Between 2010 and 2012, 45 Finnish schools piloted the program. And the results were hopeful, demonstrating schools can increase the physical activity of children as long as they make the effort. According to a survey conducted after the pilot program, half of participating elementary school students and a third of middle school students reported an increase in physical activity.
Earth-shattering outcomes? No. "It takes some time for the actions taken to manifest and as a result, long-term and systematic development work is required to increase children’s physical activity during the school day," says a summary of the pilot program. But humble as it was, "Finnish Schools on the Move" was a step in the right direction.
Tuija Tammelin—the research director of LIKES, the foundation that conducted the study of the pilot program—tells me that she is impressed with the rapid adoption of "Finnish Schools on the Move." In just a couple of years, the number of participating "comprehensive" schools has grown from 45 to nearly 800. In the fall, my school launched this initiative, and I’ve been able to see "Finnish Schools on the Move" in action.
* * *
It’s just past noon on a mid-December school day, and I wander outside during one of those 15-minute breaks. Now that my school has launched "Finnish Schools on the Move," I wonder if anything has changed about my students’ behavior. Will I see fewer kids slothing around the playground?
In neon-yellow vests, two of my sixth graders—Emmi and Marianne—are facilitating a popular game known as "Banana Tag." (The names used for the students cited in this article are pseudonyms.) Around them, about a dozen younger children are dashing back and forth.
Emmi and Marianne are "recess activators," meaning they’ve been trained to work with their younger peers, especially first and second graders, once a week. A few minutes before I arrived, the two girls had huddled up with these 7- and 8-year-olds and decided on a game to play.
I walk up to Emmi during the middle of her game, and as the youngsters cheerfully zigzag to avoid us, I ask her whether the little kids are more active during recess now that she’s leading games. She gives me one of those looks kids give when adults ask them a question that has an obvious answer. With her eyebrows raised, she nods vigorously—a cue that I should jump out of their way.
Eventually it became clear that what I observed that day with Emmi and Marianne was a daily routine. Every day at noon, several recess activators engage in similar activities, dispersing across the blacktopped playground and recruiting younger children to join them in active games like "Banana Tag."
* * *
I visit another school in the Finnish city of Salo—a two-hour drive from Helsinki. There, I find sixth graders helping out in a different way.