Finnish Schools Are on the Move—and America’s Need to Catch Up

Written by on September 18, 2015 in Agencies & Systems, Government with 2 Comments

By Tim Walker | The Atlantic


Before I started teaching at a Finnish public school, I taught first graders in Arlington, Massachusetts. And I had a sharp-eyed mentor teacher named Joanna.

“Psst. Can I speak with you for a second?” Joanna pulled me aside during a lunch break. She wasn’t wearing her characteristic smile. “Tim, please don’t be offended by what I’m about to say, but whenever I peek into your classroom, you always seem to be sitting down with your first graders on the rug.” The criticism stung—not because it was off-target, but because I knew it was true.

My habit of requiring my young students to sit passively for a half-hour or so on the rug was clearly not working for them. By the time I’d release them from the rug to do independent work, they were exasperated and I had to peel a few of them from the floor.

Armed with an old-fashioned stopwatch, I forced myself to keep all of my lessons under 15 minutes. The results were encouraging: My students transitioned quickly and worked more efficiently at their tables when I kept these lessons short. But I soon detected another obvious problem.

My students were sitting down nearly 100 percent of every class. Intuitively, I knew this was problematic and later, I found out why.

My students were sitting down nearly 100 percent of every class. Intuitively, I knew this was problematic.

When I stopped to think of it, whenever I’d visit other schools in the states, I would see the same phenomenon. American students were being asked to sit for the majority of lessons. Not only that, but they weren’t very active during the entire school day. And this could only mean that millions of children were missing out on the rich benefits of being more physically active.

Research has shown that physical activity can fend off obesity, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve cognitive functions—like memory and attention—and positively impact mental health.

I somewhat assumed that the lack of physical activity in schools was an American problem—a natural byproduct of long school days and limited opportunities for recess. But when I started teaching in Finland, I saw the same thing happening at my public school, Ressun peruskoulu, a bilingual “comprehensive” (grades one to nine) school in downtown Helsinki with nearly 400 students.

At first, this didn’t add up. Kids in Finland have short school days and frequent 15-minute breaks—typically there’s one after each 45-minute lesson. And even though the breaks keep them more focused in the classroom, they don’t necessarily keep them more active at school.

On the playground—sunshine or snowfall—I’d find many young Finnish children spending recess passively. Some would be tapping away on their smart phones, hooked by the latest mobile game, while others would be huddled together, sitting down on benches or standing in small groups and chitchatting. Usually, I could find a handful of students playing tag or soccer. But the number of passive kids typically seemed to exceed the number of active ones. In the hallways of my school, older students were often slouched against the wall or even lying down, waiting for their next lesson to begin.

Finnish researchers recently confirmed my observations. On the “Finnish Report Card 2014 on Physical Activity for Children and Youth,” kids in Finland received a “D” for overall physical activity levels. In 2013, one study revealed that only half of the participating Finnish elementary students met the national guideline of engaging in at least one hour of “moderate-to-vigorous” physical activities each day. Among middle-school students, the figure was even worse: 17 percent.

Finland wasn’t the only country that did poorly on its physical activity report card. On the “2014 United States Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth,” America received a “D-” for overall physical activity levels. Roughly a quarter of American children ages six through 15 are active an hour per day on at least five days of the week, according to the report card.

Though children in both countries suffer from low activity levels, a key difference exists between Finland and the United States: Hundreds of schools across this tiny Nordic nation are now endeavoring to keep kids active throughout the day through a relatively new government initiative  called “Finnish Schools on the Move.” This experiment could serve as an example of what America, where problems such as childhood obesity are on the rise, could do to get kids more active.

[Read more here]


Robert O’Leary, JD BARA, has had an abiding interest in alternative health products and modalities since the early 1970’s, and he has seen how they have made people go from lacking health to vibrant health. He became an attorney, singer-songwriter, martial artist and father along the way and brings that experience to his practice as a BioAcoustic Soundhealth Practitioner, under the tutelage of the award-winning founder of BioAcoustic Biology, Sharry Edwards, whose Institute of BioAcoustic Biology has now been serving clients for 30 years with a non-invasive and safe integrative modality that supports the body’s ability to self-heal using the power of the human voice. Robert brings this modality to serve clients in Greater Springfield (MA), New England and “virtually” the world, through his new website, (now mobile & tablet-ready, with a fresh new look). He can also be reached at



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2 Reader Comments

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  1.' Kukaku Shiba says:

    Need teachers from other countries!!! Plz!!! Something’s wrong with US education

  2.' Greg Telles says:

    They test out those that cant qualify for higher education and dont test those with learning disabilities. Plus theyre vastly under populized in comparison to us. Numbers are askwed conditionally.

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