Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What now?

I have been home now for six weeks. It has been a whirlwind time for me including things like taking my oldest son to his final chemo treatments (he will be fine, Thank God), enjoying time with my youngest son who was here for two weeks from Paraguay where he is a Peace Corps Volunteer and jumping back into school which included final lessons, the 8th grade class trip to New York City, report cards, graduation speeches,  cleaning my classroom and attending workshops. Whew! Throughout this time I have had quick conversations with many friends and colleagues and the most common question is, "Now that you have been to Finland, a country which has the reputation of having one of the best education systems in the world, what would you change here if you could?" Great question! I have been thinking about this a lot and have come to the conclusion that I wouldn't change just one thing but I would like to start with five things. So here are my suggestions:

Ellen's Top 5 Recommended changes for Education in New Hampshire generally and Deerfield Community School specifically.

1. Less Testing and Evaluation
Finland schools do not participate in all the testing that we do in American schools. In fact they feel that this testing is detrimental. Teachers know where their students are by closely monitoring their progress daily (something that American teachers do as well). If a student is falling behind they get them immediate help. Every school has trained special education teachers. Some of them co-teach in the classroom, and some have pull-out groups, but all support the classroom teacher in helping meeting the needs of their students. Another important point is that around 90% of the special education teachers were classroom teachers first. I think this is an important distinction because they understand what it is like to be a classroom teacher and how best to help them.
The other important factor in this discussion is that the children don't need to be tested every second because  there is trust that the teacher is doing the best job that he or she can do. There is no competition between schools and the principal doesn't evaluate the teachers. (Quite frankly an administrator does not need to be in a classroom to know if a teacher is doing a good job. Students and parents talk!). Given the amount of time that I have lost my students to testing (One year I didn't see them for 3 weeks!) I have to agree that the time would be better spent in learning.

There is one other big difference in this testing environment. While Finnish students are not subject to NECAPs, NWEA and Smarter Balance, to name a few of the yearly tests they take, there is a final test at the end of 9th grade. Education in Finland is compulsory to the 9th grade (about the equivalent of our sophomore year in high school). If students want to continue their education after 9th grade this test helps determine their placement because they must apply to go to high school. This causes students to be more serious about their education and take more responsibility for their learning. Students can also repeat 9th grade if they need another chance to do better on the test. I believe that fostering this sense of individual responsibly is often lacking in our education system.

2. Recess
The average Finnish school schedule includes 15 minutes recess after 45 minutes of instruction. Some schools will combine two 45 minutes classes and then have a 30 minute recess or a few different variations, however, recess is an important part of the school day right up through ninth grade.

This chance to be outside and be active is very important. Studies have shown that recess decreases acting out behavior, and improves attention, mood and working memory, especially for our students with Attention Deficit Disorder. In addition, allowing social time helps students develop their social skills.

A couple of years ago we started allowing recess within our forest at the edge of the play area. Students started working together to build things like dams and forts. The teachers in one grade level commented to me that they saw their students develop collaboration skills and they had less behavior issues in their class.

So why then don't we have more recess in our schools? This is not wasted time!! I know that in the middle school recess has been pretty much eliminated and I hope that maybe I can change this.
Students at recess in a city elementary school in Helsinki

3. Looping
Looping is the concept of teachers following students through multiple grades. I found this to be a common practice in Finnish schools from first through sixth grade. (Teachers often teach 7th through 9th grade so while this isn't a traditional "looping" they often have the same students in these three grades) Several teachers in the elementary grades mentioned to me that they had the option of following their students to the next grade level. In some schools teachers might just loop with the students from first grade to third and then a different set of teachers looped from fourth through sixth grade. However, I was very impressed with one school I went to, where the philosophy is to loop all the way from first grade to sixth grade. Here each grade level has two teachers who stay with the class for 6 years and co-teach the group. I have been told many times that research has shown that looping has several advantages. While I have not actually read any of this research (I plan on doing this this summer), I have experienced advantages when I started looping my own students from 7th grade to 8th. I have found there to be a strong advantage in having my students again the next year. I save a lot of time the second year because I already know their capabilities, I know what they have studied, I can build stronger connections with the curriculum, and I build stronger relationships with the students. I also believe that an advantage of looping is that the teacher gets a better understanding of the curriculum and how learning progressions work with the child's development.

First Graders who will stay with the same group of teachers through the 6th grade.

4. Place-Based Education
As I have mentioned in past posts I was very impressed with the environmental education I saw while in Finland. People are truly connected to their environment. Approximately 86% of the population has a summer cottage. They are proud of the fact that it involves very rustic living, often without electricity but always close to nature. These summer cottages are sometimes on one of the many islands in the Gulf of Finland, or close to their surprisingly high number of lakes. However, they aren't all what one would expect. Before I left Finland my advisor invited me to her summer cottage.  It is right in the heart of Helsinki, but closed off by tall hedges and trees. No cars are allowed in and it is full of very small plots each with a tiny cottage. Each plot is surrounded by hedges, shrubs and trees and everyone has gardens. It was like this beautiful oasis closing out the city, but only a short subway ride from their main apartment.

I grew to realize that knowing your environment was a very important concept to the Finns. It is an important piece of their science curriculum and I had several professors mention it when I talked to them. However, knowing your environment isn't just about knowing trees and birds and other wildlife. It is about being aware of your surroundings. I had one professor tell me that it is important for young students to get themselves to school through either walking, riding a bicycle, or taking a bus. Even at such early ages as 7 and 8. This is because one is much more aware of their environment if they must circumvent it themselves. Think about all our children who take buses or are driven to school. I bet few even look out the windows much less could get there on their own. Lately, our society is making it difficult for parents to even let their kids walk or ride their bikes to school. This is crazy and we are losing an important connection to our environment.
Summer cottages in Helsinki

When I got home I read two of David Sobel's books called Place-Based Education and Beyond Ecophobia, both fantastic books that I highly recommend. David Sobel found that students need to learn their own environment and appreciate it first. If you bring up global issues too soon, children feel helpless and actually close down and become uninterested in their environment. Getting students to appreciate their environment is best done through place-based education. "Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects across the curriculum. The first step, in children aged 4 - 7,  is to create empathy between the child and the natural world. They can play as being birds, butterflies or trees that live in their backyard. Exploring the nearby world and knowing your place in order to bond with Earth is the primary objective between the ages of seven to eleven. Social action begins around the age of twelve and hopefully extends into adulthood.
I realized after reading these books that this is what is happening in many Finnish classrooms.
3rd grade students testing the water quality from the estuary 1 block away Helsinki, Finland

1st grade students learning about their local forest (Savonlinna, Finland)

One might say that it works in Finland because of the cultural differences. However, it has been found to work in American classes as well:
          "A recent study of 40 schools across the nation indicates that using the environment as an integrating context (EIC) in school curricula results in wide-ranging, positive effects on student learning. The study found that EIC improves student achievement in social studies, science, language arts and math. Students, teachers and administrators also reported other significant effects including: development of problem-solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills; increased enthusiasm and engagement in learning; and gains in summative measures of educational achievement such as standardized test scores and grade point average. (Lieberman and Hoody, 1998)
So I will be trying to implement place-based education in my school. I find it ironic that I went half way across the country to find something that works so well that has been promoted in my own country since the 90's!

5. Teacher training
The last issue and an extremely important one is teacher training. In Finland being a teacher is a very highly respected job. Many prospective students apply to become elementary teachers but only less than 10% are accepted. Students enter college in a teacher education major. They spend five years focusing on being a teacher and taking courses to that end. Lastly, to be a teacher you must have your masters.
Preservice teachers getting science training and the University of Eastern Finland
Preservice teachers practicing the dissection of a fish before working with 3rd graders, University of Helsinki

Here is a link to a presentation that I created which discusses in more detail science education in Finland: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15CHHdHGLRbfyW8Xb208TM-cKTfQ8iEE6IdF3AjUE-BY/edit?usp=sharing
So this creates an atmosphere of trust between society and schools, something that is sorely lacking in the US. One might say, "But we can't change things here." I totally disagree. This wasn't always the case in Finland. They made this change in the late 70's and it wasn't always an easy sell. However, they can certainly see the advantages of it now! We should raise our standards for becoming teachers in the US, and decrease the number of students going into education (there aren't enough jobs anyway). If we made it very difficult to become a teacher, and the public becomes aware of this, I believe the perception of "teachers" will favorably change. Others might say that unless you increase the pay that teachers receive you won't get these good candidates. While I agree that teachers deserve good pay, I don't believe that this will stop dedicated people from wanting to go into education. And of course once the stigma of being a teacher is lifted you will get many more young people wanting to be teachers. We need to start somewhere and I hope that some states will get the strength to make these changes and show the rest of the US that it works.

So these are some of the major focuses that I will be working on for the next year. I would love to hear peoples comments and I will keep you posted on my progress.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Nature Deficit Disorder? Not Here!

Those of you that know me, know that I am passionate about the environment. Even though I grew up in a New Jersey suburb, about 15 minutes from New York City, I always loved the outdoors and couldn't wait to get away from city life. One of the main reasons I choose to go to the University of New Hampshire was its location in beautiful rural New Hampshire! I majored in wildlife management and worked in the environmental field for 15 years before I became a teacher. While I love all aspects of science, environmental science is my true love.
I am very concerned about the disconnect many Americans have with their environment. I have noticed that students seem to know less and less about their environment and few, if any, know any names of trees, flowers or birds. Their knowledge of mammals is limited to large obvious ones such as foxes, deer, coyote and moose. I remember the day I found a dead shrew in my field and brought it in to show my students. They were blown away by it and had never seem anything like it before. Americans present disconnect with their environment was brought to light by Richard Louv in his book "Last Child in the Woods," and coined the term nature deficit disorder.
 “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

David Sobel is a professor at Antioch New England Graduate School and has also done a lot of research about children and the environment. I love this quote,
If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it."

Finnish people already seem to know this. Children are introduced to nature early and spend a lot of time outdoors. In fact, pediatricians recommend that babies take their naps outdoors. They are all snuggled up in blankets and little sleeping bags and stay outside unless the temperature is below -25C (-13F)

No matter the temperature, wherever I went I saw children playing outside. Daycare workers take the children out every day.

Kindergarten teachers must be certified and one of the courses they take is how to teach the natural sciences to children this age. Children go outside every day and several schools take students out on frequent long trips to the forest. I visited a school just outside of Helsinki that takes the students out every week for an hour and a half long trip to the forest. The teacher has planned lessons that work on either science and or math concepts.

A squirrel puppet is used to talk to the students

Students use magnifying lens to see things closer.

After the lesson the children were given free time to explore the forest. They climbed trees, played role playing games and helped a stump decompose.

It was raining our entire trip. When we got back the children were washed off with watering cans. The clothes were put in a drying cabinet and hung up on specially built racks for boots and mittens. Even though it was raining I never heard any complaints and the kids had an absolute blast.
Washing the mud off students

Another kindergarten that is getting popular in Finland is called a hut kindergarten. A hut is built in a woods area. It can be just a small area or deeper in the forest. The students spend the entire day out in the forest. The hut is used for early morning meeting but then all the lessons and meals are outdoors. If it gets very cold or it is raining heavily the students will eat their meals in the hut. I visited one of these and talked to the teachers there. Not only do students learn to appreciate and love their environment, but they learn how to get along with one another. Most of the activities involve collaboration and play. I was so impressed with this that I want to build one of these back at my school in the states. (What do you say Paul? Can I try and get a grant?)
Outdoor Kindergarten Hut

The importance of being outside doesn't stop when students start school. The typical Finnish school has 45 minute classes followed with 15 minute outdoor recess periods. This holds true for first grade  students (7-8 year olds) through 9th grade students(15-16 year olds). Richard Louv said, "Playtime  - especially unstructured, imaginative, exploratory play- is increasingly recognized as an essential component of wholesome child development." While we have the research in the US to support this, we don't implement it. In Finland, they not only understand the importance of giving children free time outside, they implement it. 
The national curriculum puts a strong emphasis on knowing your environment and understanding the concept of sustainability. As a part of this, it is important for students to know the names of living things in their natural environment. I visited a class where first grade students learned the names of common birds and trees played a game about them.
Bird Red Rover Type of Game
Answering questions about trees.
In addition every school I went into had collections of local birds and mammals and students learned the names of everything throughout their nine years of compulsory school. Textbooks made connections between their natural environment and how humans might impact it.

I think we have a lot to learn from the Finnish educational system. Children are brought up spending a lot of time outdoors. The concept of sustainability is important and educators understand that in order to care about this one needs to have a connection with your environment.  I also think that Finnish students may do well in science because of this connection. After all, science is the study of how the world around us works. If one is tied to their environment then one might have a natural affinity to science.  So in closing I will leave you with one last quote from David Sobel to think about.

“Talking to trees and hiding in trees precedes saving trees.”

Lets try and get our kids to spend more time playing, talking and hiding in trees. Appropriately enough my Finnish word this week is "puu."  It means tree. Go outside!!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Finnish Education

Many of my friends have been asking me questions about the Finnish education system so I thought I would devote this post to what I have learned so far. Finns think very highly of education. The most important feature of the Finnish education policy is a commitment to a vision of a knowledge-based society. Not only does Finland put a lot of resources into their education system for children, but they also have a strong education system for adults. Comprehensive education is free. That means that school books, meals, transport and health care are provided free of charge. Furthermore, there is no tuition for college and advanced studies. The goal in this country is to promote educational equality and they don't believe that a person's economic status should prevent this. When I think of the school loans that my sons are weighted down by, I have to admit I am jealous and envious of Finland's approach to education.

All children must attend school from first grade to ninth grade. First graders are seven years old (one year older than our students). Most children also attend pre-school and day-care which is offered through their municipality.
6 and 7 year olds visiting the forest
5th Grade class learning about seasons

2nd graders learning about bones

The school day is much shorter than ours in the US. Children start school at different times depending on their schedule. Some at 8:00 and others around 9:00. In addition their day can end anywhere from 12:30 to 2:30. Part of this is because while the schools have music, art and PE, if the student has a real interest in these things they participate in classes or activities offered through the community. In other words, a student will go to school and have basic classes but then after school they might go to a sports club or an art or music school. Very different than how we provide things.

However, because of this Finnish youth are very independent. I have seen children as young as about 9 years old taking buses and subways by themselves. They go to these activities alone or go home, often to an empty house.

After 9th grade, if the students want to continue with their education they can go to either a vocational or regular high school. However, they have to apply to these schools. That means that while they have attended their local primary school in their community, they may not get accepted to their local high school. The acceptance of students into high school is based on their previous grades. This is mostly just true when they are in a city like Helsinki that has a lot of schools. Typically country schools would only have one high school so this wouldn't be an issue for them.
High School Students, Grade 12 in physics class

Grade 8, Physics Class
At the end of high school all students take a final matriculation exam. This exam is not only for graduation but also for entry into a university. This is the only national exam that is taken. They have nothing like our NECAPs or smarter balance or the multitude of exams that we submit our students to. In fact, all the testing that many countries, like the US does, goes against the Finnish philosophy. They focus on providing excellent teachers, good solid curriculum, providing resources and then trusting their teachers to teach the students what is important!!

Now the last thing I want to talk about are the teachers. All educators in Finland must have a masters degree. Many teachers I have met, no matter the grade they teach, have doctorates. Teaching is a highly respected occupation. In addition, it is very difficult to become a teacher. Universities only take top students into their programs. In order to apply into a teaching position (grades 1-6) a candidate must pass a test on assigned written material and an interview. It isn't just about grades, but also about an individuals characteristics that would make them a good teacher. In grades older than 6 they must be qualified in at least one subject area, and most often they are qualified in at least two. So they study their area of expertise for three years, have one year of pedagogical studies and the last year for a master's thesis. Lastly, special education teachers must be classroom teachers first. Then they apply to the special education program and if they get in, they take further studies.
This is a science methods course that I audited at the University for pre-school and kindergarten teachers.

So I hope this was a good overview of the Finnish education system. They must be doing something right because not only are their PISA scores very high  but the variation between schools is the lowest of all the countries that participate  That means it doesn't matter if you go to school in the city or way up north in Lapland, students have the same access to good education.

Now, I didn't talk about everything so if you have questions please let me know. Also, your questions will help me make sure that I am getting all the information I need while here. I think that we could learn a lot from the Finns. Hope to hear from you. 

Oh I almost forgot the Finnish word today is  "koulu"  It means school.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Arctic Experiences

The northern most part of Finland is called Lapland. This is the largest and northernmost region which borders Sweden, Norway and Russia.
Lapland is a must see if you get the chance to visit Finland. My husband and I traveled there by overnight train. After 13 hours we arrived at our destination. The train ride was horrible. The seats were uncomfortable and the bright lights are on all night. However, the destination was worth the trouble.  Our first morning we were picked up and driven north to do a husky tour. Both my husband and I got a chance to drive the dog sled for about an hour each. I have to say it made my top ten list of the most fun things that I have done.

Husky tours are a great way for locals to make money as they are very popular with the tourists. 

Another big tourist draw is Santa's village. You see Santa actually lives in Finland and his work place is in Rovaniemi at Santa's village. Children come from all over Europe for a chance to meet Santa Claus and let him know what they would like for Christmas. Santa actually speaks many different languages. Visitors can write postcards and have them delivered on the next Christmas. Santa's Village is also located right on the arctic circle. So many go here just to say they have crossed the arctic circle.

Lost my reindeer!

This is the building where Santa works.

The other big business in Lapland has to do with reindeer. While there are some wild reindeer, most of the reindeer live on farms. They are raised for meat. During the majority of the year the reindeer are allowed to roam freely. I have been told that it is hard to drive around without coming across reindeer on the road. Unfortunately, since we went during the winter, the reindeer had been rounded up and were kept in enclosed places. We went to a reindeer farm where we could feed them. Some reindeer herders also offer reindeer sled rides.
Reindeer sled at Santa's Village
Me feeding reindeer

I loved Lapland. The area was harsh but beautiful. The sun didn't get high in the sky and the daytime was short, but the air was fresh and crisp. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see the aurora borealis, which was a total bummer, but I have never seen so many stars in the sky.

Unfortunately, climate change may change these arctic regions. NASA research has shown that in the last 166 years the Northern Hemisphere have increased in temperature by .93 degrees C. However, Finland has increased by 2 degrees C. In fact, Finland is the fastest warming country in the world. I know that all winter everyone has been telling me that the weather has been changing. We had a very warm winter here with very little snow. Quite different than what was experienced in New England!

However, change in the arctic regions of our world have many people concerned. Obviously we are worried about animals that live in these cold places, like polar bears. But there are more concerns than that. Ice melting means less light is reflected back into space. Remember the albedo effect? More heat is being absorbed by oceans and land that once was ice. Also permafrost, land which has been frozen for at least two years, is defrosting. All the methane gas in the permafrost gets released into the atmosphere and methane is an even stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Lastly, arctic ice melting means that we are opening up parts of the ocean that have never been accessible before. People are starting to think about the possibility of natural resources, such as oil, that might be recovered in these northern regions and the creation of new shipping routes. 
Increased shipping and drilling for oil will add more environmental pressures, such as oil spills and boat traffic, into this already fragile environment. To try and combat this impact the eight arctic countries, USA, Canada, Russian Federation, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland formed the arctic council. (Question: Why do you think Denmark is one of the countries??) The purpose of this council is to address environmental protection and sustainable development issues in the arctic region. There are also six indigenous groups who hold permanent participant status and other countries who are observers. The council has six active committees and gets together every two years. If you are interested in more information about what they do go to this website:  http://www.state.gov/e/oes/ocns/opa/arc/ac/c58751.htm

However, there are several groups who don't feel that the arctic council is doing enough to save the arctic. This became obvious to me when I happened to ride a tram past the harbor and saw a Greenpeace ship moored there. I was very excited and told my husband that we need to come back and get a picture,

Greenpeace ship in Helsinki Harbor
You see Greenpeace is a nonprofit environmental group that started in 1971. I remember news stories about how they would try and get in the way of whaling boats so that the whalers couldn't kill the whales or taking movies of whales being killed and making them public. They are a non-violent group, but may go to places where they aren't allowed to be, so that they can gather information. They made the news a lot in my younger days and I was excited to see one of their ships.

Anyway, when my husband and I came back we found out that they were having an open boat day. We went on a free tour of the boat. It turns out that this boat, "the Arctic Sunrise" was designed as an ice breaker and is now a research boat for Greenpeace collecting data on climate change and the arctic region.  This boat had recently been in Russian waters and was boarded by soldiers with guns. This is a video of that happening.
The crew made the video while they were being boarded and one man quick ran to the computer room to upload the video to youtube. This is the door that was broken down by the soldier to get to him!
The boat was detained for 10 months and much of the equipment and all the small boats were confiscated by the Russian government. They were leaving the next day to try and stop ice breakers from helping oil exploration ships do tests for new oil resources.

Can you imagine being a part of this? It must have been very scary. Anyway, I want you to think about what you are willing to do for things that you believe in. And I am going to leave you with this video that I found on the Greenpeace website. Oh but before that I need to give you a Finnish word. How about "Karhu" it means bear. When I think of arctic issues I always think of polar bears. It breaks my heart to think that they may go extinct in my lifetime. I think they are such beautiful creatures. We may be left with....
These polar bears were on the Greenpeace ship

Please watch this video and think about how you would answer this question.

Greenpeace video, "What Would You Do?"

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Finnish History

How did the country of Finland start? Well this is an interesting topic and is actually one of the least understood of all European cultures. So far the archaeological evidence suggests that people from the Baltic Sea region gradually moved into Finland from 1800 BC to around 400 BC. There isn't a lot of archaeological information because of the ice age. However, it is believed that this migration came from Western Europe and Scandinavia. (Note: Finland is not considered part of Scandinavia)
Finland is a land of forests and lakes and early Finnish people were  hunters and gatherers, living in clans. It is thought that in 1157, King Erik of Sweden decided to tame the Finns and bring them christianity. In addition, owning Finland secured them with safer trading routes to the east.

Sweden was to control Finland from 1157-1809, nearly 700 years. During this time the eastern border of Finland was often in conflict with Russia (Today Finland and Russia have a border between them of  833 miles). In the last war between Sweden and Russia the important island fortress, Sveaborg  (later renamed Suomenlinna), surrendered to Russia.
Suomenlinna from the coast. The large tower is now used as a lighthouse.

King's Gate by the sea. This is where the king would land when coming to the fort.

Looking out over the battlements. Cannons cover the whole ocean side.
In 1808, Finland became part of Russia. In the 108 years that Finland was owned by Russia, they had five Russian czars. Each czar had different approaches to Finland and how much autonomy they wanted to give them. They changed the capitol of Finland from Turku to Helsinki since it is more easterly located. Many buildings in Helsinki are of Russian architectural design.
Helsinki Cathedral (built after the cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia)

Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki (largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe)

During the time of Russian ownership, the sense of a separate Finnish Nation grew. Leaders started uniting the Finnish people and Finland finally earned their independence on December 6, 1917 after several revolutions.

Now that is a very short history and it misses all the really fascinating dilemmas and intrigue.  European history is so interesting. While we had pressures from France, Spain and obviously England in our US history, all these countries were across the ocean. Look at a European map and you see how close the countries are to each other. Think about how much this proximity to your neighbors can affect your future. Furthermore, there is a lot of influence by monarchies as well as religion. Kings and Queens of European countries were typically related to one another, and marriages were often formed to create alliances. In addition, there were many different religious pressures and religion often drove rebellions and wars.

So in the end, after hundreds of years of being owned by other countries Finland is an independent nation. Finland still maintains a close relationship with Sweden. After all many people in Finland are of Swedish decent. Swedish is the second national language in Finland and all students are taught it in school along with Finnish. (They also take a third language when they are older, about 9. So think about that if you are complaining about your language class!) All signs are in both Finnish and Swedish and all places have both a Swedish and a Finnish name.
Street sign near me. The top is Finnish and the bottom is Swedish.

 So that is it for our short history talk about Finland. I will probably show you more as I travel to other places. Meanwhile it is time for the Finnish word in our post. Today I am choosing "Suomi."
It means Finland and I for one am very glad that they gained their independence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I am going to dedicate this post to answering some of my students' questions. Many of the questions were about food and stores.  We are living in the middle of Helsinki, which is the capital of Finland. It isn't a large city like, New York City, but is definitely a city nonetheless, and about half a million people live here. There is probably a grocery store about every 2 or 3 blocks. However, most of them are very small.

We travel to the city center if we want a lot of things because the store there is the largest (we think). However, this grocery store is still only about half the size of our major stores at home. This is because there is less choice on products. So instead of having almost a whole aisle of salad dressings, you have maybe 10 to choose from. Personally I like this better. It is way easier to make decisions and I doubt there is as much waste. One very interesting thing we have found in the grocery store is that whole plants are sold, such as lettuce and herbs. People must have grow lights at home because there certainly isn't enough sunlight to just put them on their window sills. (The sunlight is presently from 9:00AM to 4:00PM.....and getting longer!)
These are all whole plants waiting for someones home!

The majority of the stores are very small, except in the main downtown part of the city. The only really large store is called Stockman's. It has about 7 floors and carries most everything. It also has a restaurant and a very large bookstore. It is a beautiful building.
Stockmans is the lighted up building in the back
One of your questions is "what is the food like?" From what I can tell it seems that the people around here eat a lot of soups and stews. Fish is especially popular and salmon is sold everywhere. I'm never quite sure what meat we are buying because I haven't learned the words yet, but there is type of meat that I know. "Poro" means reindeer. The Finnish people in the northern part of the country raise reindeer and it is a meat that many people eat. I had my first reindeer in a soup I ordered and it was delicious.
Smoked reindeer soup

This was not the reindeer that I ate!
Finland uses euros as currency. The euro, , is the official currency of the eurozone, which consists of 19 of the 28 member states of the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania,Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain. (wikipedia,2015) The exchange rate changes daily but as of today the rate exchange is 1.16 dollar equals 1 euro. When we first got here 1.30 dollars equaled one euro. The money itself is very similar to ours except that coins are used until you get to 5 euros. They have also gotten rid of 1 cents so when you buy things they are rounded up or down by 5's.

Garrett asked me about the night sky. Unfortunately, I have seem very little of it. Since we are in the city there are many lights and we have had few clear days. It is usually either snowing or raining. I will give you more information on that after I get out of the city.

There are lots of things to do here. There is a zoo close by, an amusement park (which is closed in the winter), many parks and tons of museums. The parks are well used and we see many people jogging. My husband and I walk whenever we can and, believe it or not, we have started jogging. Not like you, Forest, ours is more of a snail pace! The other weekend we had about 6 inches of snow and all the children were out with their sleds, people cross country skied, and a man brought his horse and sleigh to the park to sell rides to anyone interested.

David I don't believe I have offended anyone yet. I did get rather strange looks when I said "nakemiin" to people as we left. It means, "good-bye." However, I have since learned that it is a very old fashioned word! Most people say "hei hei or moi moi." Which leads me to the word for this post; Hyvaa. This means good. So until the next post nakemiin......oops I mean moi moi!! And be hyvaa!!