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Espoo Englanninkielinen Leikkikoulu was founded by mothers from Espoo; with proactivity, the courage to take action and the desire to create something new. Our kindergarten has a rich history, and it remains important to us to continue to be a warm, local kindergarten provider, driven by the well-being of children and staff.  


Espoo Englanninkielinen Leikkikoulu started in 1992, and the first premises were located in the Kuninkainen district of Espoo. At that time, there were hardly any English-language kindergartens and the few that were located in Helsinki had very long queues. One of these kindergartens in Helsinki was the so-called Nuns' School in Meilahti and the other was the English-language playschool in Lauttasaari. In both of them, the number of learners was about 20 children.  

"You had to register your children in the queue right from the maternity hospital if you wanted to get a place in an English-language kindergarten." | Annu Mattelmäki

Annu Mattelmäki, a co-founder of the kindergarten, says that interest in children's education and language skills began to grow when Finland started talking about the possibility of joining the EU. They saw increasing internationalization and with it opportunities for jobs in the EU and families moving abroad. "When the EU debate took off, the queues at both Helsinki playschools grew to over 100 children."

Mattelmäki's oldest child had been offered a place at the Lauttasaari playschool, but when demand skyrocketed, the Lauttasaari playschool decided to give priority to children living in Helsinki. This meant that another of Mattelmäki's children was no longer able to attend the playschool. The same happened to the child of Ulla Björklund, the other founder of the kindergarten.

As a result, the mothers, Mattelmäki and Björklund, decided together to establish an English-language kindergarten in Espoo. "Out of the blue, we put up a notice in Länsiväylä, a local newspaper for a founding meeting and several dozen parents showed up. Everyone who attended was in favour and Ulla and I promised to take the matter forward," recalls Mattelmäki.

"When the news about the kindergarten spread and I was the contact person, I spent the next few months on the phone almost non-stop, as eager parents enrolled their children in the kindergarten." | Mattelmäki   

At the time, there were fewer children in the city's kindergartens than places available, as the prevailing recession meant that many parents had been made redundant or laid off. For example, the new day-care centre in Kauniainen could not be opened at full capacity. "We contacted the city of Espoo and told them about our plans, and they offered us space in the brand new Kuninkainen Kindergarten! It was a great deal: the premises were tailor-made for us and the kindergarten we had planned," says Mattelmäki. 


The founding duo placed a job advertisement in Helsingin Sanomat (a time before the internet), and there were plenty of good applications. The first members of staff were Tuovi Pahkasalo, the kindergarten manager, a kindergarten assistant and an English teacher. These three people built the framework for education and language teaching.

Just as the kindergarten was about to open, the Björklund family moved abroad. It was a great pity because she did not get to experience the things that the duo had built together.

Tuovi Pahkasalo explains how impressed she was from the very beginning with the way the kindergarten was set up 30 years ago. "I didn't actually intend to work that year. We had just moved back to Finland from abroad and I had two small children. When a friend sent me a job advertisement, I sent in my application because it sounded so attractive."

"Working at Espoo Englanninkielinen Leikkikoulu was a very unique and valuable time in my career, and I am very grateful for this experience. Remembering this time made me think of many individual parents, such as Selja Kallio and the wonderful woman Annu Mattelmäki, who had a vision for the kindergarten and made it a reality." | Pahkasalo  

Selja Kallio, who worked as the kindergarten's operations manager, says that native teachers were interviewed in London. Sometimes it was only on the spot that it became apparent that the applicant had such a thick accent that the children would not understand.  

"Native teachers were sought by placing an advertisement in the UK magazine 'Nursery Nurse'. And then you went to London to interview the applicants." | Kallio

The founders of the kindergarten helped the staff to settle in Espoo. Some of them came from abroad, and some from other parts of Finland. For a while, they also owned a rented apartment in Perkkaa. Teaching materials; books, games, etc. were ordered directly from England, as at that time they were not readily available in Finland.


"We were very innovative and creative in designing our own curriculum and daily activities. We wanted to support our students to be independent and open-minded in their learning. The idea was that the children would hear and use the language in the kindergarten, and would be motivated to use it outside its walls," says Pahkasalo. 

"It was a pleasure to come to work every day. I hope that the children will learn international thinking with us." | Pahkasalo. 

"We had great parents who supported our ideas and volunteered to help us organise excursions and events. It was a real learning community for children, teachers and parents alike," Pahkasalo continues.

Anu Kahri (formerly Sahla), a teacher who worked at the kindergarten in the 1990s, was a former teacher at the school. Sahla, who worked at the kindergarten in the early years, says how amazing it was to watch the children's rapid development of language skills. It was rewarding day after day. She also remembers swimming trips in the old Leppävaara swimming pool.

"I remember how great it felt to work in a kindergarten, where I could use the language skills I had acquired in the world. Thank you Espoo Englanninkielinen Leikkikoulu for the first years of my career as a kindergarten teacher. The road then led to a teacher training course at school, but English has remained the language of instruction." | Kahri 


Initially, the activities were in morning and afternoon groups. Kallio says that this structure was quite difficult for many families. In the afternoon, the children usually went to kindergarten like to the club. Many of the parents of the morning children were at work, and the children needed afternoon care for the rest of the day. So there was a need for a full-time kindergarten.

The search for new facilities began, and they were found in Karakallio. 

They started looking for new premises and found them in Karakallio in 1995. These premises are still used by the kindergarten. At the same time, the first children who had attended the kindergarten had also started school and there was also a demand for an after-school club where language skills could be maintained. In 1995, the same year, the kindergarten started an English-language afternoon club on the premises of the Kilo school.

The work involved in setting up the Karakallio kindergarten and the Kilo after-school club was such that an activity director was needed. Selja Kallio took up this position in 1995. Before that, everything was done voluntarily; there was a queue manager and an interview team for new staff, etc. The board was very active in the first years, with Annu Mattelmäki as chairman. Summer camps were also organised in a few years.

Susanna Nikula, who was a teacher in the afternoon club and a camp counsellor in the summer of 1997, says that some of the children in the afternoon club had attended kindergarten but some didn't have English language skills. Snacks for the afternoon club were planned by the children themselves, and the activity leader went to Kilo school to buy and deliver them. A summer camp was held in Kuninkainen for first-graders. Some were children from the afternoon club, others were starting school.

"It was a wonderful time, I remember all the children fondly! It was a great pleasure and honour to be "an English teacher" for them. The children learned the months, days of the week and colours very quickly, songs and useful phrases about everyday life. Everyone was enthusiastic to participate. The trip to the McDonald's is a memorable one. The summer camp was also a lot of fun! Thanks to Annu and Selja for letting me experience this memorable year with the wonderful children at the Kilo school afternoon club." | Nikula 


Riikka Rinne, a long-time director of the kindergarten, started as a teacher in charge of the Kuninkainen kindergarten in the autumn of 2002. Responsible for the children and pedagogy of their own unit, the responsible teachers also acted as group teachers. In 2006, Rinne took over as director of the kindergarten. Initially, she worked as a pre-school teacher in the mornings and on administrative tasks in the afternoons. Since 2011, she has been working full-time as the administrative director of the kindergarten, as well as being responsible for teaching Finnish to the pre-school children. 

"I was very excited to take on the role of a responsible teacher immediately after my studies. I was particularly attracted by the English-speaking environment, the warm and small working community, and the international atmosphere of the kindergarten." | Rinne

Rinne explains that in the early 2000s, Kuninkainen had both half-day and full-day groups. The premises of the Kuninkainen kindergarten had to be vacated in the summer of 2004 when the city wanted the premises for itself and the lease expired. At the same time, the city closed many of its small kindergarten units, and the kindergarten was able to continue its activities in Kilonpuisto, the kindergarten premises previously rented by the city. "The premises were just the right size for us, and it was great to have our own space, just for us," recalls Rinne. For a few years, the afternoon club organised by the playschool also operated in an apartment above the Kilonpuisto kindergarten.

Rinne says that when she started kindergarten, the children were only from Finnish-speaking families. Gradually, inquiries also started to come from families who did not speak Finnish as their native language. Today, our kindergarten has both Finnish-speaking children and children whose native language is another language. The number of children and staff has increased somewhat over the years. "When I started, there were about 50 children and 10 staff members. Now there are 60 children and 13 staff members. It has always been important for us to have a small and warm kindergarten where we know each other," says Rinne.

"The staff has always been very international. Our staff includes early childhood professionals from eight different nationalities."   | Rinne 

"English has always been one of the main reasons to apply for an early childhood education place in our kindergarten. Even more important to us than language is providing children with a warm, safe and stimulating environment in which to grow and learn. An environment where children have the opportunity to express and fulfil themselves within the limits set by adults, and where the atmosphere is positive, happy and encouraging to learn new things. We aim to help children to respect and understand themselves, others and their environment," says Rinne.

"Our daily activities are guided by values that are based on the child's overall well-being, safety, equality and fairness. The child must feel that he or she is accepted, valued and liked. Every child deserves to be seen and we want to see every child."| Rinne 


The values of the kindergarten are also reflected in the association's board of directors. The role of the board is an important part of the association's activities. The purpose of the association is to maintain the language immersion kindergartens and to ensure the provision of a quality kindergarten service. The board's decision-making is guided by the welfare of the staff and children. We on the board believe that quality education is based on a well-rounded staff.

"Throughout the history of the kindergarten, board work and parental involvement have been an important part of our activities. At one time, the kindergarten raised funds with different activities such as adults' Halloween party, Spring day with raffles and with much more. We also printed t-shirts and sweatshirts and sold hundreds of them. Some parents in some families still have them," says Kallio.

Nowadays, the board's activities are more focused on maintaining the business through development and marketing. This work is reflected, among other things, in this new website and the new look of the kindergarten, which we also want to use to honour the 30th anniversary of our kindergarten association.

"The staff of the kindergarten does a tremendous amount of valuable work for children, families and society. I dare say that without them, our society would not run the way it does and our children would not receive such a diverse, rich and caring education to support their upbringing at home. It is an honour to support this work." | Maria Piha, Chairman of the Board

Espoo Englanninkielinen Leikkikoulu is a trusted partner - a responsible actor, both as an employer and as a kindergarten service provider. It is important for us to act by our values and to be able to continue to operate our community kindergarten in a way that respects individuals.

Espoo 10.01.2022 

Thank you!

Participants in the commemoration of the kindergarten's history included; Annu Mattelmäki and Ulla Björklund, the founders of the kindergarten, and Selja Kallio, the first director of the kindergarten Tuovi Pahkasalo, long-time director of the kindergarten Riikka Rinne, and as teachers; Anu Kahri (formerly Sahla) and Susanna Nikula. Thank you all!

We would love to see your child in our kindergarten!