A 1st grader starting his first year in the big school can be pretty exciting, but at the same time, can also be daunting and nerve-wracking not only to the child but also to the parents. With more responsibilities and required independence from the child, kids can sometimes feel a little bit overwhelmed.
But don't worry, here are some tips gathered from foreign parents in Finland and Mannerheim Lastensuojeluliitto to make the transition smoother and make learning in the big school as fun and stress-free as much as possible.
1. Practice together with the child the simplest and safest way to go to school. Most schools in Finland prefer that the first graders should not ride a bike or any other rides with wheels especially without a helmet. So walking is a better option even though it might take longer. Walking is a healthier option and offers a much exciting journey. The child gets to breathe fresh air and for younger kids, every turn and every path is an adventure. Warn your child though not to talk with strangers or go with them when walking alone.
Some kids also take the bus going to schools. If they do, get them a bus card and load them monthly for kids, or a top-up amount.
2. First and second graders mostly have 20 hours of school per week. Most schools start at around 8-9am and ends at around 12-1pm but in some days, classes can end at a later time. After school, the kids can participate in an afternoon club called known as iltapäiväkerho which costs 80 Eur for 3 hours and 160 Eur for 5 hours. The club provides snacks, activities for the kids to do, and can sometimes help in finishing homework.
There's also an option for a morning club called aamukerho for parents who wish to bring the kids early to school before the class begins. Some schools or parent associations also organize clubs on their own within the school premises.
3. The child might be alone at home for a few hours, which is why it's crucial to teach about home safety and how to call 112 in cases of emergency. Inform the child what home appliances can be used and what should not be used.
4. A free healthy lunch is served in schools which consists of beverages, salads, two warm dishes to choose from, bread with spreads, and a dessert. Encourage your kids to eat in school. Lunch is usually served between 10:30-13:00, so don't skip breakfast and prepare them healthy snacks if they will stay longer in the afternoon and they don't have any clubs. We've gathered typical Finnish dishes for you to familiarize in our food category.
5. Most schools in Finland start today, 8th of August. The only thing a first grader needs in school is a backpack. Most of the school materials are provided: pencils, notebooks, eraser and school books. Expensive items should be left at home, because school insurance will not cover the cost of lost items.
First days of school every year can be pretty hectic. So if you are bringing your kids, make sure to leave earlier and get them comfortable before leaving them at school.
6. Some first graders are more independent and can already go to a friend's house. Set ground rules about visiting and inviting their friends over. A general rule in Finland is that kids eat at home and they don't open the fridge or cabinets in the houses of their host. It is also impolite to stay for more than two hours unless agreed otherwise.
7. It's important to collaborate and communicate with the parents and school. The school uses Wilma which is a School Administrative application for teachers, school staff, students, and guardians. Through Wilma, you'll be able to communicate with them, eg. the teacher, school nurse and principal. Grades, tests, homework, and other school activities will also be informed through Wilma. Parents who are in the class of your child will usually have a communication group in WhatsApp or other messenger applications.
8. Before giving your child a phone, teach them how to communicate with friends and how to use media responsibly. Add all the important contacts to their phone and download the 112 application together in case of emergencies. Avoid huge bills from games and other paid subscriptions and set restrictions from company numbers, foreign countries, and paid entertainment by contacting your current telephone subscription provider. Use family link, locator or other family applications in order to monitor where your kids are in real time and also restrict from downloading game applications without your approval.
9. There are no school uniforms in Finland. Outside shoes are also not allowed inside schools. Get your kids a comfortable pair of inside shoes, or slippers. And because most teachers don't check anymore what your kids wear, it's important to get them dressed properly, especially during cold weather.
Teach them to take care of their own things and be responsible for their own items. There's usually a locker for all children, but losing items is still inevitable. Constant reminder and a regular checklist will help them remember more.
10. Your child might still be learning Finnish language and it might be intimidating to talk. Encourage your child to speak the language and if you don't speak Finnish yet, it might be a good bonding time for both of you to learn the language. Reading books and listening to bedtime stories or iltasatu in Finnish is a great way to learn the language.
As a foreign parent, you have to decide about your child's future at a very young age. Decide which is the right language to grow up with. If you think that it's important for your kids to speak Finnish, then it's advisable for them to attend a Finnish school to learn the Finnish language in a support group held in school premises.
11. Parents are encouraged to help develop the school community by joining parent associations and attending activities organized by the school. Even though you might not speak the Finnish language, you can ask for a translator or ask someone to translate for you. Most Finnish people speak English. Your child will spend most of their childhood in schools which is why as a foreign parent, it's important to be active and be interested about your child's education and other school affairs. This will also make the child feel that you are there for him and you support him all the way.