Nature is a miracle and full of wonders. At least to children. During three weeks of practice at the luontokoulu (finnish for nature school) this was taught to me over and over again. The nature school is located just outside Tampere and surrounded by precious forests. Where the trees are many times older than the children, who come to greet them.
The nature school is a great opportunity for the children to escape the classroom for one day. It welcomes both pre-school children at an age of 5, as well as 4th and 7th graders. And because nature changes every day, the two teachers always adapt the program which they offer to the children. During this time of the year, snowshoeing was one of the highlights. The 4th graders also enjoyed filling their forest treasure box while they were out in the woods, in order to investigate everything with a microscope as they returned to the classroom.
The nature school is located in the same building with an elementary school. Just roaming around that space gives a feeling of being an explorer. Many small exciting things can be found everywhere. For example the animals that are on display, like the squirrel and the flying squirrel. Or the name tags that children receive when they arrive, which decorate a whole wall. Through that I learned a lot about various species, which might be helpful in the upcoming exams about mammals and birds.
Also I stumbled upon an interesting book about nature games. Despite the fact that it had already been written in 1979, it still maintains its significance. And it is applicable for parents as well as teachers, who want to give their lessons a twist. The book I’m talking about is “Sharing nature with children” by Joseph Cornell. One of the games goes as following: the children form pairs of two. One of the children gets a blindfold and is carefully guided to a tree by the other child. Then the child is given time to explore the tree with the remaining senses. After a while, the child is guided back to the starting point; preferably not on a direct way, but going a small detour. Finally the child takes off the blindfold and tries to find the tree that he/she had been discovering.
A great challenge at the nature school was the language. Everything was in Finnish, from morning till the afternoon. But being thrown into the cold water was the best thing that could have happened – now I feel a lot more confident using Finnish in everyday life. And one story especially illustrates that sometimes just one word is enough: One day we found a large plastic bowl in the yard of the school. I gave it to one of the children and said “hattu” (Finnish for “hat”). From then on the child and her friend had lots of fun with their new hat. When they left they said bye to me and the hat.
I’m very thankful to both teachers for the opportunity to spend my practice at the school.