In a short time, the Finnish model for leisure activities has assumed its place as a meaningful provision not only for children and young people, but also for their parents and custodians, instructors and municipal decision-makers. The children themselves say that interaction and genuine engagement with the instructor are particularly important when committing to a leisure activity. Other factors that increase the attractiveness of an activity include opportunities to influence its content, the quality of the activity, a no-pressure attitude and a sense of belonging to a community. The first evaluation of the Finnish model shows that a leisure activity that is enjoyable and free of charge has a positive impact on children’s equality and school life.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) evaluated the functionality, impacts and achievement of the objectives set for the Finnish model for leisure activities. The evaluation of the model’s success especially looked at the experiences of children and young people. The evaluation data included interview data from six municipalities which had succesfully implemented the model. The positive examples helped the evaluation to identify how to respond to various operational challenges. The evaluation objective was to disseminate information on good practices. For the data collection, 88 comprehensive school students and 67 local operators were surveyed. A survey targeting parents and custodians received 43 responses.
Focus on learning and interaction
The evaluation identified factors that make leisure activities fun for children and young people. Of these, learning new skills and interaction with the instructor and friends were the most important. Other factors included the quality of the activity, a no-pressure attitude and a sense of belonging to a community. Much emphasis was placed on the role of the instructor: a friendly and competent instructor whom the children get to know well both encourages them to continue the activity and creates a safe place for them. When the children trust their instructor, they feel braver and no longer fear failure.
In the interviews, children emphasised the importance of their engagement with the instructor. Instructors connect with the children by talking with them, asking how they are doing, listening to what they have to say and sharing their own experiences with the children. Instructors can also chat with the children during the training or activity. For children and young people, inclusion especially meant the ability to influence and participate in the planning of the activity’s content.
It should be noted that flexibility or a less binding nature of the activity do not decrease the quality of the activity. The evaluation provided new information on how leisure activities – including goal-oriented sports and arts – could be provided more in accordance with children’s wishes.
“Children and young people voluntarily choose to spend time pursuing their leisure activities. Those participating in the activities know best what interests them and how the activity could be carried out. In everyday activities, simple thumb voting alone will increase the experience of being heard,” says evaluation specialist Aino Pusa.
More leisure activities and stronger partnerships with schools
There would be much more demand for the Finnish model for leisure activities than what is currently available. The fact that the activities are free of charge enables all children and young people to participate in them, regardless of their background. As the cost of living increases, free hobbies become increasingly important. The principle of providing the activities free of charge also gives children and young people opportunities to try different activities.
Schools play a key role in how well the Finnish model can be integrated in the school day. Schools provide facilities for recreational activities and play an important role in informing students, parents and custodians about them. The activities require some work from schools, which is why the benefits of the activities should be communicated more clearly.
“We know that schools are already overworked and there is not enough time for everything. However, the Finnish model for leisure activities should have a positive impact on the school’s daily routines and school life. The discussions conducted during the evaluation highlighted examples of how leisure activities have prevented disorder at school, improved behaviour and increased the self-confidence of children and young people. Leisure activities support school life and the daily routines at schools,” says evaluation specialist Tanja Laimi.
The report proposes strengthening the inclusion of children and young people, increasing their opportunities for trying a range of leisure activities and investing in the collection of national-level statistical and monitoring data.
“When developing and implementing leisure activities for children and young people, the most valuable views and suggestions come from the children and young people themselves. Now we have new tools for developing the Finnish model for leisure activities. The evaluation findings emphasise the role and competence of instructors, including their willingness to engage with the young people and listen to their views. We will take this important message forward,” says Director-General Esko Ranto.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the evaluation was carried out by FINEEC as part of its paid service provision.
The Finnish model for leisure activities aims to offer every child and young person (years 1 to 9 in primary and lower secondary education) a leisure activity in connection with the school day that they enjoy and one that is free of charge. The Finnish model combines consultation of children and young people on leisure activities, coordination of existing good procedures and practices, and cooperation between schools and leisure activity providers. In all, 267 municipalities are implementing the model, covering 91 per cent of municipalities in mainland Finland. The model was entered in the Youth Act in 2023.
Questions about the evaluation and its implementation:
- Tanja Laimi, Evaluation Specialist, Finnish Education Evaluation Centre,
tel. +358 50 533 5567, email@example.com
Questions about applying the evaluation findings and the Finnish model for leisure activities:
- Tiina Kivisaari, Director, Ministry of Education and Culture, Division for Sport, tel. +358 295 330 178; firstname.lastname@example.org
- Henni Axelin, Director, Ministry of Education and Culture, Division for Youth Work and Youth Policy, tel. +358 295 330 205, email@example.com
- Iina Berden, Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, Division for Art and Cultural Heritage, tel. +358 295 330 069, firstname.lastname@example.org