Iceland, home of fresh food

20th May 2005 at 01:00
In a messy, chaotic classroom, pupils experiment with glue and paint, while rain leaks in through a faulty window.

This is the English version of creativity in the classroom, as seen from Iceland. Teachers from Arnarsmari pre-school, in the Icelandic town of Kopavogur, and Brearley nursery, in Birmingham, have been visiting each other's classrooms to compare pupils' personal and social development.

One of the most striking findings for the Icelandic staff has been the emphasis on pupil self-expression in the English school.

Hildur-Kristian Helgadottir, who visited Brearley last month, said: "Our school is beautiful and new. In England they care more about how children are doing things. It doesn't matter if maybe a window is leaking."

The TES Make The Link campaign is encouraging schools across the country to become involved in such schemes. Barbara Copland, the Brearley teacher overseeing the link, also believes that visiting teachers could learn from her four and five-year-old pupils' unfettered creativity.

"(Arnarsmari) children don't do messy activities, with paper, glue and paint, like we do," Ms Copland said. "We encourage children to experiment and explore."

The link has highlighted a number of positive elements in the English curriculum. "In England, everyone is very polite," said Ms Helgadottir.

"The children always say 'please' and 'thank you'. It's something we should take notice of."

But the visit has also reinforced more negative stereotypes about British schools. "Our children eat much more healthily," said Ms Helgadottir.

"They eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Jamie Oliver, your famous cook, has been talking about this. You shouldn't eat so much grease and processed food, like sausages."

Ms Copland also noticed this difference immediately.

"We gave the teachers one school dinner," she said. "After that, it was 'no, thank you'. It will be interesting to see if their pupils have the same problems with allergies and asthma that ours do."

The teachers intend to develop a curriculum that will draw on the best elements of each education system. For pupils there are also benefits.

Brearley youngsters have located Iceland on a map, and watched a video made by the one to five-year-olds at Arnarsmari.

"In Iceland, they have 13 different Santa Clauses," said Ms Copland. "The children liked that idea. Iceland isn't very far away, but they do things in a different way. This is about learning to accept our differences and enjoying them."

The TES Make the Link campaign promotes partnerships between British and overseas schools. Staff and pupils are invited to exchange emails, letters and videos, and to organise visits to one another's schools. Email:


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