If We Know Play-Based Learning Works, Why Don't We Do It?

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 (my camera and me/Flickr)

Finland is often applauded for its great education system. Earlier this year the Finns announced the intention to move towards* secondary education that is topic-based, rather than subject-based in order to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of real-world problems. Finnish educators hope teaching in this way will help students draw connections between disciplines and find previously undiscovered areas of interest. A similar strategy applies to the Finnish approach to the youngest learners. Rather than focusing on math and literacy, Finnish kindergartens are all about play.

In his Atlantic article, Tim Walker describes seeing both free play and more pedagogically focused play in Finnish kindergartens. Both kinds of play are explicitly required and are being emphasized even more in the newest version of the curriculum. Walker writes:

"'Play is a very efficient way of learning for children,' she told me. 'And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy.'

The word 'joy' caught me off guard—I’m certainly not used to hearing the word in conversations about education in America, where I received my training and taught for several years. But Holappa, detecting my surprise, reiterated that the country’s early-childhood education program indeed places a heavy emphasis on 'joy,' which along with play is explicitly written into the curriculum as a learning concept. 'There's an old Finnish saying,' Holappa said. 'Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.'"


*This post has been modified to reflect that Finland has not yet rolled out topic-based secondary education across the country, but is moving in that direction.