Monday, June 18, 2012

Starting school in the Netherlands

So my post yesterday sparked some interest, and til now, nobody knew what it was! Well, Funky Monkey has started school and the next few years of her schooling will be leading up to this one photo.

All around the Netherlands, people are now hanging out their flags and hanging bags and books to go with them. Not any random bags and books but the ones used by their teenage children in their last years or by their now adult children in their first year or last year of Uni or college.

On the lips of everybody is .."En is hij/zij geslaagd?" Have they passed? If they have you are very proud and hang out the flag, if they haven't commiserations are dully given.

In the 1930s only the elite could afford to send their children to school, so if you could afford to send your children to school you certainly wanted everybody to know. In the 60s education became more accessible and as not everyone had a flag , they would hang books and bags up too. Schools typically hung the flag out at the end of the Summer term, therefore the two habits merged into what we see today. In the 1970s some politicians questioned the legality of using the national flag for such an occasional but they were hushed by others saying it was harmless fun.

As I said Funky Monkey is long off this tradition but last week she began the process. A process that was entirely new. Being a teacher before moving to Holland, the whole process of starting school is very common to me. But when it is your own child and in a foreign country, matters are very different. Luckily so far she is having a ball, and only a few times have tears been shed at the gate and Mummy sees the beginning of school process in a different light.

However, its the unknown Dutch system that takes the most getting used to.

Really, Funky Monkey was not supposed to start school until end of August, after the holidays but we persuaded them otherwise. Here in the Netherlands your child will start school the week they turn 4. So to primary teachers out there, this means an intake of new children every week!! If a child has its birthday after the 1st May they must wait until after the Summer holidays to begin. If they begin after February they are classed as Group 0 and will start in Group 1 the following September and stay in the same class until end of Group 2.  If they begin before February they may only stay 2 years instead of 2 and a bit.

School is compulsory from 5 years old so parents can wait until their child is of this age and then they would join Group 2, the week they turn 5.

As school is not compulsory Group 1 is more of an adaptation year where children learn to be self standing and learn who they are. Group 2 is where they really begin with phonics and numbers etc However ,as in many schools Group 1 and 2 are combined your child will be exposed to this. It is in group 3 though when they are 6, that they will actually learn to read and write.

Most schools in the Netherlands start at 08.30 and stop at 12.00 for a 45 minute lunch break where the children go home and then come back in the afternoon at 13.00 until 14.45/15.00. However, most schools like Funky Monkey's have adopted the Continuous rooster where they stay at school all day = much easier.

The school week is normally Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 08.30 - 14.45
Wednesdays is half day for all children 08.30 -12.30
Fridays is half day for groups 1 and 2  08.30 -12.15
This varies by region though.

Funky Monkey takes a snack for the morning and as the Netherlands are an environmentally friendly and healthy concious society. It is deemed best, that drinks and snacks come in reusable containers. And fruit is best for the snack. In fact on Mondays and Wednesdays a whole box of fruit and veg is delivered to the class for them to share.

Lunch is two sandwiches, typical Dutch way; one healthy with cheese, ham etc and one sweet with chocolate paste/ apple syrup/sprinkles etc. I send a squeezy yoghurt too but Funky Monkey says nobody else does but it is ok for her still to take it.

Much of this is just getting used to the routine and trying not to look at too much through a teachers eyes, quite a difficult task.

One thing last week did make me laugh though and apparently is very common in the Dutch schools:

We received an email last week that stated:

"Dear Parents,
The last day of Summer Spring cleaning of the classroom is scheduled for the last Thursday of the school week. There is a list up on the classroom door. The more helpers we have to clean, the quicker we will be done. Please sign up. We will provide the coffee"

The following email stated:

Children will be bringing home as from next week "werkjes" (works) to be cleaned and refreshed. Please ensure you bring a large enough bag each day in order to carry things home"

What????? I thought my Dutch had failed, I am supposed to clean my daughters classroom at the end of the year and wash the Lego and Duplo!!! Any primary teacher will know that is a great activity to pass the time, use the children   encourage children to learn to respect their toys, in the last weeks.

Oh but wait I get a cup of coffee for it, the Dutch solution to everything :)

I have a lot to learn!


  1. Sounds just as confusing as school in Cyprus, it must be worse from a teachers point of view as at least I don't really have any idea what schools are like in the UK from a parent point of view.

    1. It is quite daunting. I have loved reading about your little ones adventures too

  2. Going to school is a strange time of adjustment for child and parent and it is even so as they change classes. I often wanted to say to one of my daughters teachers, when you are on the parent side you will understand, I never did say it, but often thought it! Apart from the intakes it doesn't sound so different, non working mums used to go into my daughters foundation and ks1 to do milk breaks, fruit and veg prep, craft days, trip help, etc so cleaning seems a fair enough add on lol. I loved greeting involved when I could, it's a great way to find out about the 'system' and have some fun. Good luck to Funky Monkey.

    1. It is a time of adjustment isn't it. I am now sitting here on my own at home at 9 in the morning for the first time in 4 years! I must admit I shall probably put my name down to clean cause as you say it is a way to get to know the system

  3. I love hearing about such different systems. It must be difficult to have new children every week for the first two years of school. Schools here are Suu/Mon/Tues 8am till 2/3.30, half day Tuesday till 1pm, Thursday full day and half day Friday till 12pm. There's big pressure to have a proper two-day weekend as most adults no longer work on Fridays.

    1. Ok yes that is a lot of time at School. I don;t how the teachers here cope with new children every week or so!


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