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Play is the international language of playgrounds – Finnish language club Kaneli integrates with nursery rhymes, art and island hopping

Finnish language club Kaneli (Kotoklubi Kaneli) operates in ten city playgrounds and attracts not only immigrant families but also native Finnish families. In addition to the regular programme, lunches, art workshops and island trips are taking place this summer.

Learning language through play

Anaya Devi Kumar is busy at play. She and her mother Pirya Devi have come to Playground Lehdokki in the Itä-Pasila district – or, more precisely, the indoor premises of the playground where the Finnish language club Kaneli is having a session.

The language club operates in ten different playgrounds across the city. One of the most active language clubs is located on the same property as the so-called Pasila Neighbourhood House (Naapuruustalo).

As the name suggests (integrate is kotouttaa in Finnish), one of the Finnish language club’s goals is to integrate families into Finnish daily life and teach Finnish. The teachers use the Toisto language learning method, which is based on frequently occurring phrases and short dialogues from everyday life. The method has been proved effective in its simplicity.

Play is an international language, which teaches the youngest in the family Finnish without even noticing it in nursery rhymes and songs.

There is also another Finnish language-learning group in Playground Lehdokki. While the children play, their parents and guardians can study Finnish in the next room in Kotiva, which is a Finnish-language teaching group organised by the adult education centre and the playgrounds. The name Kotiva is derived from the Finnish word kotivanhemmat, stay-at-home parents.

This time, Kotiva’s themes are vegetables and seasoning. Cauliflower and herbs stick to mind thanks to numerous repetitions when they are revised together with the teacher Heidi Saaristo.

On the Finnish language club Kaneli side, almost a year-old Anaya Devi Kumar routinely seeks out the big building blocks in the toy box and starts building. There is also time for captivating poses, as we are taking pictures today.

Finnish language club is holding a spring celebration together with Kotiva. The cherry on top is the extravagant potluck buffet with mouth-watering dishes to enjoy.

Almost one year old Anaya Devi Kumar playing at Playground Lehdokki.

Almost one year old Anaya Devi Kumar is already familiar with playing at Playground Lehdokki.

Farhiya Isman, her child Maryama and teacher Heidi Saaristo.

Finnish is taught through songs and rhymes, among other things. Farhiya Isman (in the middle), her child Mariyama and teacher Heidi Saaristo.

Start for integration

Kotiva’s teaching groups are popular among stay-at-home parents. For the children, the parents’ teaching sessions may be the first time apart from their parents.

In that case, tears are inevitable, but the skilled playground instructors quickly bring the situation under control.

– Sometimes I wonder if it’s harder for the parent or for the child. Sometimes the instructors send mobile phone pictures to the parents to prove that the children are playing happily, says Anna-Leena Soininen, a social instructor of positive action. Soininen provides guidance for Kotiva students and is the Finnish language club Kaneli’s instructor and coordinator.

Playgrounds have worked actively for the Language Club Kaneli activities since 2016 with various organisations and city actors to reach families that have moved from abroad. Partnership has been at the heart of the activities from the outset.

– Finnish language club Kaneli’s playground activities are a great opportunity to start the integration process, says Soininen.

– It is easy to participate in the activities, and you don’t need to know any Finnish to take part.

Soininen hopes that also families in the reception centres would find their way to playground activities, for example in cooperation with NGOs.

Social instructor Anna-Leena Soininen and Kotoklubi participants.

Social instructor Anna-Leena Soininen (in the middle) sings with the group. Soininen provides guidance for Kotiva students and is the Finnish language club Kaneli’s instructor and coordinator.

International sessions

In summer, the free-of-charge playground meals, and high-quality guided activities for children under the age of 16 attract many to playgrounds.

Summertime is an important element in the language club’s activities. Kaneli’s club activities are offered in ten public playgrounds this summer – along with other playground activities for families, such as guided singing, baby sessions and sports.

The Finnish language club Kaneli sessions differ from other playground activities mainly in the fact that the sessions’ focus is on the language – in addition to learning Finnish, other languages are also taken into account. In addition, the number of participants in the Finnish language club Kaneli’s sessions may be smaller than in other activities, as language teaching can be a sensitive and even nerve-wracking situation for the learner.

The activities are very international. In addition to the familiar Swedish and English, the participants’ native languages include Arabic, Somali, Russian, Estonian, Chinese, Pakistani Punjabi, Kurdish, and Indonesian Bahasa.

Soininen also encourages Finnish-speaking families to come along – the club is an excellent opportunity to learn about other cultures and languages. Families that have moved to the Helsinki Metropolitan area from other cities and other countries can find local contacts and friends in the club.

Everyday life with young children can be a factor that unites families, even without a common language.

Inviting Ukrainians to playgrounds

This summer, the Ukrainian families who have arrived in Finland are also taken into consideration.

Families that have fled the war can have traumatic experiences and great concern for their family members and acquaintances in Ukraine. With a peaceful place to play and to be active, the playgrounds can offer families stability and feelings of safety.

In June, Playground Linja in the Kallio district held a new family event, which was aimed especially at Ukrainian families.

In joint art-language workshops, professional artists from the Artists O association introduced different methods and ideas for making art. Kaneli’s instructors, on the other hand, offered the participants opportunities to learn Finnish.

Soininen hopes that the Ukrainians, as well as all other families get to enjoy the Language Club Kaneli’s family summer trips. The summer trips introduce families to Helsinki’s local nature and islands while learning Finnish.

The summer trips are organised in cooperation with Helsinki Sports Services and Plan International Finland.

– We want to make it as easy as possible to take part in the trips. If necessary, we can meet the family in a familiar place, or at a landmark, for example at the Mall of Tripla in Pasila, and continue the journey together to the Market Square where the Suomenlinna ferry leaves from, Soininen says.

Pirya Devi holding her child Anaya.

Pirya Devi and her little daughter Anaya participate in Kotoklubi activities regularly. 

Fun activities together

Shortly after the start, the Language Club Kaneli’s activities received recognition from the Finnish Refugee Council for good integration work.

Pirya Devi also joins in the praise. She and her daughter have been coming to Language Club Kaneli’s sessions for slightly under six months, and she is thankful for learning more Finnish while doing fun activities with others. Her daughter has also learned Finnish words during play.

This is put to action right away, as her daughter claps her hands together and muses “taputtaa”, which means ‘to clap’ in Finnish.

Finnish Language Club Kaneli summer activities in July 2022

1 July 2022

• Playground Roihuvuori, Fridays 10.00–10.45
Prinssintie 1, 00820 Helsinki
• Playground Strömberg, Fridays 10.00–10.45
Strömberginpolku 5, 00380 Helsinki

4–29 July 2022

• Playground Loru (Central Library Oodi, 3rd floor), Thursdays 10.00–11.00
Töölönlahdenkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki
• Playground Lehdokki, Thursdays 10.00–11.00
Pakkamestarinkatu 4, 00520 Helsinki
• Playground Kankarepuisto, Wednesdays 10.00–11.00
Jakomäenpolku 6, 00770 Helsinki

• 11–29 July 2022

• Playground Mustakivi: Mondays 10.00–10.45
Vedenottamontie 6, 00980 Helsinki

Family trips in July 2022

Get to know the local nature in Helsinki and learn Finnish with other families.
The trips are free of charge. Please dress appropriately for the weather and bring your own snacks.

• Tuesday, 5 July 10.00–15.00, Suomenlinna (historic sea fortress and UNESCO World Heritage site off the coast of Helsinki)
• Tuesday, 19 July 10.00–15.00, Töölönlahti recreational park and Central Library Oodi

You must register in advance for the trips. When you register, we will let you know where and when the trip starts. Register by calling or sending a message to the playground social instructor:

tel. +358 40 720 0907 or +358 40 762 9815 or

Text: Kirsi Riipinen
Photos: Laura Oja
In the main photo of the article there is Kotoklubi participant Farhiya Isman and her child Mariyama.