Academic journal article Childhood Education

Ten Pillars of a Good Childhood: A Finnish Perspective

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Ten Pillars of a Good Childhood: A Finnish Perspective

Article excerpt

If you sow two identical seeds in two different environments, you will have two plants of strikingly I different size and strength, but they will still be discernibly the same plants. While the optimal I environment varies from plant to plant, some basic requirements have to be met, such as appropriate watering, for every plant to grow.

Ten Pillars of a Good Childhood

The organizers of the Decade for Childhood (1) have formulated Ten Pillsars of a Good Childhood (2) as basic requirements for an optimal childhood. The pillars can be used to analyze the quality of childhood in our homes and our nations, and to guide policies and practices related to the experience of childhood.

I shall illustrate, pillar by pillar, a few high points about childhood today and also touch on issues that erode childhood, taking my examples from Finnish culture. People have grown interested in the Finnish approach to education and child rearing, due to the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results showing that, for the past decade, 15-year-old Finnish students have been among the highest-performing students in all the 34 OECD (Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

Finnish Lessons

Delegates from different countries have visited Finland to see the Finnish school system and find explanations for the good PISA results. Less attention has been paid to the impact of the entire childhood experience on students' success. Yet the quality of children's experiences with early education at home and in child care is very important for their future.

In Finland, children start their nine-year basic schooling in the fall of the year when they turn 7. This is the highest school starting age in the OECD countries. From the point of view of brain development, age 7 is the proper age to start teacher-directed learning. Let's start our look at childhood with the first pillar.

Pillar 1: Safe places to live and learn, and access to health care, adequate clothing, and nutritious food

Of the many influences that affect a new life, some of the most far-reaching happen during the nine months before birth. In Finland, free maternity care has been well-organized for over 60 years. Pregnant women are expected to contact a maternity clinic by the end of the second month of their pregnancy A maternity grant provides material incentive to do so in the form of either a cash benefit or a maternity package that includes a full set of baby's clothing (the package itself serves as the baby's bed). Maternal mortality in Finland is very low, and infant mortality is one-third of that in the United States.

Once the baby is born, a public health nurse and a doctor at a child welfare clinic provide free services for children under school age and their families. At the clinic they get health check-ups, vaccinations, and general advice on health issues.

In schools, welfare services provided by school nurses are available for check-ups and health care plans. In 1948, Finland was the first country in the world to start serving free school meals.

During the Decade for Childhood, access to health care, good nutrition, and safe places to live should be made available to children all over the world. Public health services are not enough, however; we also need to strengthen parents' awareness of their responsibility for providing their children with these amenities.

Pillar 2: Strong families and consistent, loving caregivers

The role of the father has changed radically in Finland over the last 50 years. Fathers used to be authoritarian and distant with their children. Nowadays, men participate actively in their children's lives. The father is usually present at the baby's birth and uses his two-week paternity allowance after the birth. Fathers share in child care duties, domestic chores, and related activities.

In spite of these developments, the divorce rate is high in Finland, as in many western countries. …

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