Supporting Nature in Schools, Part 2


In Kokkola, Finland

When I first signed up to visit Villa Elba Youth Center and Nature School, I was under the impression that this was a school that incorporated outdoor education as a part of their theme. However, the nature school network operates outside of the traditional school system but in support of it. Nature education is expressly addressed in the National Core Curriculum.

For example, at age 7-16 the goal is “…to raise environmentally conscious citizens who are committed to a sustainable way of life. The schools must teach future-oriented thinking and building the future on ecologically, economically, socially, and culturally sustainable premises.” (NCC, 2004, 39)

For older students, the theme is Sustainable Development. Students are encouraged to pursue a sustainable lifestyle, to take action for sustainable development, and to examine the challenges of SD (NCC, 2003, 28–29).

There are several major nature schools in Finland and it is customary for many students, to attend Camp School, which is a residential program in a nature setting that can range from 3-5 days. Parents pay out of pocket for this experience but it is a strong tradition in the country.

Walking to the forest, about a 20 minute walk
On day two of my visit with Sara Kall, we took a group of kindergarten students into the forest to study animal tracks in the snow. Sara drives to local communities all over Kokkola to provide this service, but has no students of her own.

It was a chilly day, in the low teens, and I don’t think I was mentally prepared for an extended period in the cold (2 hours), but that was part of the challenge!

The students were playing in the yard when we arrived and were super excited to see Sara. I greeted them with a “moika,” but they looked blankly at me and I realized they were Swedish speakers, so I switched to a “hej!” Swedish is the predominant language in western parts of Finland, as the country is officially bilingual.

As we walked to the forest, I held a little girl’s hand and she looked at me confused, wondering who I was. Her teacher told her I was an American teacher. The 4 year old with bright pink cheeks looked up at me and said “Donald Trump?” That is a blog post for another day.

At the forest, Sara brought out her detective kit and immediately captured the students' attention. The two hours were meticulously planned and no detail escaped her attention. There were even little motion breaks incorporated into the lesson to get the blood flowing. As in the lake, the teachers also brought warm juice and carrots for break time. BEST SNACK EVER.

The kit comes out!

Passing around a specimen

Bird calling

Kokkola has massive boulders all over town

Studying different types of tracks

Let's do art in the forest; warm water with food coloring. Each student draws a different type of track.

Not bad for being 4 years old and wearing a thick glove



If the video doesn't load, you can find it at https://youtu.be/RIFyK4v6fvw
The video shows students pretending to be stomping squirrels, throwing their tails over their heads, and rushing for shelter under the "tree" that is the closest adult. It's a fun way to incorporate much needed movement into the outdoor lesson.

In a society, when you value something, you invest in it. The symbiosis between the Finnish people and nature reminds me of the very deep connection indigenous people have with their lands. In fact, access to nature is considered an entitlement described as "Everyman's Right" where:
  • 96% of the land can be used by anyone, including land and water areas
  • one can use certain natural products even if you are not the owner of the property such as dry twigs, branches, cones, nuts, mushrooms
  • free access to waterways for boating, anchoring and swimming
  • free access to land to orienteer, short-term camp, run, walk, cross-country ski, pick berries
  • the user of the right must not damage or disturb nature (Source: Suomen Latu)

When children spend so much time outdoors with access to nature, it becomes a part of your upbringing, lifestyle, and spirit when you become an adult.

I have marveled at the amount of people congregating on Lake Jyvasjarvi, adjacent to my apartment, in the middle of winter. Ice-skating, skiing, walking, and even cycling. Oh yeah, and there were also motorized paragliders and hot air balloons. The frozen lake became the seasonal playground that folks looked forward to enjoying. It is quite possible that the love of nature, in all of its extremes was fostered in schools and by dynamic individuals like Sara Kall and Maria Svens.

Next: Part 3 When Sara Trains Teachers

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