Finnish nature education to Chinese schools

Responsibility and sustainability will be among the most valued skills in the future, believes Kaisa Koskinen. She is now, in cooperation with Sumino, bringing Finnish nature education to China. 

A few months back, environmental educator Kaisa Koskinen was contacted by Sumino’s CEO Lancy Jia. Jia asked, if Koskinen would want to teach the Chinese about nature education.  

Koskinen’s company, Naturested, which offers nature-based education and services, was struggling due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so the message from the China experts in Sumino was a godsend.  

“The funny thing is that when Lancy contacted me via Linkedin in the spring, I already had thought about taking my business abroad,” said Koskinen, who has lived in six different countries and studied cross-cultural communication.  

“We had a meeting, and it became clear that we shared the same vision and belief that environmental education is important now and in the future.” 

And then things happened fast. In only a few months, Naturested and Sumino have developed an online programme, helping Chinese teachers getting started with nature education. Already this month, the material should be ready to be sold in China.  

Finnish schools have long experimented with environmental education. The many forests and lakes make it straightforward to take the teaching outdoors. In addition, Finland’s strong brand as a highly educated nation, is an asset when going to China. 

China: A promising but difficult market 

Though Koskinen knew that China is a promising market filled with potential, it never crossed her mind going there alone. But when Sumino reached out to her, she did not hesitate.  

“The time limit has been tight. We wanted to be quick, so that we can test our product in the market,” she noted. 

Working with the Chinese education experts in Sumino has so far only been a positive experience for Koskinen.  

“I was surprised by the effectiveness. Everything happens very fast.” 

Transferring knowledge and experience from one country to another is always a challenge, where cultural differences play a big role. Though Koskinen has travelled in Asia, she has never been to China, so she did not know what to expect from the nature there. In Finland, there is forest everywhere, but what kind of greenery do school kids in a Chinese metropolis have access to? 

“It has been good to have the Chinese colleagues’ support. There has always been someone in Sumino that I could ask. I have the substance, and they have given me invaluable feedback,” Koskinen said.  

From idea to concrete lesson plans in nature 

The course is made for primary school teachers of kids aged 7-12. 

It will take about four full days to complete. Since it is online, however, participants can watch the course videos, whenever they have time, “even during the coffee breaks in the teachers’ room,” suggested Koskinen.  

“I will explain the methodology of outdoor learning, I will tell them about the health benefits, and give them inspiration from Finland,” Koskinen said, adding that she will guide them from ideas to concrete actions, such as making sure that safety is taken care of.  

The course consists mainly of videos, but there will also be homework and live Q&A sessions with Koskinen. At the end, the participating teachers receive 12 readymade lesson plans with comprehensive videos, filmed with real kids in the forests of Finland.  

“This will give them a very good instruction on how to implement what they have learned in practice,” Koskinen said. “The problem is often that teachers are afraid of taking their classes outside. We prepare them and then encourage them to do it.” 

“Nature education is something you learn by doing. The more you teach outside, the more you learn.”  

Koskinen stressed the importance of routine and “not making it too difficult for yourself.” One day a week is fine, she said. 

A step towards reaching sustainable development goals 

Nature education is a subfield of the broader concept of environmental education. The main methodology is outdoor learning, which can be described as taking the classroom outside. 

By having classes outdoors and using nature as an integrated part of learning, students get a break from the screens, they get physically active and they get sensory experiences that can prove invaluable when learning something new. Studies have also shown that focusing on even difficult tasks, gets easier, when being out in the open.  

“Nature schools typically have less tests, but better results,” Koskinen mentioned. “Outdoor learning also adds fun and joy to the school timetable.” 

Nature teaches kids – and anybody else for that matter – to act responsibly and in a sustainable way. Kaisa Koskinen sees this as one of the most important skills in the future.  

”There is a big demand for this type of education, and it is highly needed in order to reach UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” Koskinen believed. 

“Future generations will have to tackle a different kind of challenges, compared to us. Knowledge about sustainability will be more and more needed in the future.” 

All subjects can be taught outside 

Nature education is not to be confused with just the biology subject, Kaisa Koskinen noted. In fact, all subjects can be taught outdoors or with the help of natural elements, such as pine cones or other things found in nature.  

“The students get to experience how things work in the real world.” 

Koskinen said that when teaching outdoors, it is common to combine different subjects. By running around to pick up and count leaves, students will for instance be doing sports and mathematics at the same time. 

History could be taught by pretending to be stone age people, cooking food over an open fire or by imagining what a hundred years old tree might have witnessed during its lifetime, Koskinen suggested. 

All this is also possible in a Chinese million city’s concrete jungle, she assured. “A school yard or a single tree is enough. And if they cannot get outdoors, nature can be brought inside too!” 

Planning the next steps 

Naturested and Sumino will first and foremost market the new course to Chinese schools and cities. But companies in China that are already dealing with environmental education, but lack an online course in their assortment, could also be among the customers. Individual teachers can also purchase the material for themselves.  

“The more teachers at a school that take the course, the better the outcome,” said Koskinen. There will, however also be a study group, so individual participants will have someone to spar with.  

If the Chinese market responds well to Finnish nature education, Naturested and Sumino are ready to develop the concept further, with courses focusing on broader environmental education, including climate change and sustainability.  

When the COVID-19 situation allows it, Koskinen will also travel to China to see the nature there and meet some of the teachers that use her materials.  

“I wish to learn more about Chinese nature and understand the culture better,” she explained.