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How does Finland's education model compare to Montessori? Part 1

As a parent, choosing the type of early childhood education appropriate for your child can be challenging.

There are a variety of well-established alternative preschool models, such as Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia. HEI Schools, a Finnish concept that delivers high-quality early childhood education and care to the world, offers a newer alternative to the more established methods, and it differs from these alternatives in several important ways. In this series, we will be comparing the Montessori model to the HEI Schools model with a focus on how the child’s personality may be better suited to one or the other.

Montessori is a well-established and widely recognized alternative educational model that was founded in Rome in the early 1900s by physician Dr Maria Montessori. The Montessori method began as a fringe movement, and it also suffered a period of unpopularity after its initial success, but it is now an option for parents in many countries. 

The Finnish style of early childhood education, which HEI Schools is based upon, was first established in 1888 by the government as a way to provide care for working parents’ young children. Since then, Finland has been testing and tweaking its model to best suit the needs of its children. Due to its well-chronicled success, it has now become a desired product among educators around the world. To meet this growing demand, HEI Schools  was established in 2015, and our team has created a model that makes it possible to deliver a Finnish-style early childhood education that provides all the benefits of the system while embracing the local country’s culture and satisfying its educational requirements.

Through this series, we hope to deliver a clear picture of how these ideologies take shape in the classroom and which one might be better suited for your child. This series will cover the topics:

  • History

  • Shared Philosophy: A Child-Centered Approach

  • The Learning Environment and Materials

  • Daily Life at School

  • Standardization

  • Development


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Celebrating over a Century of Education in Montessori

The Montessori model was developed in the early 1900s in Rome by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician who wanted to create a child-centered approach to learning. To this end, she designed carefully structured classrooms, or ‘prepared environments’ and created learning materials meant to foster children's learning in different academic fields, such as mathematics, literacy, science, geography and history. Her method was based on the philosophy to “follow the child.” In other words, children choose what they want to learn. The teacher’s role was mainly to guide the students to follow their interests and instruct them on how to use different materials.

Dr. Maria Montessori, Source: WikiCommons

The Montessori model initially enjoyed great success in the United States, but then suffered a series of critical attacks by prominent academics. Consequently, it fell out of favor in the United States and went through various periods of growth and decline in other parts of the world.

In the 1950s, an American woman named Nancy Rambusch took up the mantle and promoted the system as a social movement in the United States. However, ideological differences between herself and Dr Montessori’s son, Mario, resulted in the organization of two separate institutions within the United States. Rambusch took a more liberal approach to implementing the pedagogy, while Mario insisted on the ‘purist’ form developed by his mother. Since then, both Montessori models have grown within the United States and throughout other parts of the world as an alternative to more traditional schooling practices.


Inspired by the Finnish Way at HEI Schools

The first public Finnish kindergarten was established in 1888 to provide working parents with a system of care for their preschool-aged children. It was initially a social welfare benefit, but was increasingly viewed as a fundamental right for all children. In the 1990s, preschool became widely available to children, and in 2015, it became compulsory for six-year-olds to attend one year of preschool before they started primary school. The Finnish preschool model is now one of the most acclaimed systems in the world. It is internationally admired for its emphasis on children’s well-being and its method of teaching through play-based learning, discovery, collaboration, interaction, and self-motivation.

Helsinki International Schools, or HEI Schools, was founded in 2015 with the explicit goal of creating a scalable model of a Finnish kindergarten that includes a well-researched curriculum, thorough teacher training and thoughtfully designed learning spaces for children. It has been carefully crafted in order to adapt all aspects of the HEI Schools model to every country’s culture and educational requirements, so international educators now have the opportunity to create Finnish-style kindergartens in their own countries in a clearly defined and well-supported framework.

HEI Schools pedagogy is based on the FinnHEI_Logo_blue_l.pngish National Core Curriculum that is approved by the Finnish Agency for Education. Curriculum traditionally meant a standardized sequence of information or “knowledge to be acquired.” For us, it defines a combination of principles, attitudes and ways of organizing learning environments for children to learn from life itself while being part of a community. Other aspects of our model, such as the learning space and design, are also inspired by the Nordic atmosphere and nature. However, unlike other international preschool concepts, we do not import our values and culture into other countries. Rather, we adapt to the local customs and requirements to best suit the needs of those children and teachers.