staff for allowing
me to observe their afternoon club and grill them
with questions. In this post, pseudonyms have
been used for the sake of privacy. Photo by
Michael Jastremski (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244