Imagine a country where people walk and bike habitually, laughter fills rooms, physical activity and play are viewed as a way of life, children are less stressed and more responsible, and educators are highly respected. Furthermore, it is a country that is an educational superpower, graduating an impressive 92% of students from the upper secondary school yearly. Imagine a whole country having a great respect for the value of play and the need to implement multiple breaks daily in order to raise healthy, successful, and resilient citizens. Elementary aged students and their teachers go outside every hour of the school day for 15 minutes of unstructured play. This country is REAL! This country is Finland!
In her new book Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education, Deborah Rhea, Ed.D., takes the reader along on her journey of a 6-week sabbatical to Finland to learn how Finnish people live, how the Finnish education system differs from the U.S., and what the U.S. can learn from Finland to better the lives of children and adults through unstructured play, character building, and quality time.
Rhea’s book compares the Finnish and American school systems, juxtaposing how the American education system has almost eliminated play from school schedules while play is a foundational element in Finnish schools. As a result, Finnish children are thriving while American children are suffocating. While not discounting the successes of the American school system, Rhea describes the current state of American schools as being too focused on quantity over quality, too test-oriented with too much sit-time in classrooms, and losing sight of the development of the whole child, which has led to “some of the most unhealthy and stressed-out children we have ever seen.”
The book opens with six life lessons from the Dr. Rhea’s many years of teaching, followed by 26 reflections, each offering a different learning topic. The reader is shown how Finland operates and how adoptions of some of their practices could lead to a healthier and more playful America. Rhea’s background, coupled with her strong desire to improve the health of our nation, leads her to address the issues that are facing the American school system today.
Debbie Rhea thoughtfully details her schedule, which was designed to allow engagement with students and teachers from primary school through university, to gain a full understanding of the Finnish school day. She also consulted with top educational leaders, including the secretary of education and the former CIMO at Finland’s Ministry of Education.
Rhea outlines Finnish teacher preparation practices, with an emphasis on Physical Education teacher preparation, and highlights how respected the Finnish teachers are. She details how the Finns get outside to play, even in very cold weather conditions, and believe that two hours of active time each day, separate from exercise, is vital to overall health. She covers America’s obsession with competition and standardized testing vs. Finland’s focus on equality over excellence among younger children.
The book is sprinkled with personal touches, such as a breakdown of games like Nordic baseball and the difficulties surrounding being around a different language and culture. These personal touches create a relatable book and contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the Finnish culture without overwhelming the reader.
Rhea challenges the reader to see the necessity for a mindset shift in the United States to value more than just a test score: to focus on children’s strengths instead of failures; to value being outdoors, playing and moving as keys to learning, especially during the long school day; and to consider character development as integral to children’s learning.
Debbie Rhea is trailblazing the educational world to create a healthier, more productive environment for children, teachers, and parents. Her new book Wrong Turns, Right Moves in Education is a valuable resource for schools, educators, parents, and anyone wanting to be a change agent in a school community. If you want a book that captures the start of this educational movement and shows you how to get involved, this one’s for you!