As an expat parent in Holland, the choice between a Dutch or international school for your child's education can be a difficult one. One mama shares her family's experience.
Six years ago, we decided to move from Australia to the northern hemisphere for a year’s adventure in Amsterdam. We wanted to move closer to my husband’s family in the UK but did not have the luxury of being relocated by a company. So international schools were not an option for us. The question really came down to whether we would be happy to send our children to a Dutch school or not.
As we were planning to move to Amsterdam for just a year, we thought it would be great to get as involved as possible in the Dutch way of life. We figured that if the kids could go to a Dutch school, not only would they be cycling to school, they would have Dutch friends, we would meet Dutch families, and we would do our best to learn Dutch. We had heard that children were great at learning languages so we were not worried about them speaking Dutch at school. In fact, we welcomed the idea. Perhaps we were naïve, but sometimes it’s really better not to overthink things!
Our children had been attending a Montessori preschool in Australia so we were excited to find out that there were many Montessori schools in Amsterdam and, to our delight, were in the public system. In the Netherlands, public education covers traditional (classical) schools as well as a vast array of schools offering alternative education approaches. Such schools include Montessori, Dalton, Steiner and Jenaplan schools. Primary schools (for children from 4 to 12 years) are generally free, with some schools opting for an optional parent contribution based on income.
So off we went to have a look at some of the Dutch schools to see for ourselves. I really wasn’t sure what to think when the first thing I saw was a big concrete playground – for a girl who grew up in the leafy suburbs of Sydney, this came as quite a shock! However, the children in the schools we visited appeared happy, working independently as well as in small groups. There was a friendly and calm atmosphere. The classrooms had wooden furniture and the materials the children were working with were from natural materials. The materials were perhaps a little shabbier, but not bad considering these schools are not paid for by private school fees! I was also impressed by the headmistress too - she greeted the children as they arrived at school and seemed to know all their names. I also loved the idea that the children had Wednesday afternoons free from school. And no homework at Montessori schools. Lots of free time to be kids.
Decision made: we decided that we would try it for the year, and if all else failed we would try to find enough money to send the kids to AICS (the Amsterdam International Community School). Luckily we were then able to get a space, and the kids started in Group 1 and Group 3 at the Amsterdamse Montessori School. We dropped off the kids on the first day as though it was the most normal thing in the world to be going to a Dutch school. And our kids seemed to trust us that we knew what we were doing! The first days at school were made easier by the lovely teachers who spoke English with us. We were also lucky to meet a mum from Wales and a mum from South Africa who were both married to Dutch partners. They were great at filling us in at parent evenings, whispering translations and explaining things like head-lice checks and what to pack for lunch (just sandwiches and fruit).
The children made friends in the first few months just by chasing kids around and trying a mix of Dutch and English words. It did take them about 6 months to start chatting in Dutch but by the end of the first year, they were already fluent. Needless to say, it has taken my husband and I somewhat longer and our Dutch is still far from perfect. But we try. And that is all the Dutch expect. We are really pleased with our decision to send the kids to a Dutch school. We really did achieve the authentic Dutch experience. So much so that we never left after that first year and our first child starts at a Dutch high school after the summer. But that’s another story…
Simone Davies is the owner and directress of Jacaranda Montessori Playgroup. As well as being a mama of 2 children, Simone provides a Montessori environment for parents and babies and also hosts courses and workshops.