The residence of the Finnish Ambassador in Dublin was teeming with people on 2 February, when nearly thirty education experts gathered to discuss the joy of play and learning. The event titled 'Joy of Play and Learning in Finnish Early Years Education' attracted participants from Irish educational establishments, NGOs and other organisations as well as from the government administration.
Seminar speakers included Professor of Education Kristiina Kumpulainen from the University of Helsinki and Director of Training & Practice Rita Melia from Early Childhood Ireland. The event was moderated by Johanna Sumuvuori, who is Press Officer at the Embassy of Finland in London. The presentations sparked many questions and comments and the lively discussion continued at a reception after the seminar.
Professor Kristiina Kumpulainen's research focuses on young children's learning, development and wellbeing. In her presentation Kumpulainen addressed various themes, including the Finnish early years education system, the curriculum framework, the relationship between play and learning, interdisciplinary teaching, digitalisation and teacher education. Kumpulainen's expertise, experience and passion showed through as she passed on the joy of play and learning to all those present.
"Play is the right of every child and play alone is valuable", emphasised Kumpulainen. Imagination is based on one's previous experiences and every child is unique and plays in his or her own way. In early years education it is important to provide equal opportunities for all to learn and fulfil themselves. Through education and cultural experiences play can have more content, and play can be used as a tool for learning. Kumpulainen also underlined the child's own input and participation in play.
Rita Melia, who brought an Irish perspective to the seminar, shared Kumpulainen's view about the value of play. Melia has wide experience in early education: she has worked as director of full day-care setting and as National Childcare Policy Advisor. She has also taken part in many research projects, last at Harvard Graduate School in Boston. At the seminar she spoke about the wonder, delight and curiosity of children in connection to play and learning. With insightful examples Melia showed how learning is playful when a child is allowed to make his or her own decisions and is free to wonder and explore.
Miia Pietilä, intern at the Embassy of Finland in Dublin