In recent years. Finnish education has hit headlines as the best education system in the world, persuading us of an alternative way to raise happy, successful children. NO homework, headlines proclaim. Play outdoors, they say.
A couple of days ago, I met a young lady from the UK who is in the midst of her Bachelor of Education degree in the UK, who did a work placement in Finland. She was very impressed by how different the Finnish education system is compared to the UK’s. One thing that particularly stuck in her mind was a camping trip that she took her students to: the small children started building a fire and cooking food, unsupervised. They roamed freely in the woods.
Quite unlike the UK these days, where there would be tonnes of forms to fill in for a simple day trip out. Health & Safety laws and risk assessment protocol kill adventures in nature and risk-taking, the source of a very important line of life’s lessons.
Recently, I got to know this word: SISU. Apparently, there is no English equivalent. It is a kind of concept and cultural construct that the Finns cherish, that is their national characteristic.
Sisu, in the absence of an equivalent word in English, means all the strong, courageous things as well as the resoluteness to go on trying despite the failures. It’s about being strong on the inside. Having the guts. Grim determination.
No, children are not taught that these days. By example (a large source of education for children), modern parents are quick to bail out and opt for easy options. We throw away things instead of fixing them. We run away. And we make excuses instead of owning our weaknesses, challenges and mistakes, and fixing them.
These are my six ways of teaching sisu to reverse the tide:
(1) Teach children to fix things. My children learned how to fix things early. It is not a waste of time to learn how to fix things: in later years, they need this skill to fix important things such as relationships and their own lives.
My son owns a troublesome old Land Rover, as per family tradition, and here is an old photograph of my daughter in the workshop.
(2) Don’t allow small children the option of giving up. It is all too easy to turn our backs on the things we do not like because we live in the world of many options today. Don’t like this? Never mind. Try something else next week.
This is the photograph of my daughter when she was about 8. She was the goalkeeper (in orange) and you can see her crying at the podium because she conceded many goals and her team came third. Fast forward a few years, and she is the top goalscorer in many international football tournaments. She currently plays for BISP Cruzeiro.
(3) Allow them to experience physical danger within reason. I believe that if children are given the opportunity to see ‘real’ physical danger, they will be better prepared for it in their normal everyday life. Seen here, my daughters at the top of Snowdonia, a trek which requires a few hairy scrambles.
(4) Connecting with nature. It is through nature that we learn about ourselves. Let children loose, spend a day in nature, let children forage out of sight of adults and find their own food (after teaching them the basics, of course).
(5) It starts in the home. No fussiness, especially when it comes to food. Make it contractual to respect a child’s personal taste: allow a list of Don’t Likes, but no whining at the table about not liking mushrooms, tomatoes, greens, etc, if it is not on the list. Allow treats occasionally as a sign of goodwill. You see, life is about co-operation.
(6) Give children lots and lots of cuddles and love, so that they know there is always a safe place for them to come home to always. This makes them brave. Here is my fearless youngest child and her daddy. She knows she is secure.