Anyone want to move to Finland? Yes, the winters are long, dark, and cold. (This week’s forecast for Helsinki, the capital city, warned of “potential disruptions due to snow and ice.”) Yes, the national dish is a grayish meat stew often made with elk. And yes, the country boasts more heavy metal bands per capita than any other nation on earth.
But here’s the good news: Finnish schools sound awesome!
First of all, in Finland, kids don’t start school school until the age of seven, when most American kids are already in the second grade. Before then, whether in kindergarten or not, young Finns are busy “learning more important things” than math and spelling, as Arja Salonen, a Finnish educator, recently told The Guardian. “In Finland,” she continued, “we feel children must be children, and that means playing—including, as much as possible, outdoors.”
Once kids start school, they still get to run around a lot and chase reindeer or whatever, because Finnish classes pause every hour for a 15-minute recess. “Children should play in school, too,” Salonen explained. “It’s important not just socially and physically, but mentally. They … concentrate better.”
Sound good? It gets even better.
The Finnish school day typically doesn’t begin until somewhere between 9:00 and 9:45 a.m. (Zzzzzz.)
Finnish schools have almost no standardized testing.
Finnish students often stay with the same teacher for as many as six years in a row, so that the teacher can better understand their needs and abilities.
Best of all, Finnish schools allegedly give the least amount of homework in the world.
Jealous much? As a report by the World Economic Forum notes, “The overall system isn’t there to ram and cram information into students, but to create an environment of holistic learning.”
Aside from being pleasant, not ramming and cramming information into students also seems to work—Finnish schools rank at or near the top in global education surveys. In other words, kids can learn in non-prison-like settings. (Principal Skinner, please take note.)
As Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education expert who looks remarkably like Neil Patrick Harris, has written, “Finland’s insight can boost grades and learning for all students, as well as their social growth, emotional development, health, wellbeing, and happiness. It can be boiled down to a single phrase: let children play.” Maybe that’s partly why Finland also tops global surveys of happiness.
Air Mail Pilot doesn’t know about you, but that elk stew is sounding better and better to us. —Bruce Handy
The navy in Simon’s Town, South Africa, is fighting a war. This one doesn’t involve guns or heavy artillery. Instead, the navy’s weapon of choice is a paintball gun. The enemy? Misbehaving baboons.
Several months ago, dozens of baboons seized a corner of the navy base’s barracks and have since been raiding the navy’s kitchen. Now, the baboons are also targeting nearby towns and infiltrating homes, restaurants, and cafés. They will eat just about anything they can get their small, furry hands on, but seem particularly fond of biscuits and fruit. Some baboons have even snuck into vineyards and gotten drunk off of fermented grapes.
While a paintball gun might seem like a curious weapon to prevent a primate from stealing a muffin, baboons are a protected species. For decades, naughty baboons in South Africa were killed or hurt. To stop this, Simon’s Town passed a series of laws to protect the animals. In 2000, it became illegal to kill or injure the monkeys. Plus, 60 rangers were hired to shadow the primates and help them avoid trouble. This means the baboons have an army of their own.
The fight isn’t entirely the baboons’ fault. Environmental factors—such as the navy throwing away trash improperly, the clearing of trees, and a recent drought—have forced the hungry animals to wade into human territory. Surely the baboons are entitled to a few bananas from your fridge.
While paintball guns have proven to be unexpectedly useful in this battle, many South African locals are still taking precautions. “Even through the middle of summer you don’t open any windows to get fresh air,” Robert de Vos, 75, told South Africa’s Sunday Times. “You may find a baboon sitting on your bed in the morning.” —Elena Clavarino
AIR MAIL Pilot has a recommendation for you: the Instagram account Recess Therapy (or @recess_therapy). On the page, 22-year-old Julian Shapiro-Barnum posts short interviews with New Yorkers between the ages of two and nine.
The project started during the pandemic, when Shapiro-Barnum graduated from Boston University, where he majored in theater. Stuck at home like the rest of us, he wondered how the little kids in his neighborhood were staying happy while away from the playground and their friends. He decided to ask them, and filmed it. He put the hilarious results on Instagram.
Now, just over a year later, Recess Therapy has nearly two million followers. The videos are such hits because Shapiro-Barnum is funny, as are the kids he talks to. The youngsters discuss everything from peeing their pants to freaking out because of “the laws and the earth” to explaining how rainbows mean a female fox has been born.
One of our favorite videos was posted on April 21, in honor of Earth Day. In it, Shapiro-Barnum asks a little girl with a lot of energy: “Why do you think it’s important to take care of the environment?” The girl excitedly responds that “this planet would barely be here, it would be much smaller,” if global warming continued.
Being funny with kids “is just a lot of listening,” Shapiro-Barnum tells AIR MAIL Pilot. He says that being raised in a large family—by five gay parents, and with two siblings—taught him that lesson. Plus, he liked being treated as an adult while growing up, so he makes sure to respect his interviewees.
Look for Shapiro-Barnum in Prospect Park or the Grand Army Plaza, in Brooklyn. He’ll be the guy wearing John Lennon-style glasses and carrying camera equipment. —Clara Molot