By Johanna Järvinen-Taubert & Päivi Valtonen
For decades it has been typical for Finnish education to utilize EOC in teaching. Visits to different museums, libraries, exhibitions, cultural events, and versatile workplaces have been part of Finnish schooling from early childhood education to upper secondary education for generations. Learning outdoors – or using nature as a learning environment – has an especially strong emphasis in Finnish education.
Finland is a country covered by forests. There’s basically forest nearby every Finnish basic education (grades 1-9) school. It is not unusual that a forest begins from the school yard. Actually, the Ministry of the Environment recommends that schools’ distance from green areas should not exceed 300 metres: schools should be located close to green areas in order to make regular use of local nature as part of their teaching. So, it’s no wonder that Finnish teachers frequently take their classes to nature to learn new things.
Nature as a learning environment
It is noteworthy that nature is not used as a learning environment to learn biology only. Nature is an endless source of learning possibilities: you can learn e.g., mathematics, physics, history, geography, languages, art, physical education etc. in nature. Furthermore, nature is also a good place for environmental education: children can be taught responsible action in the environment as well as the basics of sustainable living.
Another great thing about the adaptable nature environment is that studying in the forest is often shared and not gender specific. In the forest, students can find common interests and their collective positive experiences reinforce their feeling of belonging to the group.
Multidisciplinary learning modules: work across school subjects
Finnish national core curriculum supports outdoor learning. In curriculum, there is a strong tendency to multidisciplinary studies and integrating school subjects, e.g. the same phenomena can be studied from different perspectives of different school subjects at the same time. The whole idea for strengthening the multidisciplinary approach in Finnish education has been to help students to understand the real-life phenomena better and to learn the vital skills needed in the future. Education outside classroom creates great opportunities for studying phenomena and combining different school subjects.
The detailed themes, contents and ways of executing the multidisciplinary learning modules are planned and decided at the local level i.e. in the local curriculum, in schools’ annual plans and in cooperation between different subjects in schools. The themes are usually broad and general. This gives the opportunity to implement themes in many ways in different subjects and in different learning environments. The themes can be, for example, well-being, life on the planet, my environment, good habits, internationality etc.
Students' right to influence their own learning environment
When making choices about a learning environment, teachers usually think about a topic to be studied and what could be useful for students. However, we should also ask students and find out what kinds of environments they find relevant, and what opportunities different spaces provide for them. Students’ participation and influence, which are central values in the Finnish core curricula, are translated into practice only when students are invited to co-talk, co-plan, co-construct and co-assess their learning environment together with the teachers and educators.
Children and young people learn everywhere and all the time. To assume that the right type of learning can take place only in a well-structured classroom environment and according to the adult’s best thinking is to limit the power of available spaces and students’ potential. What is important is to realize that learning does not have to just occur within the four walls of the classroom.
- Chukhlantseva, E. 2021. Child’s space: Let’s have a learning environment makeover! In Järvinen-Taubert, J., Valtonen, P, & Chukhlantseva, E. (Eds) What, why and how – Finnish education in practice. Malta: Kite, 139–141.
- Järvinen-Taubert, J. & Chukhlantseva, E. 2021. Phenomenon-based learning in Finnish education. In Järvinen-Taubert, J., Valtonen, P. & Chukhlantseva, E. (Eds) What, why and how – Finnish education in practice. Malta: Kite, 45–48.
- Laine, A., Elonheimo, M. & Kettunen, A. 2018. Leap into the Outdoor Classroom: Guide to Teaching Outdoors. Retrieved 13.9.2022 https://ulkoluokka.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/ulkoluokka-enkku-nettiin.pdf
- Valtonen, P. & Chukhlantseva, E. 2021. The new Finnish national core curriculum: from why to how. In Järvinen-Taubert, J., Valtonen, P. & Chukhlantseva, E. (Eds) What, why and how – Finnish education in practice. Malta: Kite, 23–35.