Teens in Finland learn life skills in home economics class

Mouthwatering aromas fill the air as a class of seventh-graders dig into today’s lesson: cooking a complete meal. (This article includes a couple of their dessert recipes.)

The menu consists of chicken and vegetable stir-fry with noodles followed by an orange charlotte for dessert. But before they start slicing ginger, garlic and peppers, they have to attend to a few other things.

This Monday morning begins with a quiz about vitamins on a game-based online learning platform. Then there’s a review of the homework assignment: cleaning a pair of shoes, rearranging a wardrobe at home and preparing a healthy meal.

On another online platform, everyone has submitted photos and descriptions of how they fulfilled the assignment.

Before getting to the highlight of today’s lesson, the cooking, the children watch a video about protein, learning why it’s important to the body and what kinds of foods provide it.

Integrated into the national curriculum

A pair of hands is folding napkins at a table.

Fine dining: Setting the table is part of the fun.
Photo: Catarina Stewen

Home economics is part of the Finnish national core curriculum for all seventh-graders, most of whom are 13 years old. It’s also available as an elective for eighth- and ninth-graders.

The aim is to teach every teenage pupil in Finland basic skills in cooking, washing, cleaning, health, nutrition, hygiene, consumer rights, economics and sustainability.

“Every lesson consists of a theoretical part and a practical part,” says Eva Green, a teacher at Strömborgska School in Porvoo, a town about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Helsinki. “For instance, pupils learn about using local food ingredients that are in season, about recycling and about using leftovers in meals.”

Although teachers plan their own lessons and approaches, the national core curriculum provides a uniform foundation and framework, ensuring that education is equal throughout Finland.


Half a dozen teenagers are gathered around a food preparation surface, chopping and mixing ingredients.

The pupils prepare the food in small groups.
Photo: Catarina Stewen

Once Green has presented the day’s recipes and cooking methods, the students begin working in small groups. First they prepare the dessert, which needs to be refrigerated for a while before serving.

Alexander cuts oranges into thin slices while Liam soaks the gelatin. Nicholas and Jens whip the cream and mix the other ingredients. The team works efficiently, and in no time, the orange charlotte is ready for the fridge. Then the boys wash the dishes and clean up.

“We learn the basics of cooking and how to clean, wash dishes, lay the table and eat healthily,” says Alexander. “The class prepares us for an independent life, so that when we move away from home someday, we’ll know how to manage.”

The special classroom contains four fully equipped kitchens.

Each one has two electric stoves, two ovens, a sink, a dishwasher, kitchen utensils, and granite-covered work surfaces that are hygienic and easy to maintain. There are also cupboards full of plates and glasses, and there are even a washer and a dryer for clothes.

The garbage bins make it easy to pre-sort the waste, with six separate containers: plastic, metal, paper and cardboard recyclables; compost; and other garbage.

Hands-on lessons and digital content

Students are chopping ingredients on cutting boards.

The main course: Chopping chicken and vegetables for the stir-fry.
Photo: Catarina Stewen

Stella, Jonathan and Jeremias point out that the hands-on lessons are a welcome contrast to other classes that are more theoretical.

“Apart from the cooking, textile care seemed useful,” says Stella. “We learned to interpret the washing instructions on clothes and used the washing machine in the classroom.”

While the classwork is mostly practical and uses a physical book, the teacher relies on digital tools for revision, educational games, homework and presentations.

“We follow a digital path in the local curriculum, preparing pupils for a digital future,” Green says.

Every week for a year

Students sitting at round tables in a classroom look at mobile devices they are holding.

Today’s lesson began with a quiz about vitamins on a game-based online learning platform.
Photo: Catarina Stewen

After a break, it’s time to cook the main course.

“Do you remember what was special about handling raw chicken?” Green asks the class.

“Separate cutting board, wash hands before and after, clean utensils directly,” says Emil.

The teams get going, cutting chicken, vegetables, ginger and garlic and boiling noodles while chatting at the same time. One from each group sets the table, including colourful napkins. The atmosphere is warm and calm, with Green circulating to give instructions where needed.

“They are all getting independent after having a weekly class for almost one year,” she says. “When the autumn term began, I needed to offer more guidance in the basics, but now they know what to do.”

Best part of the lesson

Four places are set at a round table, with a plate full of food at each one.

Dinner is served: Part of learning how to cook is sitting down to enjoy a meal with your friends.
Photo: Catarina Stewen

The chicken noodle stir-fry is ready, and the dessert looks delicious, too. The pupils sit down together to enjoy their meal.

“This is the best part,” says Emil. “Eating what we have prepared.”

Before class is dismissed, the teenagers clean the kitchen, fill the dishwashers and ensure that everything is spotless and ready for the next group.

By Catarina Stewen, May 2023

Recipes courtesy of Eva Green