Playing and learning for a changing world

26 April 2021

With children being forced to stay home for certain periods during the Covid-19 pandemic, the city of Espoo has used tools such as technology and music to make sure that children’s important first introduction to education is maintained.

During Spring 2021, temporary digital distance mentors were hired by the city to support the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) units in carrying out part of the pedagogical work online and ensure that children still felt a sense of belonging to the community.

Making use of digital opportunities

Raija Laine, Development Manager at Espoo ECEC unit

“Every child begins this journey in early childhood education and care only once. The child’s first encounter with their primary educator is utterly important. The gestures, tone of voice and attitudes of the educator make a lasting impact on the child” says Raija Laine, Development Manager at Espoo ECEC unit.

The mentors now support ECEC units in arranging digital home visits and online educational discussions with parents. The new model includes the same idea as a physical visit: sensitive and appreciative communication, noticing the child first and then taking the parents into account, engaging in play and using support mechanisms, such as interpretation or pictures, to enhance mutual understanding.

But other efforts include more traditional methods to ensure that children feel included in the class. In a diverse city, music is used as a “joint language” to offer avenues to children to participate.

“The lack of a common language cannot be an obstacle for becoming part of the group” says Laine.

Music for learning

Ymmersta kindergarten uses music to encourage participation from all.
Photo credit: Olli Häkämies

Espoo’s kindergartens’ joint music pedagogy moments include both familiar and new songs, instruments, pictures, and games. By repeating old and learning new skills, language learning happens in a fun way through an appropriate mix of routine and new experiences.

“Inclusive music pedagogy activities offer an alternative means of expression, with the emphasis away from linguistic ability. It helps many children to find a new type of courage to take part in the group also outside of the music pedagogy moments,” says Laine.

This approach has also proven to be popular in a digital setting. Kindergartens have also trialled storytelling, in which children at the kindergarten and at home tell a story and the educator draws it.

Some children have played food ordering games, where fictional food is ordered in a foreign language through pictures on the screen – a game many children have experienced in real life during Covid-19.

Unique approach for difficult times

Teaching today takes on new formats

Plans also include starting international collaborations with ECEC units abroad to create encounters with children in other countries.

“The aim is not to develop distance ECEC for so-called normal times, but to be better equipped for unusual times. We want to enrich children’s and families’ lives during these difficult times. In addition, our educators have taken quite a digital leap since these tools have now become part of daily life even more than before,” says Laine.

Espoo’s approach is often made possible through programmes or pilots financed by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

A project that ran from 2019-2020, centred on inclusion and working with families, led to the creation of ‘Equality Coaching’. The equality coach works with kindergartens to identify their development objectives and design solutions together. In addition, educators are provided with tailored coaching, tools, and methods according to their specific needs.

Espoo’s efforts to digitalise education during the pandemic have benefitted both from an established network of 100 early educators, whose task is to promote the use of digital tools in the ECEC units as part of their daily educational work, and from the joint development alongside other Finnish cities, Tampere, Oulu and Vantaa of the eVaka platform that aims to improve the exchange of information and communication between homes and ECEC units, and will serve at least 1 million Finns.

Investing in children is one of the priorities that will be discussed by city leaders at the Cities Social Summit organised by Eurocities online on 6 May. Mayors and deputy mayors will gather to reaffirm their strong commitment to deliver the European Pillar of Social Rights and share their vision for an inclusive recovery, leaving no one behind. Join us for the first-ever Cities Social Summit.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer