School Starts Monday- An Adventure in Dutch Education

by farrah on February 20, 2013 · 15 comments

It’s a whole thing to be anticipating the 4th birthday of your oldest child. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to add to it the drama of starting a new school at the same time.

Here in The Netherlands, when a child turns four years old they start school. This is a step up from the ‘playgroup’ or peuterspeelzaal– which children attend bschoolbeginning at age 2. It’s not required for children to attend playgroup- but coming from a situation where all three of the boys were in a quasi-school setting back in the states, we wanted to let them give it a try. I talked about this just a month ago– really? Already a month?

It has been wonderful experience having the boys in this playgroup. The twins go two days a week and B has gone four (he was eligible for the language exception which gave him extra classes for language development- starts at age 3). The days the twins went, B went at the same time so it was fun to see them all in the same class together. No more than 15 kids and two teachers- a little over two hours a day. I felt very, very comfortable with those numbers.

Now we are moving on and up to the ‘real school’ next door. In addition to the required potty trained aspect (which we mastered without much fuss a little over a month ago) he is to go four days a week from 8:30am- 3:30pm. There are up to 36 children in a class and 1 teacher (no aide) with ages 4, 5 & 6 in his class.

Can you feel my blood pressure rising?

I’ve got nerves and flip floppity stomach aches just thinking about all of this.

We’ve done a couple of half days as practice- but it’s quite a bit to take in and that’s not even including the whole foreign language thing!

My baby is being thrown into a classroom of a million kids- older at that, not knowing a soul and not speaking or understanding the language.

I do not plan on receiving my MOTY award any time soon, that’s for sure.

They’re very flexible with allowing me to ‘ease’ him into the program- so I will most likely be bringing him home at noon for at least the first week. You might think this is nuts- but he still naps! And sleeps well at night! So as you can see- I’m hesitant to mess with a good thing.

When I dropped him off at the new school on Monday for a ‘practice run’- he gave me the sad frowny face with eyes filled with tears. He didn’t cry- but I left with a lump in my throat. I felt awful- guilty! He didn’t know anyone but the teacher and was jibber jabbering away in this crazy 4-year-old voice about how much he loves whales and sharks with a bunch of uncomprehending sets of eyes upon him.

But he did great! And he was happy when I came to pick him up that day. But I’m still nervous. Monday. I wish I knew the ending to this story- but only time will tell. This is different from the first time I took him to preschool or his summer program. This is REAL. This is FOREIGN. I feel like I am abandoning him but at the same time I am so proud of the brave and happy little boy that he has become. He’s always loved school- I just don’t want this to screw it up. I will never forgive myself if that happens.

I already have the options of what to do if this doesn’t work out rolling over in my mind… they’re complicated and most likely a logistical mess but I’ll do it. I should be thankful to have a back up plan at all. We chose not to put them in an International school for a reason- we wanted the ‘full’ experience. I just wish it was easy. Closing your eyes and just hoping for the best when it comes to our kids is not possible.

So wish us luck and I’ll let you know how it goes.

How did you deal with those first day of school jitters for your oldest child? If you’re an expat what school choice did you make?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Brittany February 20, 2013 at 1:12 pm

That sounds so hard! I know you will figure out what is right. I am reminded how really flexible kids are and I bet that the teacher will find a soft spot in her heart for your little guy, who will be learning so many new things and has a steeper slope to climb than some of the other kids. I think he will do great and come out way ahead but then again I am still sitting here amazed that he naps! As you know, none of mine ever really napped and I am just tired out from it all 🙂


2 farrah February 21, 2013 at 8:44 am

Thanks Brittany. I hope so! He does nap- which is amazing and also a double edge sword. It’s awesome most of the time, but then again- when we can’t do it— well- you can imagine that we all pay the price.


3 Kathleen February 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Oh, my gosh! That is a lot of stress for everyone. I hope it goes well. Full-day school is a big adjustment at 5, let alone 4. Good luck, Brody! Can’t wait to hear all about it.

Big hugs to you, mama. I know how hard these milestones are.


4 farrah February 21, 2013 at 8:45 am

I still can’t believe that he’s 4! But then again, when did I hit my 30s? Oh wait. Make that late 30s. Gah!


5 Danielle February 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Wow! That’s a lot for a mama to handle. I feel your pain. I have one week left on maternity and both girls two and 4 months are starting in a brand new daycare. It takes a toll on a mama’s nerves. I think you said it best. You are proud of this little man. He’s doing well. I think it’s worse on us than them. If you see signs it’s going south are there other options? I know it’s scary. It will be at any age they do new things. I am sure he’ll be fine but the unknown kills us more. I can’t wait to see how it all goes. My gut tells me he’ll be fine. It’s definitely a lot of kids but they are Dutch kids, not our crazy American ones 🙂


6 farrah February 21, 2013 at 8:46 am

That is true- and in all honesty I am still befuddled at how well behaved the Dutch kids are!


7 Rachel February 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Good for you for giving their system a fair try! I’m sure it is a huge adjustment on top of all the other adjustments you are making but it’s such a great opportunity for the boys to be educated in a new way. I’d love to see more of the European education system filter over here. In America we are so stuck in doing things the same way even if it doesn’t work. It sounds so odd having such big mixed up classes, but I am eager to hear your perspective on it in a year.


8 farrah February 21, 2013 at 8:47 am

Thanks Rachel! I am interested to see how much of their early education is retained- if any. My hope is that he does ok- remains happy and looks forward to learning. If we can make that happen then I’ll call it a success.


9 Jmac0714 February 21, 2013 at 5:24 am

Oh wow. Very stressful for sure. But no doubt probably worse for you as mom. I bet he does great, particularly after a little time. I realize it’s not nearly the same thing but we have our toddler in a Spanish immersion preschool. 100% Spanish from day one (even though my husband and I don’t speak Spanish). Pretty long days too. Our little guy loves it and loves that he is starting to learn his own “school” language. Some of the kids speak pretty fluently and they seem to enjoy helping my little guy learn the language. I hope B finds some children to help him along! Good luck and remind yourself there are other options if it really doesn’t work out.


10 farrah February 21, 2013 at 8:49 am

I’m curious as to the age of your son? Sounds like a pretty similar situation to me- as my husband and I don’t speak Dutch either! Thanks for the support- I guess in the prep for the move I didn’t really sit down and think about what all this was going to mean way back when.. so I am a little unprepared.


11 Greta February 22, 2013 at 3:05 am

Good luck!! And hugs to you, Farrah! I’m sure he’ll be fine but I can just imagine what you’re going through!


12 Robbie February 23, 2013 at 1:13 am

I’m sorry but those student teacher ratios at B’s level are INSANE! I’m glad that they are being flexible & he seems to be enjoying it. FWIW I’ve often had 1/2 my class who were non English speaking (3-5 yr olds) but I had 2 assistants and one was bilingual. Hang on is all I can say!


13 Christine @ Love, Life, Surf February 25, 2013 at 4:23 am

That is quite an adventures and a fair bit of stress!! I’m sure that he’s do great. I’m continually reminded of how resilient kids are in dealing with situations that I would run away from in an instant. Thinking of you all and wishing you luck.


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