Living in Amsterdam means that you have access to a large range of childcare, Dutch, English, bilingual. We chose to send our son to a Dutch daycare even though we don't speak Dutch ourselves. Here's why...
When we got to his first birthday my son and I looked at each other and with much soul-searching realised it was time. I needed to start stretching my Mummy-Brain again and he was craving the interaction with other children that he wasn't getting enough of, staying at home with me. So with some trepidation we started to navigate the daycare system in Amsterdam.
Two years ago, the mere mention of wanting to find a daycare place for your child in a short time frame brought howls of bitter laughter from other parents. "You'll be lucky," they'd say, "I've had my child on the list since before they were conceived and we still didn't have a place by the time they needed to go to daycare."
This was a fairly common story. Due to a baby boom in Amsterdam in recent years daycares, the good and the bad were heavily oversubscribed and parents were often left scrabbling for places.
The situation started to change around the time my son was born. Which meant that by the time we were ready for daycare whilst it wasn't easy to find a lot of places, you certainly could find places.
But where to look for those places? I knew I didn't want him too far from home. He was only just a year old after all and I was a very nervous first-time mama. Also, the weather here is less than sunny and I didn't want to be biking him to the other side of town for daycare in the rain.
Then the bigger questions came. Our family is mother tongue English, this is the language we use at home and the only one my son had been exposed to. Should we send him to an English speaking daycare because it would be familiar to him or should we get brave and immerse him in the language of the country we live in?
In the end, it was a mixture or science and laziness which prompted our decision to choose the daycare we did. I knew that I didn't want him too far from me during the day so daycare had to be near where I worked. Although that location included some bilingual daycare options we found we weren't bowled over by them.
My husband and I both come from English mother tongue families but have a genuine love of languages. We each speak three languages to varying levels of fluency and are keen for our son to do the same. We believe that languages open doors in a way that no other skill can. It made complete sense to us that he should be exposed to the language of the country we now call home as early as possible.
So we started to look at the local Dutch daycares. As with anything, what suits one family may not be right for the next. However, when we walked into our daycare we just knew it was the right place for our son. It was warm, welcoming and our son felt immediately comfortable there as he toddled off to play while we sat with the owner.
Over the last year we have watched, delighted, as our son has grown in confidence and has also started slowly to pick up more and more words in Dutch. While he is still more confident, at two-and-a-half, in English, his conversation is now a delightful smattering of Dutch and English (Dunglish!?):
"That is zo mooi, Mama!" (that is so pretty, Mama!)
"Be careful, niet doen!" (Be careful, don't do that!)
"Eat broodje kaas?" (May I have a cheese sandwich?)
He flips effortlessly between the two depending on the words and the context, often in the same sentence. This is linguistically known as "code switching" and is something commonly found in bilingual children. Which gives us hope that his brain is doing what in needs to in order to learn that there is more than one language. This in turn should make it easier for him to pick up additional languages in the future.
A pleasing and unexpected side effect of my son attending a Dutch daycare is that my Dutch language skills are growing alongside his. Most of his carers, including the owner of the daycare speak very little English. This has meant that I have had to get up to speed very quickly with the language of daycare in order to understand how my son is progressing. So far we have had no reason to regret the decision to put him into a Dutch daycare and every reason to say that it has benefited us as a family and as part of our local community.
To other parents considering a similar choice I would offer the following tips:
- Make sure that both you and your child feel comfortable with the environment and the staff. Explore any hesitations or "niggling" doubts before you sign the paperwork. If the daycare is not right for you then find another one before you commit. Don't feel rushed into a decision.
- Accept that whilst the right daycare will do their very best, they are not going to provide care for your child in exactly the same way you would at home. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that "what happens at daycare, stays at daycare". As long as my son is happy and smiling I know we are all doing OK.
- It is inevitable that you will come across cultural differences or things that work differently from what you may have been used to with daycare in your home country. It is part of the learning experience for the whole family. Embrace the differences, you may even like some of them!
Emmy McCarthy is the Director of Stichting Amsterdam Mamas. She is a Mama, Entrepreneur and Connector on a never-ending quest for balance in her life.