The Nursery World early years trip to Finland and Sweden has proved to be a huge draw, with 30 travellers from all over England, Scotland, Wales and even Cuba, from nurseries, schools, pre-schools and childminding, all keen to see some of the highly rated Scandinavian services.
We flew into a dark and rainy Helsinki, but with spirits high about a packed and varied itinerary. Our first evening was spent in a Viking-themed restaurant, with few able to resist trying on the helmets with horns!
The it was an early start this morning to visit kindergartens taking children from around 10 months to six years old. One group went to Pelimanni, in an area of Helsinki with relatively high numbers of immigrant families - 30 languages are spoken, including Russian, Estonian, and several African languages. The kindergarten took 160 children, and has spacious premises which flowed well - it had a small swimming pool and a gymnasium with a climbing wall the full length of one side.
The other group went to Takatasku, which offered 24-hour care to cater for shift-working parents.
We learned that at least a third of staff should be degree level kindergarten teachers, with the rest 'nurses', who have a three-year training post secondary school. Pelimanni's head said she was struggling to recruit enough teachers, however, as they are paid less than primary and secondary teachers.
Ratios are 1:4 until children are three, and 1:7 from three to six.
Every child has a right to an early childhood education, with parents paying from nothing up to a maximum of 283 euros a month, and a mix of state and municipal funding making up the rest. Parents can also be paid up to 700-plus euros a month if they stay at home, until their youngest child is three.
In the afternoon, we met with Risto Keskinen from Helsinki's early education and childcare department, who told us more about the country's services.
Tomorrow, it's off to do forest activities at a nature school, so we all hope it won't be raining (although we all know that there's no such thing as the wrong weather...!).