Posts Tagged ‘finland’

Finnish Christmas Carols 2016

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016 | Life

Finnish Christmas Carols are held in Leeds every year, on the last Saturday in November. Lutheranism is the main brand of Christianity in Finland so appropriately, it is held in St. Luke’s Lutheran church in Headingley. The same venue as the Finnish [language] Saturday school takes place.

This is the first year that we took Venla (obviously). Did she enjoy it? Who knows, because she slept through the entire thing.

finnish-christmas-carols-2016

Despite the fact that she was sleeping for most of it, she did dance along to the children’s song. I was not going to let her miss that, unconscious or not.

There is always a bring-and-share supper after the service. We brought cake. This year it featured a lot of people looking at our baby and saying things like “that is a nice baby”. Or, commonly, “that is a very calm baby you have there.” Because, like all babies, she is remarkably calm when other people are around, saving all the crying up for when she gets home.

Unfortunately, I was from singing along for the same reason as last year: my Finnish is not good enough, nor is my knowledge of English carols.

Finnish picnic 2016

Monday, September 5th, 2016 | Life

finnish-picnic

In July we went to Temple Newsam for the annual Finnish picnic. The rain almost held off: it started raining at one point. However, the advantage of having plenty of Finnish men around is that you can jut pick up the wooden picnic table and move it under a tree.

I tried some of the sandwich cake, again. It was still a sandwich cake.

molkky

I picked up a silver medal in the mölkky tournament (there was no actual medal). It was very disappointing as the front-runner, Martin, missed his final shot and I threw for the win, but went over and had to start again. Still, Jessica Ennis-Hill only managed silver as well, so to be on her level doesn’t seem too bad.

Tropical paradise

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016 | Travel

Given that I am from The North and Elina is from Finland, we are not hot weather people. Twenty degrees is fine. Twenty-five is roasting. This is the reason that when are looking for holiday destinations, we usually head north.

But it doesn’t work. Everywhere we got turns into a tropical paradise.

This is a photo I took on the Summer Isles…

summer-isles

They’re a small series of islands in Wester Ross, Scottish Highlands. On the west coast. The place where it rains every day. This was in September. It was exhausting climbing to the top of the hill because it was so warm.

Then here is us in Finland. The country where it regularly goes to minus twenty degrees celsius in the winter…

finland-beach

This is just after we had been swimming in the sea. The baltic sea. The one that spends half the year frozen. The day after we went swimming in a few lakes and that was even warmer. We went lake-swimming on our last trip too.

Finally, here is us in Iceland…

iceland

Iceland. The country of ice. The clue is in the name! On the right, we’re at the pool in our hotel. It was too warm to sit in for long, so we sat on the decking, that even in the shade was warm enough to sit outside. On the left, the blue lagoon, from which I came home from sunburnt.

sunburn

Every time we pick a colder and colder country to visit, and every time it ends up being super warm. How does this keep happening?

Should we start school later?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 | Thoughts

child-in-school

Compared to other European countries, especially the Nordics, we start school very early. In the UK, children start school the year they turn five, with many starting while they are still four. In Sweden, it’s seven. The Nordics also have much longer summer holidays: three months in Finland.

All of this does not make much difference to educational outcomes. The Pearson Education Index ranks Finland as the best education system in Europe (1st globally in 2012, 5th in 2014). The UK scores 6th overall, 2nd in Europe. You can compare this to the intense schooling that countries such as Singapore and South Korea and by the time everyone reaches undergraduate level, we see no significant differences between intensive schooling and Finland’s “turn up for a bit in the winter, when you’re older”.

Given that, it then seems sensible to reduce the amount of schooling and allow children more time “to be children” (rather than whatever it is they are being when they are in school). How we would implement this is not clear though.

Free, as in childcare

As a parent-to-be, I like the idea that by the time my child hits five, the state will provide me with free daycare for the next thirteen years of their life. It’s not that I don’t want to be a parent, but that I do have to have a job. And then spend most of my money on daycare. That is super-expensive for one child, let alone more. If you had to pay for child care until each of your kids was seven, well, you literally couldn’t. You can easily be looking at £600+ per month, per child. If you have two children, you are spending over 50% of your take-home pay on childcare even if you earn the average UK salary (and 50% of the population earns less!).

In Finland, this isn’t a problem. The state is mandated to provide childcare and it is on an means tested system. If you don’t earn enough you pay nothing, and the amount you might pay is capped, so even if you are a millionaire your childcare will be cheaper than the UK. It’s a great idea, and the UK has now followed suit, offering free childcare for three year olds.

However, note that Finland does not have a system where children stay at home and receive more parenting, they just go somewhere other than school.

Letting children be children

Given that most Finnish children go to daycare, the system is actually remarkably like the English one. You can argue that daycare is fundamentally different than school, because it is more relaxed and allows children to learn through play. However, I think this is being unfair to our schooling system.

While some structured learning does go on in reception, a large element of the learning takes place through learning through play as well. I don’t remember doing that much work in reception. I mostly did fun stuff.

There are advantages too

One possible advantage of having some structured learning in these years, is that it may help level the playing field across socioeconomic backgrounds. In the UK, everyone will go to reception the year they turn five and start doing some reading and writing.

This is not the case in the Nordics. If you are not attending school until you are six or seven, your learning will only start if it starts at home. For example, Elina could already read when she started attending school. This gave her an advantage over other children, who may not have even picked up a book before the age of seven.

Who are the best national ice hockey teams?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 | Sport

ice-hockey

The ice hockey world championships are currently taking place in Moscow. No prizes for guessing who the Worfolk household is supporting. Finland won gold in 2011, and took a silver in 2014, but failed to score any medal last year.

To predict our chances, I took the medal data from the past ten years and graphed it.

ice-hockey-national-teams

The competition has been going for almost a hundred years now. In comparison to the early days, it is a pretty open contest. In the first 26 years, Canada took gold in 18 of them. Great Britain also took a gold in 1936! From 1963 onwards, the Soviets were unbeatable. Until 1987, when Sweden took gold, the only other team to beat the Russians were Czechoslovakia: the Soviet Union took the other 18 golds.

Today, Russia remain the dominant force in ice hockey. In the past decade they have taken as many golds as their nearest rivals, Sweden and Canada, put together. They are far from unbeatable though. In three of those years, they failed to bring home a medal. Sad as I am to admit it, Sweden has the edge over Finland at the moment. Though a gold at this year’s event would put them clear ahead.

The “big five”: Russia, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Czech Republic win basically everything. This is a suprise to many people, who assume that because the United States’s NHL is the biggest ice hockey league in the world, their national team must be really good. But they’re not. Two bronzes, and a silver each for Slovakia and Switzerland are the only medals to go elsewhere.

My chat with Baby Box Co

Friday, May 6th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

baby-sleeping

Last month, I wrote an article calling out companies that had started using the Finnish baby box tradition to sell their wares.

Specifically, my criticism was that the Finnish system lowers infant mortality by acting as a bribe to get people to neuvola, the centres that provide all the antenatal and postnatal care. That is where the evidence-based benefit is. On top of that, giving good quality stuff to poorer parents may also help.

However, the there is no evidence the cardboard boxes themselves do anything (obviously, because it is just a cardboard box) and so selling them from webpages that show infant mortality graphs feels like taking advantage of scared parents to me. In fact, the box matters so little that the Finnish government will just give you cash instead, if you wish. The box is worth more, so most people choose that, but the key to the Finnish success is the adoption of the medical care.

Anyway, recap over.

After the post went up, Jennifer Clary, CEO of US-based Baby Box Co offered to have a chat to fill me on what they are doing. I took her up on the offer.

She said she fully accepted the boxes were not magic, but that they were trying to use them as an engagement tool to get more of the good stuff done. So while they love selling direct to consumers, the real opportunities are selling to healthcare providers and governments so that the boxes can be used in a way that is more Finnish.

In addition to their actual box products, they’re developing what they call “Baby Box University”. The idea is that they can partner with authorities, who get people to complete online courses and come out of the end with a certificate and a free baby box.

This sounds super because it fills in the missing gap in replicating Finland’s success. Infant mortality is lowered by developing educated parents who engage with healthcare programmes, and it sounds like what Baby Box Co are doing supports that.

Year of the Hare

Thursday, April 21st, 2016 | Books

The Year of the Hare is a 1975 novel by Arto Paasilinna. It was originally written in his native language of Finnish, and has since been translated into many other languages, including the English I read it in.

It tells the story of a journalist who is bored with his life. He runs off into the wilderness with a tame hare he becomes friends with. He travels around Finland meeting people and picking up odd jobs.

Given it has been a best-seller in both Finland and France, and won several awards, I was expecting more. Perhaps it is the fault of the translation, but the language is uninspiring. I could not help myself wondering what Steinbeck could have done with such a tale. I probably missed the point though.

The plot is silly, and it is supposed to be. It is both a description of what it means to be a Finnish man, and a farce. Being British, some of this is lost on me. Looking back though, it does accurately and humorously sum up many of the elements of Finnish culture.

year-of-the-hare

Finnish baby boxes

Monday, April 11th, 2016 | Family & Parenting, Health & Wellbeing

finnish-baby-box

In 2013, BBC Magazine ran an article about the Finnish Baby Box: a box containing loads of useful stuff that every expectant parent is given. The idea became popular all over the world. When the royals popped their sprog out, the Finnish government even sent them a box.

In a new article by BBC Magazine, published earlier this month, they discuss various start-up companies that have attempted to replicate the concept as a business for the rest of the world.

Finnish Baby Box seems to do quite a good job of it. For £320 you get a range of 50 different items, similar to the actual box contents. Of course, there is a Moomin edition too, that clocks in at £480.

Elsewhere however, people seem to have done an excellent job of entirely missing the point. Both British Baby Box and the US-based Baby Box Co sell boxes with almost nothing in them.

From their marketing, you might be mislead into thinking that buying a cardboard box and having your baby sleep in it somehow reduced infant mortality. There is no evidence for this. It’s true that Finland does have one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Almost half that of the UK. However, the success of their system is down to three things:

  1. When you have a baby in Finland, you go to special baby centres. Here you have all of our antenatal and postnatal care until the child starts school. It’s all in one place, making it easy to access care services.
  2. You have to go to all the antenatal services to get the box. So everyone does, even if they only want the box.
  3. The box is full of useful stuff like a mattress, baby clothes, blanket, toiletries and most other stuff you need to care for a new born.

The fact that it all comes in a cardboard box is almost irrelevant. That is not to say that some Finnish parents do not use it as the baby’s first bed. Some do. Many just use it to store baby’s things in however. Which makes total sense because, when you think about it, why would sleeping in a cardboard box be beneficial for your baby?

If people want to sell their own version of the baby box, they are free to do so. However, it is misleading to suggest that there is any evidence that the box is beneficial. Finland’s success comes from their wide adoption of their antenatal care system and high quality products given to new parents, not some kind of magical effect of sleeping in a cardboard box.

Chatting with Baby Box Co

Since publishing this article, I have spoken with Jennifer Clary, CEO of Baby Box Co. You can read more about the interview here.

BBC on baby box effectiveness

In March 2017, the BBC published another follow-up article entitled “Do baby boxes really save lives?”, raising the same questions that I discussed in this post. It includes Emily Oster, who is the author of a book I highly recommend, Expecting Better. You can read the BBC article here.

The Hairy Bikers’ Northern Exposure

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 | Distractions

Hairy-Bikers-Northern-Exposure

The Hairy Bikers in Finland? We had to watch that, of course. We also watched the Swedish episodes for good measure.

I had never seen The Hairy Bikers before I watched it. I have mixed feelings. At first I was put off by the somewhat low-brow comments and humour they seem to display. But I have since warmed to them, and both Elina and I agreed that they did a good job of representing Finland.

Learn Finnish online

Saturday, February 6th, 2016 | News

learn-finnish

There are some excellent tools out there if you want to learn French or German. There are plenty of tools out there if you want to learn Spanish, or Italian, or Polish. Finnish, not so much. There are a few resources out there, but nothing that really rocks.

So we are developing our own. Learn Finnish will be launching this summer. It will be a premium subscription service. Sign up for beta testing opportunities and advanced offers.