All city schools offer recreational activities after the school day

What a great start! All the schools of the City of Helsinki now offer recreational activities in the afternoon, selected according to the wishes of the schoolchildren.

The aim has been to give every child and young person in Helsinki the opportunity to have a pleasant hobby, where they can enjoy activities safely together with their peers. This condenses the city’s goal to improve opportunities for children and young people to have a hobby and to increase awareness of leisure activities in their area. The goal is so important to the city that it has been recorded as a binding budget target for 2021, the progress of which is regularly reported to the City Council.

The after-school recreational activities are open to pupils in grades 3–9, and there are afternoon activities for the pupils in 1st and 2nd grade.

“The great thing is that in addition to the city’s 102 comprehensive schools, there are even more recreational venues, as some comprehensive schools operate in more than one building. According to the low-threshold principle, they are now all available for recreational activities.”

The information was provided by Irma Sippola, Project Manager of the Finnish Model for Leisure Activities in Helsinki. She coordinates the activities with three project coordinators, who build the hobby schedule and are in contact with school liaisons, among other things.

The main objective of the Ministry of Education and Culture project is to increase the well-being of children and young people.

Kimmo Mustonen, Regional Manager of Basic Education at the City of Helsinki, says that the model has started out successfully. Due to COVID-19, the recreational activities did not fully get started until this autumn, but the feedback has been positive.

Lower comprehensive schools started the recreational activities already in the spring, and upper comprehensive schools started them in the autumn.

“Principals have described how like-minded pupils have found each other in recreational activities, forming new friendships. Such activities are of great and long-term importance. They provide comprehensive well-being for children and families,” says Mustonen.

The next step is to include contracted and private schools operating in the city. A total of 29 schools will join the Model for Leisure Activities after the turn of the year.

Parkour, coding and cooking

What, then, do the pupils do in the afternoons? Sippola says that schools are offered activities, which may be cultural, physical and digital or other hobbies, such as cooking and activities involving animals.

The 600 weekly hours include 279 hours of cultural and 113 hours of physical activities. The rest include coding and game design, among other activities.

At Kontulan ala-aste primary school, for example, recreational activities offered in the afternoon include film and animation, parkour and animals.

Puistopolun peruskoulu comprehensive school, on the other hand, introduces pupils to band music and exercise aimed to build muscle tone and strength.

Schools also offer opportunities to cook, code, do visual arts and photography, play basketball and football and get an introduction to the circus.

Job opportunities for a wide range of actors

The recreational activities are financed by public funds and were put out to tender. The city wished to involve clubs, communities and companies ranging from small one-person businesses to larger companies.

A new round of tendering is currently under way, and new actors with their unique competencies are being invited to provide more and more diverse hobbies to children and young people.

“The intention is to hold competitive tendering each school year in the future. It is really great that we can offer work to operators in different fields at the same time,” Sippola says.

The intention is to make the procurement of activities as smooth as possible, but public procurement has its own bureaucracy that cannot be completely eliminated.

Mustonen says that the activities in schools have been of great interest to the operators in the field. Indeed, there is so much work on offer that, for example, there were almost not enough operators available to organise cooking classes, as so many schools wanted cooking classes in the afternoon.

Currently, over 60 different actors are involved.

The actors providing recreational activities have praised the project. They are pleased that a permanent model is being built. In other words, there will be job opportunities also in the future.

“We have also been thanked for the opportunity to implement new ways of acting as the city’s contract supplier,” says Sippola.

The organisation of approximately 600 hours of recreational activities weekly is a job on its own. Teachers and other school staff can focus on their own work, as the hobbies are coordinated by the city’s Culture and Leisure Division. It also provides funding for the activities.

“Schools have their own liaisons and make their facilities available for the activities. Parents are informed via Wilma messages, but otherwise the activities are not meant to cause extra work to schools,” says Sippola.

High-quality hobbies

One important principle is that the recreational activities are of high quality. Another important aim has been to involve comprehensive school pupils who have no hobbies at all. This does not mean, however, that children and young people who are already actively engaged in a hobby cannot take part in our activities.

Parents have been pleased that they do not have to drive their children to the new hobby.

Recreational activities offer an easy way to meet new people. New acquaintances are particularly relevant for pupils who have not found friends in their own class. Some may be able to improve their command of the Finnish language.

A pleasant hobby can have a big impact by strengthening identity, improving skills and offering experiences of success.

“Recreational activities are really strong preventive work and always cheaper than corrective work,” says Sippola.

The experience already gained, at least on the basis of feedback, shows that everyone wins when new recreational activities are started.

Studies have found that children in Helsinki who have a weekly hobby are less likely to experience loneliness, stress at school, difficulty sleeping, mood swings or bullying at school.

Sippola says that the most wonderful thing is to hear thanks from children and young people. Their feedback has highlighted as positive, among other things, that the recreational activities are free of charge. At the same time, they pointed out that not all families can afford to pay anything extra.

One feedback from an upper comprehensive school pupil said that perhaps the best decision of their life so far was to join the visual arts activities offered at their school

Text: Kirsi Riipinen
Photo: Kuva Antero Aaltonen / Leonatan Oy

  • The Finnish Model for Leisure Activities is a project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.
  • The City of Helsinki is committed to building a permanent operating model for free recreational activities after the school day.
  • The goal of the city is to improve opportunities for children and young people to have hobbies and to increase awareness of leisure activities in their area.
  • The progress of the goal is monitored by the city strategy indicator, which is based on the School Health Survey of the National Institute for Welfare and Health (THL).