A Pictorial Description of a Typical Daycare Centre in Finland


The following is an article contributed by a Singaporean parent with a preschooler living in Finland.

There has been much debate recently on the quality, quantity and organization of childcare centres in Singapore. Childcare is understandably important for any country and in particular, Singapore. Manpower and specifically talent is Singapore’s best as well as only natural resource (if you do not count our national reserves as one). Undoubtedly, this implies that children are an important factor in the nation’s survival. The role of childcare thus can encourage the national total fertility rate (TFR) to a certain extent; put existing parents at ease and better prepare children for a fiercely competitive globalised world.

Finland was ranked first in the world for preschool in recent Economist Intelligence Unit report commissioned by the Lien Foundation. There has been much written about the Finnish education system but what does it really look like from the inside? A picture tells a thousand words so hopefully these pictures give some insight into the Finnish daycare system.

Information privacy and protection are key cornerstones to Finnish individual rights. As such, no recognizable pictures of children can be taken without the permission of the parents in writing. Thus, the following pictures will be strange to viewers since there are hardly or no children in it. Incidentally, the pictures were taken when the children were out playing or in the gym. The pictures were taken from a typical Finnish district daycare centre, i.e. in Singapore’s terms a childcare centre. There are approximately 80 children in this daycare, managed by 16 daycare staff and 1 principal. The centre comprises of two levels. This is the ground level and there is another level below with its own play yard. There is also a kitchen and gym at the lower level.

The daycare opens at 7 every morning and closes at 5 in the evening during the weekdays. This is the front entrance. Incidentally, there is no lock on the front gate, only the main door is locked. The centre is fenced up but is accessible to all, including the outdoor play areas. This means that during the weekends, parents are most welcome to take their kids to the play areas.

Front view of Finnish Daycare Centre

There is a huge playground to the left (for kids aged 4 and above), comprising a junior sized football field, down slopes, a swings area and a “treehouse”. Singaporean parents would not dare let their children anywhere near this “treehouse”. It is almost 4 metres high, with a fireman’s pole and long slide down.

There is another adjoining yard, which is smaller (to the left) for the younger kids (aged 8 months to 3 years). Every Finnish play area always comprises of swings, stairs, slides and most importantly a sand pit. The sand pit is where kids learn to play together and share the toys. All toys for the sand pit are communal. This means that the spades and so forth are kept in a box, which is usually unlocked in the morning. After playing, the kids will return their toys into the box when it is locked in the evening. This is intended to teach them responsibility even for common things that are shared.

Playground area

Boots!

This is a typical sight as you enter through the main door a Finnish daycare centre. As it is autumn now, Finland experiences monsoon like weather where it rains most days. Kids are not kept indoors because of the rain. They just need “wellies” or boots so that they can go outdoors and keep their feet dry. To the left of the shoe rack is a wash area where boots or raincoats can be washed. The washing is never done by the teachers, always the parents!

Raincoats for a rainy day

The picture below shows the (aged 3 and under) kids’ individual lockers where their extra clothes are stored. Parents ensure that there is always an extra pair of short, trousers, socks, etc. Teachers help with reminders stuck at the top to remind parents of needed items.

Individual lockers for children

Individual lockers for children

Outside the principal’s office

Just opposite the locker area is the principal’s office, which is also used for all other administrative purposes. Just look at the amount of books on the shelves!

Locker area for 4-7 years old

This is the locker area for kids aged 4 to 7. There are no locks, but nothing has ever gone missing! Learning integrity at a young age regardless of status or class is perhaps one reason why Finland is such an egalitarian state.

Notice board

In front of every classroom, the weekly schedule is shown. This includes what the kids are doing each day as well as the menu for the week. Breakfast starts at 8am, lunch at 11am and a snack at 3pm. Other important notices are also put on this board. There is absolutely nothing on this board that is in English so foreigners are expected to learn the language.

 

On entering the classroom, one is usually surprised at the simplicity of the arrangements. The kids all have their designated seats. They draw, write, paint and eat at the same place. The only instance they are free to roam is when there is free play time. All the materials are neatly stowed away in the corner of the room. The kids all play a part in keeping the classroom tidy with guidance from the teacher.

 

Classroom

Materials neatly tucked away

Kids’ Playroom

The above picture shows a play room for the kids. The toys are neatly stowed away in the boxes. Again, the kids do the cleaning up once play time ends. The toys are very typical and normal ones, ranging from puzzles, lego blocks to plastic model cars.

The below picture shows the sleeping are for the kids. According to the daily schedule, the kids have a compulsory “quiet time” from 12 noon to 2pm. Kids who do not fall asleep, are still expected to be silent. For those kids that are uncontrollable, they are usually “escorted” to the play room with a teacher present. No kid has ever been “escorted” more than twice during their lifetime in this daycare.

Sleeping area

A toilet designed and built for kids! All kids in Finland are toilet trained by the time they are 3 years old. The daycare staff together with the parents toilet train the kids with a routine that works like magic. There is hardly any supervision required from age 4 onwards since the kids take their own initiative.

Toilets for kids

Can Singapore replicate this? My opinion is that it will be very difficult. The lack of land space can be addressed. Attitudes, mindsets and cultural norms are high hurdles to clear and cannot be leapt over in one bound. But if there is a will, there will always be a way.

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8 comments on “A Pictorial Description of a Typical Daycare Centre in Finland

  1. If we really want to fix the declining birth rate problem well and good, who dare to bring up in Parliament to ask the Govt to have 24-hour creche or state childcare nurseries with Govt grant and support to ensure it is made affordable and accessible to many in all HDB heartland?

  2. Want more babies, but how?

    What is really missing in the Govt’s policies up till now to turn the tide decisively to fix the falling birth rate trend in Singapore?

    Will the Govt and Singaporeans reach the best solution at the National Conversation, and will the newly formed Ministry, MSFD be up to the task to get it done effectively as any half-hearted or half-baked policies will not do?

    Will PM Lee, the head of his Govt show the way and take the lead in this?

    I wrote the following in my Facebook more than 2 weeks ago:

    The Govt’s intention to make pre-school more affordable and of good quality is laudable but will not be enough to help encourage Singoreans to have more babies.

    The crux of the matter is the period before the child enters pre-school.

    Unless 24-hour crèches or state child-care centres/nurseries are made easi
    ly accessible, of good quality and affordable, Singaporeans will still hesitate in having more babies. Half-hearted and inadequately funded policies will not bring the intended result.

    All other complicated monetary and elitist Govt policies [involving many stakeholders with vested interest] have failed in reversing the trend of low fertility in the past 2 decades.

    The Govt should promote and support having professionally run 24-hour creches in all HDB estates, especially located near to the 1, 2 and 3-room flats. This is the key to open the mind-set of Singaporeans.

    Land cost or rental for crèches is expensive and should be looked into with Govt support to keep cost down. Also, the Govt should subsidise at least half the cost of operations and allow FWs/maids to be part of the staff in cleaning up the crèche premises to reduce cost.

    Providing the 24-hour creches or state nurseries/childcare centres to the community will be a straightforward solution to reduce the stress level on parenthood as some parents might want a break or take a short holiday without having to bring the child along to add on the stress.

    A 24-hour creche will mean some parents due to workload, unexpectedly held up at work, other commitments or personal reasons can leave their child there for the night. They do not have to rush from work to fetch the child from the crèche. They can choose to bring the child home any time since it is a 24-hour creche. This will help relieve lots of stress on the young parents in not having to take care of the child everyday of the week, having long nights attending to the child, lacking sleep and unable to perform well at work the next day due to fatigue.

    Also, it is the solution to help address the concerns of long absence from work that could affect the mother’s career path, chances of promotion and better pay rise. The 24-creche will help address all these concerns and help encourage parents to re-think their priorities.

    A 24-hour creche is not meant to encourage parents to abandon their child. A 24-hour creche is to give them an option to bring their child home according to their own schedule and/or time constraints, be it on a weekday or a weekend.

    The creche is not meant to be a substitute for parenthood.

    Leaving the child at the crèche or a state childcare centre/nurseryfor the night does not mean abandoning the child there for good. I hope many Singaporeans will not think alike but use the creche with a caring heart for their child’s well-being and character development for a better tomorrow.

    Also, the Govt should provide the insurance cover and meet to a great extent the cost of maintaining babies born with congenital disabilities. It should be taken by the Govt ais an ‘insurance’ forming part of the social cost in the social engineering and population policies by encouraging Singaporeans to have more babies, and for older parents to reconsider having babies to help reverse the low birth rates trend.

    The Govt cannot rely on the well-educated to have 30,000 births a year to keep local-born Singaporeans in the majority. They do not have the critical mass to have 30,000 births each year.

    We have to fill all the rungs of society [from the top to the base of the pyramid] with local-born Singaporeans. Otherwise, Singapore will have to open its doors in 20 to 30 years to allow in 10,000 to 18,000 immigrants to fill up the lower-rung and low-wage jobs.

    60 percent of the 30,000 or some 18,000 will not make it to uni. We need 18,000 to support at the lower-rung of society to grow our GDP. If we do not have this base number of 18,000, it will mean opening our doors to immigrants.

    It is a choice: have our own local born 18,000 or open our doors to immigrants. I hope this choice will be openly discussed thoroughly at the National Conversation and to place all our cards on the table on this issue with our eyes wide open of what to expect in 20 to 30 years time if we do not fix the falling trend in child births.

    I hope PM Lee, as the leader of his Govt will take the lead, set the direction and show the way for his Govt to move positively and effectively on this matter. Singapore has to fix this problem well and good even while bigger and richer countries have been found wanting in getting it resolved decisively.

  3. Thanks for sharing. My children went through childcare in a private workplace centre in Singapore. The facilities in the childcare are reasonably good. There are purpose-built children toilets as well. Sleeping time for them is 1.30-3.30 pm, after lunch and shower. They sleep on mattresses which are pulled out from cupboards and laid on the floor of the classroom. I am told this is standard practice in all childcare.

    Just curious what you see as the main difference between daycare in Finland and childcare in Singapore. Facilities-wise, there may not be a lot of differences. What makes Finland no. 1 and Singapore preschool no. 29 in the EIU study?

    • The study by EIU had quite a few parameters. The main parameter that brought Finland to pole position was due to its availability, affordability, quality of preschool and transition to school, etc. Unfortunately, Singapore is unable to emulate some of these aspects. If you are poor in Finland, preschool is still very affordable because it is based on your income. (No way to cheat here because you have to declare your income before you can a get a tax card. You can’t work until you have a tax card. Taxes are deducted from your pay every month!) It’s close to impossible not to find any preschool place in Finland unless perhaps you live in a very “ulu” place like up north. Even then, the State will make provisions for your child to travel if they have to if he/she needs preschool.

      Yes, it’s never about facilities. If you really want to compare, facilities in Singapore’s best preschool (most likely private? There are very few private preschools in Finland) will beat Finland’s best preschool hands down any day. It’s really about the “software”. That in itself is a hard act to follow!

  4. “There is absolutely nothing on this board that is in English so foreigners are expected to learn the language.”

    So lessons are all in Finnish? Your kid has learnt to speak both languages? For foreigners to reside in Finland, is there a requirement they must learn the language? Citizenship given only if can pass the language?

    “Attitudes, mindsets and cultural norms are high hurdles to clear and cannot be leapt over in one bound. But if there is a will, there will always be a way.”

    What is most difficult for us to follow? What about Finnish parents’ attitudes that are different from Singaporeans?

    • The answer is yes. All lessons are in Finnish but they do learn English eventually in high school as a compulsory language. They also must pass Swedish as it is an official language in Finland. Some even do another language, typically German although French and Spanish are gaining popularity. So in short, they are more multilingual than we can expect. Many are also sending their children to the Chinese clubs and associations to learn Chinese. Every Chinese New Year, children from China and those from Finland put up a show and dance in the city. You will be surprised to find that the Finnish children’s spoken Chinese is almost exactly that of a PRC.

      Foreigners can reside in Finland without learning the language but not knowing the language is really tough. You need it for daily chores although locals “give chance” in exceptional circumstances (mostly in the metropolitan area). If you go further east, west or north of the metropolitan area and don’t speak Finnish, you will find life very difficult. No one will understand you. Think of Parisians in Paris, France. Ask for a table from a fancy restaurant in English and you will find yourself in the worse table. Yes, a foreigner must reside in Finland for 5 years without a break and pass the National Language proficiency exam (3 parts, written, listening comprehension, conversational) to be a citizen. Those who can do NS, MUST serve NS (males only).

      Finland has a work-life balance that most countries can only dream of. By 4pm, offices are almost empty less those who are single. Most would have left to pick their kids up. While career is important (as is money), family probably ranks number 1 for them, especially their kids. Some local companies even give permanent contracts to only those who have families. I think this will be very tough for Singapore to emulate. Economics is everything and other stuff comes after that.

      Finnish parents’ attitudes are very different in the sense that the child’s well being is not purely educational. They are more focused on social behaviour, values and nurturing their children’s natural talent. They are also more “relaxed” about their child being able to fail. The first lesson that day care staff share with parents in the first session is letting the child know disappointment and how to deal with disappointment without being crippled by it. I can’t think of any school or daycare that shares that lesson with parents. Although the children spend a lot of time in the daycare (almost 7-8 hours) during the weekdays, parents in Finland truly spend a lot of time with their children on weekends. The family does everything together from grocery shopping, cleaning the house, to walks in the park.

      The list of differences can go on but it is more important to identify first what it is that we would like our children in Singapore to grow up to be and how we would like them to grow up. Essentially, this is the first question Finns answered before reforming their educational system. It didn’t happen overnight, it took some years but it definitely bore fruit when they persisted.

  5. Thanks for your detailed sharing, Observer. Finnish children learning to speak chinese as enrichment. Hmm. China’s influence is spreading far.

    Requiring foreigners to learn Finnish and Swedish will enable better integration between foreigners and locals, I trust. One common complaint in Singapore is that the first generation migrants do not speak English and are not attempting to learn how to. It becomes a problem when they work as front line service staff.

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