Tim Walker: How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play | The Atlantic

An American teacher in Helsinki questioned the national practice of giving 15 minute breaks each hour—until he saw the difference it made in his classroom.

By TIM WALKER

Like a zombie, Sami—one of my fifth graders—lumbered over to me and hissed, “I think I’m going to explode! I’m not used to this schedule.” And I believed him. An angry red rash was starting to form on his forehead.

Yikes, I thought. What a way to begin my first year of teaching in Finland. It was only the third day of school and I was already pushing a student to the breaking point. When I took him aside, I quickly discovered why he was so upset.

Throughout this first week of school, I had gotten creative with my fifth grade timetable. Normally, students and teachers in Finland take a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.

I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops. As a teacher in the United States, I’d spent several consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time. So I decided to hold my students back from their regularly scheduled break and teach two 45-minute lessons in a row, followed by a double break of 30 minutes. Now I knew why the red dots had appeared on Sami’s forehead.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure if the American approach had ever worked very well. My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about 45 minutes in the classroom. But they’d never thought of revolting like this shrimpy Finnish fifth grader, who was digging in his heels on the third day of school. At that moment, I decided to embrace the Finnish model of taking breaks.

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Blogger’s comment:

My homeschool’s founding principle was that the mind should be given time to process new learning. Throughout the years I taught my daughter, a twenty minute break for every forty minutes of instruction was the golden rule.

When my daughter was younger, the twenty minute break consisted of movement, in combination with a preferred activity. While she is now a college student and no longer able to follow that rule, as classes are generally anywhere from an hour and twenty minutes to three hours and even longer, she does continue to follow our homeschool rule when doing her homework. She’s adapted it for writing papers, too, giving time between research and writing, preferably on different days, to have time to process the information.

There is ample literature about the benefits of movement to learning and processing.  It is a crying shame that US schoolchildren are not given more recess time, and more freedom to move during class. Movement is essential for the mind.


Suggested reading:

Peter DeWitt: The Importance of Movement: http://www.wholechildeducation.org/blog/the-importance-of-movement

Eric Jensen: Teaching with the Brain in Mind: Movement and Learning  http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104013/chapters/Movement-and-Learning.aspx


Curated from www.theatlantic.com