9 things you need to know about starting Primary School in the Netherlands

Or as it’s called out here Basisschool. If you’ve just moved here with your soon to be 4 year old and are wondering how to navigate the early years education system in NL or are just curious at how primary school compares to the UK then look no further.

1. Kids start school the day after they turn 4

This is perhaps the biggest difference to the UK education system. There is no single intake date, as soon as your child turns 4 they are welcome to join Group 1 (the first year of primary school). However it must be noted that school is not verplicht compulsory  until the child turns 5 and most schools allow you to be flexible with the school hours if you think that your child is finding it too much. Also holidays can be taken during term time without issue as they are not legally required to be at school.

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2. It’s not full time

This was a strange one for me to get my head around, having experienced primary school myself in the UK where I was expected at school for 9am and was picked up by my parents at 3:15, Monday to Friday. In NL most primary schools can pick their own hours which follow a similar pattern which has 3 full days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday) and two half days (Wednesday and Friday). Some primary schools however extend the half days to three quarter days as the child progresses up the year groups, so instead of finishing at 12:30, your child would then finish at 2pm.

I actually struggle with this timetable as wednesday and fridays just feel like really long days with the boys finishing at 12:30. Having said that though, almost everybody plays a sport outside of school and therefore the two half day afternoons are normally taken up with swimming lessons and football/tennis training.

It means that its a lot easier to plan a weekend away with the schools finishing so early and it also gives the kids a break, because being in school full time so young must be absolutely exhausting (many adults struggle with a monday to friday 9-5 routine and that’s only two hours more than what is expected from a 5year old).Image result for tired

3. They come home for lunch

And if having two half days off a week isn’t enough to recharge the batteries, then coming home every day for lunch certainly will! Yes you heard that right, the kids come home for lunch- for an hour! We live walking distance to the school so it’s not actually a hardship to walk back and forth 4 times a day but it does mean that your days at home are actually really short. I actually had to give up ironing as by the time I got the ironing board out and started on the pile I had to be back at school again to pick up the boys (to be honest I’ve never done it but this sounds like a great excuse to use 😝).

For the parents that work there is always a TSO, a 3rd party organisation that comes into the school and supervises the lunch hour. There is no canteen and so packed lunches are needed. This isn’t free though, ours costs 2.50 euros. I have been known on occasions to ship the kids off with a packed lunch to school just so I can GET SHIT DONE.

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4. There are no lunchbox police

Following on from above, if you do have a child who stays at school for lunch then you don’t need to panic if it was a last minute decision and there’s no more humous and pita wraps left in the fridge. Dutch kids eat chocolate sprinkles on white bread for breakfast so putting a choccy biscuit in their lunch box won’t be seen as committing child abuse over here. One of my son’s is the world’s fussiest eater and goes to school with two chocolate spread sandwiches, a babybel and a biscuit. And that’s it. The dinner ladies at school don’t actually want you to overload their lunchboxes, and it’s actually hard to find a normal size lunch box over here, they are all mini versions (sorry for your squashed sandwich Sid!)

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5. Kids wear mufti everyday

There is NO school uniform. No last minute rush on the 31st August looking for a white shirt and trousers that actually fit. No panic washing on sunday night. No labelling! Just normal clothes. The exact same clothes that my boys wear at the weekend. The biggest downside is the amount of jeans and trainers that we go through, I don’t think my boys own pair of trousers without a hole in the knee.

When I tell my dutch friends about school uniform they find it hilarious. It’s a concept that they just can’t get their heads around, forcing everyone to look the same. I was always brought up to see that as the advantage of uniform, no one would be singled out for wearing the wrong thing. But what I’ve noticed in NL is that the whole idea of not fitting in isn’t a thing. The dutch have a saying ‘Doe maar normaal dan doe je al gek genoeg’ which translates to just be yourself because that’s crazy enough.

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6. The first two years are just play based

Probably very similar to a UK pre school rather than the first two years of a primary school, Group 1 and Group 2 are just about learning through play. They start to learn the alphabet in Group 2 (equivalent to year 1) but will only learn about half of the letters. The ‘real’ learning begins in Group 3, in which they will finish learning the alphabet and then start to put together letters into words.

The most important part of the early years education is social development. When you get the school report at the end of the year there is a whole page on the social and emotional development of your child (the report itself is only 2 pages so you can see how important this is!).

 

7. Repeating a year is NOT a big deal

I don’t ever seem to remember anybody at my primary school repeating a year, nor being moved up for that matter. If a child was struggling then they received extra work, and if a child was doing really well, then they also received extra work.

In NL it works a little differently. If your child is finding the work a bit too challenging, or isn’t quite ready to sit still and concentrate for a period of time then it will be suggested that he or she blijft zitten- stays sitting. Not repeating the year, or being moved down a year group. Just stays where they are for another year. And because of the way the dutch intake works there is normally a variety of ages in one year group, meaning that the groups are based on ability rather than age. Every year since my boys have started school, they have had two or three classmates ‘stayed sitting’ and have had a few new ones that have joined. And it’s absolutely not a big deal. It’s actually a relief. Knowing that your child is at a level where they no longer have to struggle means the their confidence rockets. Definitely an advantage of the dutch system.Image result for happy kids

 

8. Kids cycle to and from school- alone!

Ok so it’s not expected that your 4 year old will cycle to and from school all by themselves, but from about Group 5 (year 4) it’s not unusual to see kids arriving to school on their bikes unaccompanied. They park them up in the designated bike racks, lock them and deposit the key in a special tub in the classroom.

All dutch kids receive bike lessons at school from about 6 years old and more importantly they learn the rules of the road.

Because of all the designated cycle paths, biking to school is incredibly safe. So safe in fact almost no one wears a helmet 😱. I can hear your gasps now but cycling to dutch people is just like walking to us. In fact, from about 9 years old dutch kids go to school trips on their bikes, cycling as a whole class, with fluorescent yellow vests but no head protection!

My daughter, who was born in NL,  learnt to walk at 1 and ride a bike without stabilisers at 2 so I can see where the confidence comes from, kids are cycling almost as long as they have been walking.

But nothing will prepare you for the sight after school when 300 plus kids burst out of the doors and race to be the first to unlock their bike and get the hell out of there. Let me tell you it is CARNAGE.Image result for bikes outside school

 

9. There is NO homework

Perhaps my most favourite thing about dutch education is the kids having no homework. When we first moved here I remember chatting with the Headteacher about my son starting and when I asked how much homework to expect she looked at me with a shocked expression and said  “Homework?! There’s no homework, when he gets home from school we expect him to go out and play!”

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There is not even any compulsory reading!! Of course I still read to my kids every night but the fact that we don’t HAVE to makes it feel a lot less like a chore.

My son is now in Group 5 (Year 4) and the most ‘homework’ we have had throughout his time at school, has been to prepare a book report. Though I have heard the rumours that we may be expecting proper homework this year but so far nothing!

This no homework policy gives kids unbelievable freedom when they get home from school. They can go straight out to play (no needing to get changed as they’re in school uniform remember) and just be a kid. No responsibility, no deadlines, no worrying that because mummy isn’t so good at maths they won’t be able to complete their work!!

They are children for such a short period of time and the Dutch seem to have realised that and are happy just to let kids be kids for that little bit longer, a sentiment I whole heartedly agree with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Giving birth in the Netherlands

What’s it really like to give birth in a foreign country, especially one which has the HIGHEST rate of home birth in Western Europe and you’re planning on requesting an elective c-section…

 

When we arrived in the Netherlands back in the summer of 2014 I was around 28 weeks pregnant with my third child. My husband had been signed to a football club in Emmen and we were given a ‘holiday home’ to temporarily live in whilst we searched for something more permanent for our soon to be family of 5.

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Why I chose to have a c-section

Due to the nature of my first two birth experiences (10lb + baby, back to back etc etc) I was advised by health providers in England to go for a csection if I ever decided to have a third. Having been scared shitless by stories regarding the dutch and their preference for unmedicated home births (25% of births in the Netherlands are at home, compared with just 2% in the UK) I prepared myself for battle with my hospital consultant but I needn’t have worried! I explained everything about my first two birthing experiences and my consultant was more than happy to schedule me in for a csection on my actual due date- Monday 3rd November.

Mondays child

How the dutch do it

I was monitored every couple of weeks, including growth scans and blood/urine tests. I also had a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) due to my first son being so huge, which luckily came back negative.

I was also visited by a kraamzorg a few weeks before I was due. A kraamzorg is something completely unique to the Netherlands and definitely something the UK could benefit from introducing. She is a cross between a maternity nurse, au pair, cleaner, cook and support system all rolled in to one.

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Our kraamzorg came armed with leaflets and advised us that she would be with us the day I left the hospital and would be with us a maximum of 10 days as I was having a csection (normally its around 5 days post birth).

 

Birth Day!

And then the day was finally here! We had luckily just purchased a house 6 days before (great timing!!) which meant that the last few days were action packed, as well as my oldest son starting primary school in our new neighbourhood at the same time.

walters first day school

We were expected at the hospital at 10am and by 1:30pm my baby girl was born. We didn’t know the sex and after two boys I really expected to see another little willy. I had asked for the doctors not to tell me what sex the baby was but to just hold him/her up so I could see for myself. And what a surprise it was. The section itself was totally calm and I was able to cuddle Sylvie straight away, and she was kept with me the whole time.

syvlie and me

The nurses who accompanied me down to theatre were amazing and did such a good job of keeping us all calm and also made sure my mother, who had flown over from the UK, was kept up to date as only my husband was allowed to accompany me into theatre.

Soon after the birth I was wheeled back to my private room and was able to tell my mum that the bundle I was holding in my arms was a little girl. A truly priceless moment.

I ended up staying in the hospital for 3 nights, with the nurses making me buzz them everytime I needed to do something for Sylvie so that I could recover as much as possible.

When we arrived home on the thursday we were joined by our kraamzorg, who’s duty it was to take over the household activities such as cooking, cleaning and getting the boys from school, as well as doing regular checks on me and the baby. However as I had both my mum and husband home I didn’t really feel like I needed an extra person in the house and I sent her away after only a few days. My personal experience with the kraamzorg differed wildly to that of my friends, some of whom cried when their kraamzorg left!

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Comparing a dutch birth to one in the UK

Overall I was extremely impressed by the level of care offered by the dutch health care system. Everything seemed geared towards making sure that mum fully recovered so that she could take care of the baby. I know that I personally struggled with how quickly I was discharged from the hospital in England after I’d given birth to my first two children, with little to no advice on breast feeding and still suffering from the after affects of a traumatic delivery. I was lucky I had a very supportive husband and my mum looking after me once I was home but for many women I can imagine that isn’t always the case.

 

Dutch Traditions

A few days after Sylvie was born her older brother Walter got to carry out the first of many dutch traditions- bringing ‘beschuit met muisjes” to school to celebrate the birth of his sister. They are a sort of rusk with a sprinkling of either pink or blue aniseed balls and are traditional to eat after the birth of a child (I actually ate one of these in the hospital!) the idea being the aniseed stimulates milk production!

walter beschuit met muisjes

So there you have it, my first (and only!) experience of giving birth in the Netherlands, any questions please ask!