It is important to study the Sámi way of thinking in pedagogical terms. For the Sámi, as a minority and as an indigenous people, the use of Sámi pedagogy in modern life can encourage and strengthen their identity and cultural values, and our model of learning can be recognised as part of our own epistemology and cosmology for life. One well-known missionary in the Sámi area wrote that the Sámi do not punish their children, and since they let them do as they like, their children lack discipline and are disobedient. Others have been more fascinated and less critical in their descriptions: they describe the ‘freelife’ of the Sámi children, and the naturalistic child whose activity and autonomy has no limitations except the natural environment. Both descriptions show tendencies that are real; Sámi child rearing has its own logic. The main goal seems to be preparing for life: to develop independent individuals who can survive in a given environment, and to give the children self-esteem and zest for life and joy. The strategies used are often indirect, avoiding confrontations between the two parties involved.
This model of learning is only possible with the support of an extended network of adults around the child who are involved in raising him or her. The network offers the child care, security and contact, and helps it to establish an attachment to adults outside the nuclear family. Naming is important, with the namesake relationship providing an opportunity to expand the child’s social network. Guardianship is regarded as a close relationship on a par with kinship. Adults use advanced methods to achieve the desired effect from their childrearing efforts, such as storytelling, nárrideapmi, diverting strategies and practices implicit in the language.
The tight link between nature and man was, and still is, obvious in Sámi thinking. Humans could only be successful in making their living if they co-operated with the natural forces. It is important to take a holistic view of Sámi cultural practices. According to the Sámi, the balance between people and nature can only be regained by going back to the original knowledge that the old Sámi way of life relied on. A traditional saying mirrors in a holistic way the philosophy of learning in a Sámi context: ‘Gal dat oahppá go stuorrola’, which means he/she will learn when he/she grows up little by little. In this saying we recognise the generosity, the positive expectations, and the understanding of the potential to learn that every child has.