Sunday, January 4, 2015

Finnish Education for Foreign Parental Dummies - Lesson 2 - Esikoulu

For Lesson 1 on starting to understand Finnish Primary Education please follow this link
Lesson 3 on Applying for Primary School with a Special Needs Child here.
Lesson 4 on Starting Primary 1 at a Finnish school here.
Lesson 5 on our choice between a Finnish and an International school here.
Lesson 6 on Moving a Special Needs Child to a Mainstream School here.

Second son Foo is possibly heading to school next year, so we have had a whole bunch of new experiences with Esikoulu - pre-school, the kindergarten year. Mouse's experiences were a bit different as he was in an English nursery. Foo and Bump are in a Finnish nursery and it's all new and exciting. 

The deadline for applying is the end of January, one of those things that everyone thought I knew last year, but didn't. One of Foo's nursery teachers thought to ask me if I had applied and my blank look said it all. So she sent me off to the Helsinki Education website and to the nursery near our home where they had a mixed needs group we hoped to get him into. Luckily they had the application form in English and the Head Teacher was very helpful. 

But as in all things there was a bump in the road. The nursery didn't have any other kids who were going into Esikoulu so they couldn't take Foo. I met with the local special needs organiser and she asked me tons of questions about what kind of group Foo would need, thinking I understood this. So after a half hour I had to admit I didn't understand what was going on and we backtracked. There wasn't another special needs group in the area, so we had to find an alternative mainstream nursery. I was in shock at the thought of him going into a bigger, more hectic group, but in the end we found a great nursery with 2 Eskarit groups, a special needs teacher that works with the whole nursery and an assistant for Foo. He has absolutely thrived there. The teachers have worked hard to keep me calm and him supported. We had a meeting early on to discuss his needs and how to cope. The staff all went to his Occupational Therapy session to see what he does there and to learn more about his issues. They also had his Physio come in for a few weeks and do sessions in the nursery and they have followed up with some exercises there. 

Esikoulu is brilliant, it is a little more structured that regular daycare, but there is no stress to learn to write or anything. It's four hours a day, from 9-13.00 and is free. Any extra hours you need are considered regular daycare and charged appropriately. Some kids I have seen even walk to and from Esikoulu if they are local, first steps toward primary school. 

They have a little workbook they do once a week, things like circling similar objects, telling stories about your family (parents write it out after discussing with child) and colouring. They played board games to learn everyone's names and to learn to take turns and other social niceties. 

In the autumn they went weekly on themed forest walks to learn about mushrooms and other flora and fauna, find a fictional elf. Foo needed assistance for walking back as it's a long trip, but he did lots of running and climbing while there and was always exhausted on those days. Now that the weather is a little less welcoming, they have a jumppa  - exercise - session in the gym.  

Foo in the buggy on a metsäkarit - forest walk
They've visited the local schools for various activities like singing Christmas songs with the first graders there. They also went on a big trip to the Tram Museum. Lots of crafts, lots of singing, fun all around. They also go ice skating and cross-country skiing in winter. 

As January has rolled around again it's time to apply for primary school. Application is online from mid-January and the applications are due at the schools on the 28th if you don't do the online version.

With Foo's special needs we have to do things a bit differently. We're waiting for a neurological and psychological assessment to say whether he is ready for school. They prefer to get most kids into mainstream schools, so we need to make sure Foo will be able to cope and what help he will need if any. There is a halfway house called Startti-Koulu (start-up school) which I'm still learning about. It's for kids who have deferred going to primary school until they are 8. I don't have much info about that yet, except that it is a possibility. 

We also need to decide if he'll go to an English school or a Finnish school. The entrance exam is in early February, he will pass the language part easily, but there is a question about his fine motor skills and ability to follow instructions. We probably won't know if Foo will be ready as we have only the psychological assessment booked for next week, so he may take the test for naught, but it will be good practice and an indication of where he is at. 

We also need to see his neurologist again and then have a meeting of all his specialists. All of his therapists, teachers and the area special needs kindergarten organiser also want to attend. I'm happy with as I really need their opinions to help us decide what to do as I'm at a loss, but not sure if it's the done thing, as they've left a lot of the communication up to me, the one person who has no idea what's going on and an inability to speak the language.

Foo says he wants to go to a Finnish school. The international school Mouse attends is good, but may not have the best support for his needs. It does have an attached Finnish language school, so I'm hoping Foo can be transferred from our local school to here if we decide to keep him in the Finnish system. It's all so confusing for me. We're not staying in Finland forever, so it might be better to put him in the English school from the beginning. 

Next week we have our LEOPS meeting where the nursery makes a plan for the child which will follow him to primary school, high-lighting what areas they need assistance in, where they are on track, etc. I am really keen to hear Foo's assessment. Our nursery have invited the special needs coordinator from the school we're interested in, his therapists, the local special needs kindergarten support worker and anyone else they can think of, it seem. And a translator for all of us. 

So that's where we are now, waiting for all the pieces to fall into place. I panicked that we wouldn't have all the decisions made in time for the end of January application deadline, but I am have told that I just take the application into his local school on the final day and ask them to keep his case open as we are waiting for the assessments. That takes a bit of the pressure off me, but there's still a lot to figure out. 

I'll update once we get through to the other side and know what's going on. 

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