Finland consistently scores high on the Programme for International Student Assessment, “a set of tests for evaluating critical-thinking skills in math, science, and reading,” despite having short school days and light homework loads. Timothy D. Walker, an American teacher who moved to Finland, set out to find out the secrets behind the success of Finland’s schools. He records his observations and what he learned in Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms (W.W. Norton, 2017).
While this book is designed for schoolteachers in traditional classrooms, there are strategies that homeschoolers can learn from as well.
1) Take frequent breaks
Finnish classrooms operate on 45 minute lessons followed by 15 minute breaks, allowing both students and teachers to “refresh their brains.”
Sometimes, it can be such a struggle to get children to sit down and focus on their schoolwork. Once they are there, we might not want them to escape, instead having them do lesson after lesson. But in order to process and retain the information, it is better to have shorter lessons and frequent breaks.
2) Reduce classroom decorations and clutter
Finnish classrooms are downright minimalistic compared to American classrooms. A calming visual environment is more restful for the brain, especially for those who are easily overstimulated. Is there a way to reduce the clutter in our homes in order to create a more peaceful area for learning?
3) Go outside, even when it is raining
We aren’t meant to live our lives inside all the time. Fresh air and time spent with plants is good for both our mental and physical well-being. Try to get both you and your children outside every day at least for a little while.
4) Allow for as much autonomy and responsibility as possible
This involves finding the sweet spot for each child. What can they handle on their own and what do they need help with? Can they correct their own papers if given an answer key? Is it possible to have them choose in what order they do their lessons? Can they manage their work if you give them a list of what needs to be accomplished for the week?
5) Involve students in lesson planning
Ask students what they want to learn about a given topic. For example, you need to cover American history, but within that overview, are there specific areas that they would like to focus on? Certain time periods they enjoy more than others? Can they study more military or social or political history?
6) Use well-designed curricular materials and then adapt as needed
It is helpful to have a preset curriculum in order to know that you are covering the major important points, but you don’t need to be a slave to them. Use them as a framework and then adjust and augment as needed for the individual child.
7) Have your children teach you
Having students teach is a great way to have them gain mastery over a subject. It also gives them practice in presentation and organization. Have them teach you something – it could be a formal school topic or something that they know how to do that you don’t. If you have more than one child in your home, children can take turns teaching the family something. You all might learn a great deal.
8) Incorporate music whenever possible
While formal music lessons can be very beneficial, you don’t need to be an expert (or even have a great singing voice) to incorporate music into your homeschool lives. Use simple songs to teach facts that need to be memorized (many are available on YouTube). Older children can analyze music lyrics as part of a history or literature class. Music engages different parts of the brain than other learning and can greatly aid in retention. It also helps make homeschool life more fun.