Finland’s Genius Idea: More Free Time for Kids


If you look back on your childhood and what you did in your free time, the thing that you LOVED to do just may still be part of your life. In fact, please tell us stories of that — the thread from your childhood interest or obsession to your current work (or obsession). Me, I wrote all the time as a kid. Still do. Baked all the time. Still do. And I made posters and buttons with weird words on them, because I wanted to coin a phrase.

But if I’d had had mounds of homework and only hnyfaytsfy
organized activities (I did have some), I wouldn’t have had the time to immerse myself in these interests that somehow found me. In freedom begins creativity, joy and focus. It’s the bedrock of happy kids and bold adults.

Finland seems to have figured this out. Why can’t we? This clip from Michael Moore’s film, “Where to Invade Next” (which I haven’t seen — someone sent me this clip), shows how Finnish kids spend the least amount of time in school of any developed nations…and have some of the world’s top “scores.”

Also, perhaps not coincidentally: Happy kids.



Playing! What a waste of time!

Hey you kids! Quit playing and start to LEARN.


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18 Responses to Finland’s Genius Idea: More Free Time for Kids

  1. Sarah M May 12, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    I hadn’t heard of this documentary before, so thank you for passing it along. I see at my local libraries, it has over 100 holds on it already! Clearly, people are interested…
    We homeschool and delayed academics, less actual time spent sitting in a day, and a lot of good, unstructured free time are some of the reasons we do. I think a lot of parents are interested in this (and what this movie probably highlights) lifestyle change, but feel powerless to actually change it; like turning around an oil tanker in a bay.

    I used to LOVE to do art, mostly collage, and I still learn different art mediums, and continue with some of my favorites. I used to spend SO much time reading and going to the library–still one of my favorite ways to relax and one of my favorite weekly ‘field trips’. 🙂 Loved to ride my bike around the neighborhood and beyond with my friends, and now explore on bike with my kids. Loved spending time with animals (esp. dogs) and now dog-sit for friends, help train dogs, and loved to help my friend who had a farm when I lived nearby.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. JP Merzetti May 13, 2016 at 7:57 am #

    It’s a pretty good little film, that one. Brace yourself for Norway’s version of a supermax prison!
    Um, the thing I loved to do with my free time the most when I was a kid, was wash grownups out of my hair.
    Just that.

    It was a real treat to just wander off into the wilderness and know the nearest adult was miles away.(although most times a block or two was sufficient.)
    Now that I ponder it a bit – I realize that adults were just as pesky to a free range kid back then, as they are now.
    The major difference – is that when I was a kid, thankfully, adults had enough sense to allow a kid a lot of free-swinging elbow room (which we all took advantage of, every chance we got.)

    But then….it was a time of unrestricted freedom in a lot of ways (to a kid’s perspective.) Ice hockey without helmuts. (I’m talkin’ goofin’ on the rink here, not super organized or supervised.)
    Bike riding without helmuts. Cars without seat belts (let alone moonshot booster seats.) Rowboats without life jackets. Woodsy rambles packin’ hunting knives, hatchets, and waterproof match packets.
    School doors without locks. Yeah….back in those neanderthal times, life challenged us enough to learn how to survive the things we did without.

    The thing I loved back then was books. I work in a library. Go figure.
    I remember the flashlight reading under the bedclothes….and when my dad found out the flashlight was banished……and replaced with a proper bedside reading lamp.
    I also remember a lot of extra curricular homework… all kinds of stuff they didn’t teach in school.

    What struck me most about the Finnish schools was their dedication to a very simple and basic thing: happy kids. Their kids thrive in a school environment because it’s a gentle, uplifting and very happy place to be. With all that positive stuff going on, they actually do what this treatment inspires them to do: learn.
    And it didn’t get past me….that wee bit of an elbow nudge to kick teaching for the test, to the curb.

    But I might mention in closing – from kindergarden on, I was at complete and utter war with academia. That never changed until my mid-twenties, when I was finally done with lower, middle, and higher education. Of a formal nature.
    After which I followed my father’s example, and embraced the informal stuff like billy-ho!
    It’s truly amazing, what you can learn when you go at your own speed, follow your own path, and have access to North America’s third largest book collection.

    Real education is a free-thinking affair. The payoff is wonderful. Couldn’t imagine living life without it. To discover that there is as much insatiable curiosity in life now, as there was when I was a little kid with a million questions.
    (Now I get to go find out the answers, myself.)

    But maybe I’ve saved the best part for last: Once formal musical “training” was dispensed with – I went and learned how to do what I loved the most: rock&roll….blues…..jazz. My only regret is that the classical violinist that I struggled to be at the age of 12…..would have gone flip-city back then if he’d learned how to fiddle Acadian-style. (That’s where the Lousiana Cajun comes from.) But me and me band mates still know how to shuck and jive a fair bit. Life is still good on the other side of midnight!

  3. Theresa May 13, 2016 at 8:11 am #

    One thing that I have heard the u.s complain about is that other countries have better scores yet we never try to do it their way. We just pile on the work. Maybe if tried this scores would be great.

  4. Jessica May 13, 2016 at 8:13 am #

    The problem with free time for kids is that it’s not profitable. Hovering takes time, energy, and most of all, money. That’s a big part of the reason our education system had gotten worse instead of following Finland’s example, and why we’re constantly bombarded by people and advertising saying that we need to spend all this time and money to make sure our child’s life is perfect.

    Hitting the library, writing, and biking/ walking wherever I wanted were my favorite things to do as a kid. I mostly just liked exploring, and still occasionally get myself “lost” so I can find new places and things.

  5. Theresa May 13, 2016 at 9:30 am #

    Of course even though free time leads to better grades and less money spent on silly stuff. And more spent on important stuff.

  6. lollipoplover May 13, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    “If you look back on your childhood and what you did in your free time, the thing that you LOVED to do just may still be part of your life.”

    That’s because you had time to figure out what you enjoyed doing! We are so hesitant to let our kids get *bored* fearing they may get in trouble or worse, not realize their potential. Getting bored and having nothing to do as if they are BAD things when in reality, this is where the magic happens.

    What jumped out at me from this lovely clip is the part about REST. They need to decompress. Stress and anxiety among very young children is growing at alarming rates- and for what?

    Giving them time to learn hobbies and interests and just play. It is truly a gift. My favorite things to do as a child were playing with all of the dogs in my neighborhood and exploring the woods all day behind my house. We made our own forts and had a village back there…even a church. Today, I have 6 furry friends and do pet sitting/walking with my kids for extra money. I’m most proud of my little backyard victory garden that feeds my family and many of the neighbors. I’ve found nature’s prozac just by digging in the dirt, seeing life growing and changing, and feeding my family yummy food that genuinely makes me proud. It IS the little things.

  7. JP Merzetti May 13, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Well spoke, lollipoplover –

    Ah yuss. Boredom is the mother of legions of bright ideas.
    And the saddest thing in the world is that truly beloved children are not so often bestowed upon the greatest gift of all….left at their own peace to imagine themselves within their own vision.
    How is it we have become so terrified at the prospect of anything less than perfect parenting? (or what passes for such a thing presently.) And what is perfect teaching?

    A lovely life in later ages often possesses a miriad of things acquired while young. I believe this is how we’re hardwired.
    Childhood isn’t just a thing to “get through.”
    It is (as it should be) the very foundation of a life.

    By my mother’s instruction, I gew up with the concept that kids were “little people” (and although the little part was an eternal frustration to me until I gained some height) the people part slowly sunk in until it made perfect sense.
    Something that has accompanied all of life’s adventures ever since.

    Stress and anxiety are probably not modern inventions….(or the way they are handed down from older generations to younger ones)……but the de-stressing tactics we now employ could probably use an overhaul !
    An interesting question – why it is a growing thing in young children.
    Perhaps because modern eyes now look and see the adults they will become, instead of just who and what they are in the moment.
    In our world time speeds up – expectations of instant results abound – change arrives in an instant – ‘just-in’ time’ methodologies and logistics run our lives……(and perhaps we are gulity of applying too much of all that to kids, too.)
    Nature…..sure does have a lot of prozac, doesn’t it?
    I still feel lucky to have had a lot of that as a kid (instead of the artificial kind!)
    Therapy dawgs & cats don’t do too bad a job, either…….

    Natural kids naturally love nature. A match made in a little bit of heaven.
    Beats the crap out of artificial.

  8. lollipoplover May 13, 2016 at 10:36 am #

    @JP Merzetti-

    There is a link between dirt and depression:

    Get dirty kids!

  9. John May 13, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    There was a recent article on the Fox News site (can’t seem to locate it now) where parents were soliciting the assistance of Pediatricians in getting more recess time for their kids. Doctors and Pediatricians all agree that unstructured playtime is very healthy and beneficial for children. Since recess time in elementary schools has shrunk within the past few years, parents were asking lawmakers to pass legislation requiring at least 20 minutes of recess time per day for their kids. BUT politicians on both sides of the house hemmed and hawed about it sighting academic requirements and the need for government to stay out of the decision.

    So I’m thinking my goodness, why should this be so difficult in setting aside a measly 20 minutes out of the school day for the kids??

    As for me when I was a kid back in the 1960s, we used to play touch football on the playground and softball too. Well today at 60-years-old I play in a senior softball league and I’m also an avid football fan! Oh, we used to play dodge ball too and banning it would have been unthinkable. BTW, none of us were scarred by it either!

  10. lollipoplover May 13, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    I believe the amount of play we infuse in a child’s day will directly correlate to better…everything.
    Behavior, sleep, mood, and the golden egg of academic achievement. What did the math teacher say was important? He wants the kids happy. Yes, he teaches math. Yet he knows that an open mind is willing to learn. A fidgety and distracted one does not.

    You know what doesn’t make kids happy?
    Everyday Math.
    HOLY hell, the person who thought this a good idea was either on LSD or as one poster on here said, has geraniums in their cranium. I have no idea how Common Core is anywhere near common and in what way this teaches young minds. They don’t understand it, I certainly don’t understand it, and the poor teachers who are forced to use this method need to be given a weekly wine allowance to deal with this flaming bag of sh@t that we pass off as math education in our country.

    A math teacher who wants HAPPY kids. Imagine that.

  11. EricS May 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

    Agreed lollipoplover. I remember still having homework. But it wasn’t a lot. Which gave us plenty of time to play right after school, and/or after we were done our homework. We got to learn to figure out who we were, and what we wanted to do. What we enjoyed doing. In hindsight, this was absolutely crucial to who I am today. I do me, for me (and my family), and not because it’s just expected by society.

    Even teachers are feeling it these days. Back in the day, there was an average of maybe 15 students per teacher. Less papers for them to grade. Now, you have 30 kids per teacher, and crap load of paper work. Teachers are stressed. Some cut corners, and lack the interest they once had. Perhaps all for pumping out children into post-secondary. Universities are loving more kids paying tuition. Tuition that many will probably spend most of their working life to pay off. And end up in a job that they never studied for. Some will be conditioned to feel they have to work their asses off to get promoted and make money. They basically live to work. And the only people truly benefiting from their hard work, is the people that own the company they work for.

    This video reiterates what has already been learned about our educational system. Here’s another.

    Full interview with Charlotte Iserbyt:

  12. Vaughan Evans May 13, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    Every year, my family went to my grandmother’s summer place-on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.
    One day, in late August 1957, I picked up the 1957 Vancouver Telephone Book.
    From it I learned the names of streets-in that part of Vancouver called Kerrisdale
    (In 1957, Vancouver had 400,000 people. It now has 603,000 people.
    -When I got home, I explored all the streets around my district.(I was only 9; Mother gave me an hour-to ride my bike.

    -When I was 14, I had a weekly paper route.
    I had paper routes-off and on-between age of 14 and of 22.
    (Today it is adults, not children-who are delivering papers.
    (Vancouver has two daily papers-they are both in the morning.)
    I would also make note of For Sale signs. When the homes were sold and the new people moved it, I would sell subscriptions-to such people.
    When I was 24, I got a job-as a mail sorter at the Vancouver Post Office.
    Because I knew most of the streets of Vancouver, I passed my sortation tests-without having to go through the training programs.
    I worked there from 1973-1979.
    When I resigned, I was presented with a plaque-that said:
    To a Great Postal Worker
    Vaughan Evans
    From All Your Friends At The Post Office
    Worked 1973-1979

  13. Edward Hafner May 13, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    As a kid Fifty years ago, I recall spending Sunday afternoons cutting the individual panels out of the Sunday comics section of the paper, then mixing and rearranging them into completely different story ideas. (Also remember getting in trouble once when I cut them up before everyone else had read them.) Today, I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating characters and story ideas purely as a hobby/pastime. I am by no means a professional writer. It’s just a fun activity I can enjoy anywhere. All I need is a pen and a scrap of paper – no batteries required. And if I do get a bit more serious about one of those ideas, I did treat myself to a screenwriting program for the laptop.

  14. Catherine Caldwell-Harris May 13, 2016 at 8:19 pm #

    @Jessica. Right on. Corporations can’t make money off of letting children have unstructured free time. As she says, helicoptering takes money. Instilling fear in parents makes then anxious, and anxious people spend more money to assuage the anxiety.

    And this is part of the reason I feel lonely as a parent. When I pick up the kids from school, we start tooling around the neighborhood on our bikes, looking for adventure (they are twins age 6 so I do need to tag along). But we are mostly alone, unless the day is an exceptionally lovely one. When I try to make play dates, all the other kids are tied up in activities. One reason I don’t have my kids in activities is also that I don’t want to spend the money — don’t want to pay $25/hr for something, and be tied down to a schedule myself. Granted, if I had more money I would get them in a music or karate class. But since I don’t, we go out and explore nature. I’ve asked parents to let me look after their children, with mine, in a park or woods — “I can look after all 4 of our children” — and they say no, their kids don’t have the free time.

  15. andy May 14, 2016 at 2:18 am #

    @Jessica That is one thing. The other thing is that there seems to be strong ideology of hard work and accountability which sounds good in theory, but leads to people refusing or looking down on anything that does not look like hard work every single moment. It also leads to blame game after every incident and refusal to do things that would “just help parents”.

    Parents chatting on playground are not seen as cool and laid back, they are considered lazy. Therefore, parents on playground are looking for something to do. Not just they do not want to be seen as lazy, they do not want to think about themselves as lazy.

    When the kids are in school, they can not get long recess after lunch, because that would not be “work” and because school would be “just free babysitting for parents”. So it is either that moms stay at home or have just part-time work or kids have classes till afternoon.

    Moreover, I suspect that things like ten years old running around freely after school are associated with poor people who a.) cant afford to stay at home and chill for years and b.) when they are unemployed are seen as lazy welfare queens. Whatever poor people do tend to be framed as negative and middle class then internalize opposite behavior as moral values. When poor mom does not have job she is welfare queen, when her 10 years old is alone on playground she is inattentive parent that does not care. The only logical consequence for middle class parent is that someone has to be with their kid all the time and that someone must be super active so that she/he is not like those lazies.

  16. sexhysteria May 14, 2016 at 3:56 am #

    Great clip. When I was in elementary school I started taking pictures with an “Instamatic” camera, and developed the black and white film in my bathroom. Still do (though I have a better camera now).

  17. Nicole R. May 14, 2016 at 5:29 am #

    Great video! I definitely believe kids need more “slow” time to figure out who they are and how to handle things. If they aren’t forced to cover* so much material in a day, they’ll have the stamina left to learn about things they’re actually interested in the course of their free time.

    * Note that I said “cover,” not “learn,” because I agree that trying to learn too much at once leads to actually retaining very little of it.

  18. CrazyCatLady May 14, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    I homeschool my kids so that they can have free time. In the early grades, we were able to get through the work in about two hours with a “school at home homeschool program.” (It had all the components of “regular” brick and mortar school.) My kids have had time to explore books, to make a bungie powered wood lathe, rebuild a car engine, do 4-H, art, and so much more.

    When I was a kid, I didn’t have homework until 4th grade. (My daughter had it in kinder…..all stupid busy work.) Once I learned to read, I read a lot. I still love reading, though I hate wearing glasses to do it. I wandered with my siblings around the hills and woods of upstate NY….at first with my parents, later on our own. I have a great sense of direction because of it. I generally know which direction I need to go even if the GPS takes us off on a rabbit trail. I love nature, still climb some trees and encourage my kids to do the same. I had time to learn to sew…like Laura Ingles on a treadle sewing machine that my step father brought home (one for each kid.) We built tree forts, dug snow forts in snow drifts, went sledding and skating. We learned when ice is safe, how to spot a stream under a drift of snow (that you might fall into and get your feet wet and have to run home so your feet didn’t freeze.) We had time to go get milk from the farmer up the road, hang out in his barn and help him with some of his chores.

    I really regret that my kids can’t roam the woods like I could. There are no trespassing signs all over where I live now. But we do take them camping and allow them to wander in the forest. Granted…alone at a little older age than I did because they had only sporadic experience.