The benefits of a Finnish preschool model for young Australians
The benefits of a Finnish preschool model for young Australians
Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for the fourth year running, and although there are multiple reasons for this, the Finns’ positive outlook starts early in life.
The Finnish education system is famed for its focus on play, physical activity and creativity in a child’s first six years, rather than academia, and before school starts at the age of seven, there’s lots of time to engage in the joy of learning.
Littlies are given the freedom to make choices, have fun and learn on the run, and we’re pleased to report that children outside of Finland can also enjoy the nation’s uplifting approach to early education.
HEI Schools is a Finnish preschool concept that’s offered in Australia and around the world, and to learn more about the ‘HEI Way’ – and two early learning centres that are opening in NSW – we spoke with HEI Schools Australia.
What is the thinking behind HEI Schools?
Our philosophy and values are based on Nordic values of equality and openness, and the HEI Schools concept is inspired by Finnish early childhood education which enhances the child’s perspective, active participation and sense of curiosity and creativity.
At HEI Schools, we wish to foster a child’s holistic growth, and our centres unite the best of both worlds by combining the Australian Early Years Learning Framework with the HEI Schools Curriculum.
The HEI Schools Curriculum is a world-renowned Finnish early education programme that’s based on the latest research in education and pedagogy from the University of Helsinki, which is a co-founder of HEI Schools.
What do young children learn with the HEI Way?
In everything we do, we aim to promote these things:
- Curiosity and creativity
We believe that having less clutter promotes a child’s natural creativity, so we use open-ended resources and place emphasis on quality over quantity.
And while we do follow a curriculum, this curriculum is tailored in a way that enables our educators to base their activities around what children are interested in and curious about.
- Active participation
This relates to a sense of competence, ownership and commitment.
Our educators are trained to foster a sense of belonging and ownership among the children, where what they do makes a difference.
They promote the children’s active role and participation in daily activities and provide opportunities for the children to choose and make a difference.
- A culture of trust
Our centres foster an environment of mutual respect, reliance on each other, listening and being heard, predictability, understanding and shared responsibility.
We design inclusive spaces where dignity and safety are the norm, and diversity is recognised and embraced.
Our heartfelt culture of trust is grounded in reliable practices and routines, as well as the possibility to venture outside these practices and routines.
- A sustainable way of living
Finns have a strong connection to nature, and at HEI Schools, we place great emphasis on environmental awareness and spend a lot of time outdoors, with regular scheduled excursions into nature.
Our Australian educators have participated in a micro-farming workshop and are currently undergoing regular training in urban agriculture (learning to grow food in urban areas), which will then be implemented in HEI Schools to educate children.
The training is delivered by the Bendigo Kangan Institute and it includes:
- Composting techniques, using recycled materials
- Sourcing and using local materials
- Acquiring, maintaining and the fertilisation of soil for different plant species suitable for a child care environment
- Selecting suitable plants and maintaining them
- Drainage, collection and re-use of water
- New technologies for vertical gardens and rooftop gardens.
Our toys and learning materials are made from natural and sustainable materials, and this practice extends to our purpose-built facilities, which are also naturally and sustainably made, starting with our floors, which are made from 100 per cent natural, recycled materials, such as cork.
We also educate our children on the importance of recycling materials and waste.
- Learning happens everywhere and all the time
We recognise that so much learning takes place in the simple, everyday moments of a day.
Children learn while they are eating, putting on their shoes, buttoning their coats, waiting in line and even resting, and our educators are trained to seek out these learning opportunities and support and extend the children’s learning.
As part of this, we encourage children to be independent – to dress themselves, eat independently and make independent decisions, which educators then support and guide as necessary.
What qualifications do HEI Schools educators have?
All of our educators have the necessary qualifications as per Australian government guidelines for positions in early childhood education.
Additionally, our staff receive regular teacher training from Finland.
Our educators are provided with teaching plans and interactive materials, based on the latest research into early childhood education, and our pedagogical team regularly meets with educators to enhance the quality of their teaching.
There are three HEI Schools early learning centres operating in Victoria.
When did the Finnish approach first come to Australia, and what positive feedback have you received from Australian parents and children so far?
HEI Schools established its first centre – our HEI Emerald Early Learning Centre – in Victoria in February 2019. The location was chosen for its quaint country village style and abundant community spirit.
Since 2019, we have built a strong community network of Australian parents and carers who value a child’s fundamental right to play, learn and develop.
Families share our Facebook page with friends, leave positive comments on it, and come out to support different events at the centres.
One mum, Emma Stratton, says, ‘My kids absolutely love attending HEI Schools. The learning programs and regular excursions keep them entertained and engaged without over-stimulating them. What a fabulous learning environment! The before and after school care, including transport, is an added bonus.’
While another parent, Raman Purba, says, ‘I just feel like HEI Schools is like a second home for [my son] and trying to bring up a child in a positive and nurturing environment is so important. It will not only help Jugaadh, but so many other children.’
You’re opening your first NSW-based HEI Schools early learning centres in St Leonard’s, Sydney and in Gosford, for ages six weeks to five years.
How can parents learn more about these centres, and what special offerings can families look forward to?
To stay up-to-date on information sessions and enrolments, please use the following links to register your expression of interest at either early education centre:
Registering is the best way to stay informed and secure a spot for your child.
In terms of our offerings, we provide a rich learning environment which includes programs to meet every child’s needs and interests.
We believe that play is a child’s work and our educators are trained to provide interesting, project-based learning experiences for all the children attending our centres.
We also provide a rich environment to foster and nurture children’s creativity, motivation and wellbeing. This includes:
- A play-based science program from Finland
- Indoor gymnasium
- Outdoor, age-appropriate, custom-made climbing equipment made from natural materials
- Monthly research-based programs, designed in collaboration with the University of Helsinki
- Age-appropriate, open-ended toys made from natural materials
- All meals cooked on site
- NSW Munch & Move initiative, and
- All nappies, wipes and sheets provided.
What advice do you have for parents who aren’t sure whether HEI Schools will suit their child?
We appreciate parents who are willing to spend time looking for a suitable centre for their child (or children) and encourage them to take the time to visit one of our centres and participate in an orientation day.
This provides a great opportunity to see our philosophy and curriculum in action, and also to direct questions to our centre director or one of our educators.
We know that parents know their own children best, and by visiting one of our centres and spending some time there, letting one’s child play and interact with our educators and the other children, a parent will soon know if HEI Schools is an environment in which their child can feel comfortable.
Whatever centre a family chooses, it is very important for both the child and the parent/s to feel settled in their new day care setting, and we strive to make that transition as smooth as possible at HEI Schools.
The following HEI Schools representatives contributed to this interview:
Project manager and centre director, Katri Sullivan
Educational leader, Edith Leung
Early childhood teacher, Henni Itanen
Finnish curriculum developer, Kaisa Golding
This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2021
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