A case study: Kindergarten English club at Pilke Taikahelmi in Helsinki

By Becky Luoma
In September 2021, Language Clubhouse educator Becky started up teaching 2 kindergarten English clubs in Helsinki at Pilke-Taikahelmi. Right away the kids were excited and engaged in learning English and the atmosphere was warm and inviting. The ages of the children range from 2-5 years old, and at the beginning were broken up into two group, the 2-3 yrs old and the 3-5 yrs old, then after a while we decided to break up the groups to three small groups of about 4-6 kids per group. This arrangement has worked out very well for the kids and they get special personal attention and care. A typical club day starts off with warm greetings to all the participants. It took for some kids many weeks to warm up the the English language and the educator, but soon the kids were welcoming the educator at the door with smiles, thumbs up and even happy hellos. The goodbyes were just as warm as the hellos often with hugs and smiles and bye-bye see you soon! But what happens in the middle is magic, the kids focus like eagles for the 30-45 mins group session. They engage with the fun activities like the songs, vocabulary, movement rhymes and games, and the individual tasks-workbook time. This is where the pedagogical impact comes in, the content is high educational quality and age-appropriate, and the educator adapting to the kids at hand. Children will engage with the language if it is interesting, meaningful and fun!
After 6 months of the service we again interviewed the children, educators, manager, and parents of the children in the kindergarten English club at Pilke Taikahelmi. The manager Johanna Kiviharju has a lot to say on how the English club has affected positively the whole atmosphere and learning environment at the kindergarten, a seed was planted and a spark for learning has been proven in the kids and the whole community.
Here is what Johanna has to say about the project:
“The Language-clubhouse has been wonderful experience for the children of the kindergarten as well as for the educators. Becky, the teacher of the club has taken every child, mind wide open to the club. All of them have fallen in love for the club days and for the teacher. Becky comes with full of energy and great attitude and it is contagious. That atmosphere affects to all participants, children, and adults. The situations and moods change every day at the kindergarten and the club have been solid fun moments every time. Even if a child is not in a good mood for that day, they are given different kind of ways to participate, which is good for them at that moment. The themes of the club have been planned well and are interesting for the children. The teacher keeps all children curious and waiting what happens next, what we get to do next. The teacher uses different kind of materials, which interact the children and keep their attention. I have gotten only good feedback from parents. In addition, it has been a great plus for our pedagogy, because we have also multicultural children in the kindergarten, even we as educators, do talk them in English, now their friends can understand them a bit better. I have also found the children of the kindergarten playing in English and singing the songs from the club from other days. The children wait for the club and welcome Becky inside of the house every time. Funny thing is that I also hear educators talk about the club days and they get ideas from Becky and the club for everyday activities. The children and educators are all really enjoying of the club, sometimes it even feels that we as educators are learning as much from Becky than the children.  It has been really easy and great to work with language-clubhouse and we will carry it on also in the future, for sure.”
Not only does the manager praise the English club but the educators at the kindergarten have expressed positive impact, in their comments below:
  • Oppimis teemat ovat hienosti suunnitellut ja ovat selkeät sekä innostavat, ihanasti vaihtuvuutta kerhon aikna joka kerto, lapset eivät ehdi kyllästyä, vaan odottavat mitä seuraavaksi tapahtuu [The learning themes are well planned and clear and inspiring, wonderfully changing during the club every time, the children do not have time to get bored, but wait for what happens next].
  • Hienosti erilaiset ryhmät otetaan huomioon ja heidän tarpeensa [Nicely different groups are taken into account and their needs are met].
  • Language clubhouse kerho in ihana, lämpöinen ja pörröinen, niin ohjaaja kuin toimintakin [Language clubhouse club in a wonderful, warm and fluffy, both instructor and activity].
  • Lapset viihtyvät kerhossa, on ihanasti monipuolista toimintaa jokaisen kerhokerran aikana [The children enjoy the club, there is a wonderful variety of activities during each club session].
  • Opettaja käyttää paljon erilaista mielenkiintoista materiaalia, jotka tukevat lasten oppimista [The teacher uses a lot of different interesting material to support children’s learning]. 
  • Tunnelma on aivan ihana [The atmosphere is absolutely wonderful]! 
  • Opettaja huomioi jokaisen lapsen ikätasoisesti ja yksilöllisesti [The teacher takes into account each child’s age and individuality].
  • Olen yhtä innoissani kuin lapset kerhosta [I’m as excited as the kids from the club]! 

During the 3 small groups between 9:00-11:00 am on Friday mornings the educators participate in the English club and like the manager said, learn from the English club teacher and gain ideas. The educators and the English club teacher also keep in contact through digital tools and collaborate outside of the English club. The English club teacher sends a monthly report to the manager of the daycare and then this report is shared with the kindergarten educators and the parents of the children in the club.

The manager interviewed the children in the English club in Finnish to receive more detailed feedback of the club activities:
Johanna asks, “Kids what happens in English club, or thoughts”:
  • Me piirretään ja sanotaan asioita erilailla [We draw and say things in a different way]!
  • Voin kysyä Apua Beckyltä, koska äiti ei tiedä mikä taskulamppu tai paloletku on englanniksi. Mun on kysyttävä apua Beckyltä [I can ask Becky for help, because my Mom does not know what a flashlight or fire house is in English, I need to ask Becky]!
  • Meillä on enkkukerhossa tänään jotain mukavaa, ihan varmasti, aina on [We always have something nice to do, for sure, we always do]!
  • Enkkukerhossa on kiva tanssia [It is nice to dance in English club].
  • On aina kivaa, koska puhutaan englantia [It is always fun, because we speak English]!
  • On kivaa kun opitaan niitä sanoja ja opitaan englantia [It’s nice to learn those words and learn English].
  • Tulee hyvä olo kerhossa [I feel good in the club]. 
  • Kaikki on kivaa kerhossa [Everything is fun in the club]!
  • Minä tykkään koska me lauletaan ja tanssitaan, se on ihaninta [I like it because we sing and dance, that is the best].
  • On kiva leikkiä sillä kielellä Beckyn kanssa [It is fun to play in that language with Becky]!

The manager of the kindergarten interviewed the parents in English and here are their thoughts about the English club and how they feel about it:
  • This have been nice addition for our children, they really enjoy English club
  • The teacher seems really good.
  • My child speaks English at home now too, sometimes she refuses to speak Finnish, even she does not that much yet
  • We sing a lot in English now at home
  • This is a great opportunity for our child’s development and learning
  • They seem to have so much fun each time in the English club!

How inspiring to hear one parent mentioned that the family sings in the English language at home now, and that one child loves to speak the language at home. The English club in Kuopio had a similar feedback from the parents last Autumn. One mother told the teacher Rezvan, that because of the English club the child speaks more English at home with her Father, who is a native English speaker. How lovely these comments and feedback are to hear from the parents of the children as well.  As an aim of the service it to support the child’s linguistic development, which is also supported by the diverse language environment of early childhood education and close co-operation with parents.