Jackie Carroll. Courtesy of Jackie Carroll I'm an American and mom of four children living in Finland. This year I didn't have to buy my kids anything for back to school, not even a backpack.
Kids are expected to bring their own skis and helmets for PE, though. Back-to-school shopping is a little different here in Finland. To start, parents aren't required to buy any stationery-type supplies for school.
None. The aim is for education to be freely accessible to all, with emphasis on the free. At first blush, this sounds amazing and convenient, which it mostly is.
Except that the kids have to bring their own skis to school. I don't need to buy any supplies before school startsThis year not one of my four kids needed a new backpack. Neither did any of them ask for a new pencil case.
Everything seemed to be in good working order, and I spent nothing. I even heard a reference to a kind of wholesome competition among classmates to see what items they could get to last all the way through from first to sixth grade. There were a few mumbles about the right erasers, and the artist wondered if they might have a slightly better set of colored pencils.
But these were all presented as requests. Everyone knows there is no need for any supplies; the school provides all classroom necessities. As a teacher, I have seen the jealousy and discord that can get stirred up when some kids have an abundance of expensive supplies.
Yet this is a calm before the storm, so to speak. Naturally, kids must be appropriately outfitted for the weather, and August in Finland is still warm and light. This has been a steep learning curve for me on two fronts — the clothing and the equipment.
There is really no bad weather hereHaving lived in both the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, I thought I understood the idea of there being no bad weather, only poor preparation. But Finns take this to the next level. We had snow for six of the last 12 months in my city and not a single snow day.
Proper layers for daily recess and many outdoor PE classes are essential and often expensive. When you add the required equipment, the idea of the school providing all the necessary supplies takes a bit of turn. Already in the first week, two of my kids need bikes and helmets for gym class.
My US-trained teacher brain wonders, what if not everyone has one? What if parents don't really want their kids riding around more or less independently in our community of nearly 70,000 people from the age of 7? Skipping over the Finnish tendency to grant children autonomy and champion competence, my kids assure me the school has bikes to borrow. When the snow starts to fall, teachers get excited and we start to get messages, often at the last minute, to pack their helmets and bring sleds or skis or ice skates and hockey sticks. So much for the savings back in August.
Of course, it isn't that these things are bad to have. On the contrary, I am rather proud of the Finnish commitment to continuing their cultural heritage of winter sports and the emphasis on healthy outdoor activities. But as a newcomer, I didn't always understand exactly what was required.
For example, I am still pretty ignorant about what makes a decent set of skis. And worse, I didn't have immediate access to a network of trading gently used, good-enough-for-school equipment. Let's just say it took several instances of being underprepared for various outings for my kids and I to learn the ropes — and we're still learning.
Read the original article on Insider.