The Real Truth: Expat’s Survival Guide To Finland: Part 4 – Kids and School

Part 4: Kids and School

Finland Relocation Services, TIRA Member, Finland


We’ve already shared insight into the culture, the work life and the people of Finland. In Part 4 we look at the lives of the youngsters in Finland. What is the Finnish school system like? And do the Finns really leave their babies outside to nap in the winter?

For over 100 years the Finnish government has believed that education should be an equal right to all people of the nation, despite of their backgrounds. Compulsory school or ‘kansakoulu’ was made available for all in 1898. The Constitution of Finland still entails a legal right for education and opportunity for all residents. As a result, school is an obligatory for all children until grade 9. This also applies for expat children with permanent residency. The parents or guardians are responsible to make sure that the compulsory school is completed. Attending obligatory school comes at no additional costs as it is government-funded and organized. Text books are free of charge until the end of grade 9. Learning in general is admired and aimed for. You will come across many children who have established a dream academic path for themselves, whether it be in law or medicine. Higher education is free for citizens of Finland and available for foreigners at a nominal cost

The Finnish school system is known to be one of the best in the world and ranks accordingly in many international studies. Education is provided in Finnish, Swedish or English. Some schools might have an emphasis on another language such as French or German. Additionally, there are a handful of private schools aimed for international education.  Children begin school at the age of 7, and class is determined by birth year. Since 2015, preschool has become compulsory for children the age 6. Schools, students or regions are not ranked in Finland. The children take only one standardized test at the end of high school. The whole mentality is that children are taught how to learn, instead of how to take a test.

Children are offered a daily hot lunch for free. This is another legal requirement that has been in place since 1948.  Additionally, services like school healthcare and counselors are also available free of charge. No uniforms are required, and school is attended by both girls and boys. In Finland there are no school busses. It is completely normal for kids (even first graders!) to take the public transportation e.g. metro or bus to school on their own. Sports teams are not affiliated to schools. There are thousands of different hobbies, clubs and afterschool activities, but they are usually separate entities. For example, high schools do not have school mascots or athletic teams. Kindergartens are offered both publicly and privately. You might be surprised by the number of English daycares in the capital region!

In Finland, parents or guardians are responsible for the wellbeing of their children as well as a well-balanced development. Despite this, children have abundant opportunities to exercise freedom and independence. Both the father and mother should have equal responsibilities in raising the children. From a very young age, kids are raised to be independent and caring. Competitive attitudes are not a part of the parental environment in Finland. Because the work/life balance is so important here, many parents go above and beyond to spend time with their kids. The child becomes an adult by law once he/she turns 18. After which, legal responsibility and power of decision shift to him/her.

When babies are born, the parents receive a “baby box” with the essential supplies for a newborn. Mothers prefer their babies to nap outside throughout the year. Wrapped up in appropriate winter clothing, napping outside helps babies reach longer, deeper sleep. Breast feeding in public is completely normal and accepted.

Children in Finland grow up being very outdoor-focused. No matter the weather, kids tend to want to play outside and explore the nature. No matter where in Finland you grow up, you learn that the nature is your playground. During school, kids are required to have several outdoor recesses to ensure that they get enough fresh air throughout the school day. This applies for kindergarten as well. Playing in puddles, snow or swimming in one of the thousands of lakes in Finland is part of the daily life of children. In Finland, kids learn about independence and responsibility at a very young age. It is ordinary for first and second graders to be trekking home from school on their own. In fact, often the parents might still be at work, so the kids are used to making their own snacks and spending time on school work before the parents arrive. Helicopter parenting is a foreign concept.

In the final section of the Real Truth, we talk about the practicalities you should know before moving to Finland! Stay on the look out for the final section of the series.

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