One of our Mamas tells us about the day her son started at peuterspeelzaal, and passes on her tips.

We have just dropped my middle son off at peuterspeelzaal. To non-Dutch speakers that’s preschool or kindergarten. We’ve been preparing him for some time now for preschool and he has been very excited about starting out in the big, wide world. In fact when the new school year started and we dropped my eldest off in primary school, my two year old was quite determined that he was starting school that day too. He was not pleased to learn he had a two-week wait.

However, his big day arrived at last and this morning we packed his change of clothes in his rucksack, completed the contact form and grabbed Aapie, his cuddly monkey, to escort him to school.

At the class door, his new teacher handed him an almost fluorescent green luizenzak (lice bag) and he took off his jacket and placed it inside the bag. Once inside the classroom, he shook both of his teachers’ hands and made a beeline for a table stacked high with Lego Duplo. He began constructing a farm with plastic pigs, sheep and cows.

When it came to saying goodbye we gave him a kiss, waved and headed out the door. He waved back and continued with his farm. As we waved through the window he had to be prompted by one of his teachers to even look up. Far too busy playing to worry about waving.

We left him as happy as can be.

And so his education journey begins at the tender age of 2 years and four months. This classroom will be his second home until he turns four, the age when Dutch children may go to primary school (although not compulsory until age five). He will attend for two day parts a week, one morning and one afternoon.

De peuterspeelzaal is a great way for children to interact with and learn from children around the same age. A few hours a week in a peuterspeelzaal is a gentle way of preparing children for primary school (basisschool). They learn about rules, new topics, they make new friends and learn to listen to someone outside the home – all in a playful and fun manner.

For my son, his new classroom is a treasure trove because it is filled with toys. Toys that are new to him. And that is the main purpose of a peuterspeelzaal (literally translating to “toddler play room”) – it’s all about learning through play.

Every peuterspeelzaal is different, and the set up will vary but there tends to be a general concept with a construction corner, a kitchen and house area, a craft corner and a reading or quiet area.

This time around we had no searching and research to do because our eldest son had put his foot on the first rung of the education ladder here three years ago. We were so impressed with the place back then that we knew all our children would follow him here. Of course, we did go in last year and talk to the teachers (to check that the same ones were still there and the set up remained the same) and then we subscribed him to the school when he was around one and a half. Waiting lists vary from school to school, so it is worth checking what kind of waiting list your preferred peuterspeelzaal has to avoid disappointment.

The first time around I started our search for a peuterspeelzaal on the internet. Talking to parents you know and getting a recommendation is also a good way of finding the right peuterspeelzaal. Location, times, days and cost were all factors in our search.

Note that there are legal requirements pertaining to the standards and quality of peuterspeelzalen. Peuterspeelzalen are usually subsidised by local councils but parents do have to contribute to the costs, according to their income. Some peuterspeelzalen act as feeder pools to local primary schools so if you already have a primary school in mind for your child then this can be a good way to find an appropriate peuterspeelzaal. The added bonus of this is that your child will already know some classmates when he or she starts primary school and be familiar with the education methods.

We visited a few peuterspeelzalen, and met with the teachers before we made our ultimate decision and this turned out to be the most important step we took. The internet site of one preschool made it sound like heaven, whilst the online description for the peuterspeelzaal we chose was minimal and factual. The atmosphere in the classrooms however was miles apart. We had that “this is it” feeling the moment we stepped in one of the classrooms and a “no way” feeling with another.

>As is the case with much of parenting, instinct and gut feeling plays a role in finding the right peuterspeelzaal for you and your child. The important thing is that your child is comfortable there and enjoys the first step into the Dutch education system!

Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen is a mother, writer and expat. In that order. She is British-born but has called the Netherlands home since 2000. She is 'mama' to three boys, and blogs about her expat way of living, loving and parenting over at Turning Dutch. You can find out more about her on her Facebook Page or follow her on Twitter.