Tour Three. Global Connection.

Finnish School Day

Emilia is eight years old. She started school at the age of seven, a year later than children in the United States. But, like almost all six-year-olds in Finland, Emilia attended voluntary pre-school. So far, Emilia’s parents have not had to pay for her schooling.

Almost all schools in Finland are public. The Finnish state educates children from pre-school on for free. The city provides schoolbooks and pencils, as well as lunch, free of charge. Emilia won’t be served hamburgers, hot dogs or soft drinks at lunchtime. Instead, she’ll often eat mashed potatoes and meatballs, salad, carrots, rye bread and fruit juice.

Emilia’s required nine-year education will take place in what Finns call “comprehensive schools.” Comprehensive schools teach all subjects, including mathematics, religion, environmental studies, Finnish and Swedish, foreign languages, history and social studies, civics, biology, geography, physical education, music, art and handicrafts.

Children usually start studying their first foreign language at the age of nine, so Emilia will soon choose which language she wants to learn first. Like 87 percent of Finnish kids, she will probably choose English. Some of her friends may choose to study other languages: 3.8 percent will study German, 1.2 percent will study French and 0.2 percent will study Russian.
Swedish and Finnish are the official languages of Finland. Since Emilia’s mother native language is Finnish, she will start studying Swedish when she is 13. She already knows how to say good evening in Swedish. It is “god kväll”. In Finnish, it is “hyvää iltaa”.

Emilia loves school, especially arts and music. She just finished her first oral class presentation. She talked about her pet hamster, Pena. (The books on animals claim that hamsters love strawberries, but not Pena. He prefers
blueberries and grapes.)

Emilia and her 22 classmates call their teacher by her first name, Maarit. Children in Finland attend school five days a week and have weekends off, just like most children in the United States. Classes are shorter, though. Each 60-minute study period includes a 15-minute break. Lunch is 30 minutes long. First and second graders attend school for a maximum of five hours a day and average 19 lessons a week. Older students attend school for up to seven hours a day. Third and fourth graders have 23 lessons a week, and fifth and sixth graders have 24 lessons.

Like other children in Finland, Emilia doesn’t need her parents to take her to places. She walks or rides her bike to school and to the park with her friend Jenna.

When Emilia is 16, she will have several choices. She can move on to general upper secondary school, which is like high school in the United States. Or she can choose vocational training to prepare herself to work in a specific industry. Emilia is considering becoming a hairdresser or a horse trainer.

Finnish teenagers are ranked among the best readers in the world. Emilia learned to read when she was five. One unexpected reason why Finnish children love to read is the fact all foreign programs on Finnish television are subtitled. Wanting to understand the shows motivates children to learn how to read.

Finnish children between the ages of 10 and 14 spend approximately 2 hours a day watching television and 47 minutes a day on the computer. After-school sports and outdoor activities like cycling, swimming, skiing and ice hockey are popular among 10- to 14-year-old Finns. Boys enjoy football and ice hockey while girls show more interest in Finnish baseball and gymnastics. Finnish children and young people also enjoy watching television, spending time on the computer, visual arts, singing, playing instruments, writing, going to the movies, and reading.
Sound familiar?


  1. Which language do most kids in Finland choose to study as their first foreign language?
  • Finnish
  • English
  • German
  • Danish

2. What is true of schools in Finland?

  • No hamburgers are served
  • Classes last for 70 minutes
  • You go to school on Saturdays
  • You call your teachers Mr. and Mrs.

3. After ‘comprehensive school’

  • you are a hairdresser
  • you speak about pets
  • you can choose which school to attend
  • you can ride a bike

4. A typical Finnish kid

  • Doesn’t watch television
  • often takes the taxi
  • doesn’t like strawberries
  • reads a lot