Why we should make room for hobbies in school

Finland's 'hobby premium' shows how schools can encourage pupils to pursue their passions, says Amy Woodhouse
12th December 2020, 1:00pm
Amy Woodhouse


Why we should make room for hobbies in school

Pupil Wellbeing: Why We Should Make Room For Hobbies In School

Several years ago, in a different, pre-pandemic world, I was lucky enough to take part in a European-wide peer learning exchange on youth mental health. It was in Helsinki, midsummer 2017, when a representative from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture first mentioned their commitment to a "hobby premium".

The Finnish Observatory for Arts and Cultural Education, which has been instrumental in developing this idea, describes the hobby premium as follows:

"The idea is to enable each child and young person's participation in enjoyable and free recreational activities in connection with the school day: as a rule, before or after school. The Finnish model combines hearing children and young people talking about their preferred activities, coordination of existing good practices and operating models, and cooperation between the school and parties organising recreational activities."

The approach was finally implemented in Finland this year, with the Finnish government allocating 10 million euros (roughly £9 million) for 2020 and 14.5 million euros (£13 million) per year from 2021.

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Finland's decision to invest in children's hobbies comes from several years of research by the observatory and the Association of Finnish Children's Culture Centers, where they have explored the impact of arts and hobbies on children's wellbeing. It builds on a much wider research base (see the first reference below) that has long-established the positive impact that taking part in hobbies, whether artistic or athletic, can have on mental health.

The impact of hobbies on pupil mental health

There's something deeply personal about our hobby choices. Being based on our unique interests and preferences, hobbies are well placed to nurture the positive, absorbed state of being that psychologists refer to as "flow" (for more on this, see the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi book below). As previous Tes articles have argued, hobbies may be a more effective tool for supporting attainment than homework; they will certainly be more enjoyable. 

None of this is rocket science. And, at a local level, the approach does already exist - I know of at least one school where they used some of their Pupil Equity Fund (PEF) allocation to explore what hobbies their pupils would like to engage in, and then did their best to make them available.

But what would be new is choosing, like Finland, to systematically invest in hobby provision as a country, recognising the financial and practical barriers that mean extracurricular activities are still more likely to be taken up by children and young people from wealthy families. And, crucially, placing children and young people's views at the heart of this approach would also be new.

We think the hobby premium is a persuasive and timely policy idea - so much so that we've included it in our manifesto for the 2021-26 Scottish Parliament, calling for it to be introduced "to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland have free access to a hobby or activity of their choice within or around the school day". Our call is supported by Children 1st, Early Years Scotland, the Health and Social Care Alliance, Includem, Place2Be, Play Scotland, the Royal Caledonian Education Trust, Save the Children, Starcatchers, The Yard and YouthLink Scotland.

In a year that has been so tough for children and young people, where many of them have felt that big decisions about their education and their lives have been taken without involving them, and when opportunities to take part in out-of-school activities have been severely limited, what a positive statement we could make. The interests and creative enthusiasms of children matter to us, now more than ever - let's help children to enjoy them freely.  

Amy Woodhouse is Children in Scotland's head of policy, projects and participation. Click here for more on the charity's 2021-26 manifesto


  • [1] Fancourt D, Finn S. "Cultural Contexts of Health: The role of the arts in improving health and well-being in the WHO European Region." Copenhagen: WHO; 2019 Nov; (Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report
  • [2] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal experience (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 9780060162535.

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