Dutch schools: What to expect when you go “local”
Young Expat Services (YES) are educational specialists, helping families relocate to the Netherlands. YES can help you with finding the right school for your child(ren), whether it's a local school or an international school.
You’ve decided that your children will attend a Dutch school. Often, parents make this decision because they want to stay in the Netherlands for longer period of time and integrate into Dutch society. We can imagine it’s a bit scary to put your child in a school without you or them having any knowledge of the Dutch language.
We can also imagine you have loads of questions about this process like: What will happen that first period? Are we able to help them with their homework? How will they learn Dutch? In this article, we will tell you more about the process of “going local”.
But first, why do nearly half of all internationals in the Netherlands choose local education? Well…
- There’s a greater selection of schools to choose from
- They allow your child to integrate more easily into the local Dutch community
- According to the OECD, Dutch education is of high quality
- Dutch schools receive state funding, making them more affordable (schools typically only ask for a parental contribution)
The importance of being fluent in your first language
Mother tongue development is the foundation for further language acquisition. Knowing and fully understanding a first language is essential for transferring and applying knowledge and understanding to a second and third language. The best thing you, as a parent, can do is to expose your child to your native language as much as possible. For example, read your child a bedtime story in your first language.
2-4 years old: Preschool
If your child attends a preschool, he / she will be exposed to Dutch two to four times a week. This depends on the city you live in; all cities have their own policies. Preschools work with special language programmes. These programmes are usually based on themes. Different themes offer a different vocabulary. Children will sing songs, make arts and crafts and other activities around this theme.
In the bigger cities, most preschools have a lot of experience with children whose mother tongue is not Dutch. For children who were born in the Netherlands but do not speak Dutch, this will be the first official moment where they are exposed to Dutch. Research has shown that Dutch preschool is effective in developing the Dutch language skills of a child.
4-6 years old: Local Dutch school
Generally, at this age international children can be enrolled in a local Dutch school even though they don’t speak any Dutch. Children aged four to six learn by playing. In school, they will be immersed by Dutch five days a week. Just imagine how much you will learn if you’re exposed to Dutch five days a week.
On average, your child learns around 15 new words per week. In the beginning, he / she will only listen. This is called the silent period. It depends on a child’s character as to how long this period will last. For some children, this silent period can last longer than other children, you might worry that your child will never speak Dutch, and suddenly, almost full Dutch sentences are spoken! The advice of Young Expat Services (YES): give your child some time and trust that it will all work out.
There are also children who mix up their mother tongue with their Dutch. Don’t worry, after some time they will know how to distinguish between Dutch and their first language.
6-12 years old: Dutch immersion classes / Newcomer’s classes
Newcomer’s classes are available at many schools in the Netherlands, specialising in education for six to 12 year olds who have just arrived in the country and do not yet speak Dutch. Newcomer’s classes can be either a separate school or a class within a school.
Newcomer's enrolment procedure
Pupils can be enrolled at any time of the year. Contact the school to make an appointment. In some regions, children can attend a newcomer’s class from the age of four but most cities enrol from the age of six.
Children spend approximately one year in the newcomer’s class. After this, they join their local Dutch school, usually attending the same class as other children of their age. Some newcomer’s classes request that you apply to a local Dutch school first, as this will be your future Dutch school. Policies can vary per city. Please check the policies for your region.
Dutch immersion classes
In most cities, there is only one language school. This might mean that the school is located far away from your house. In small villages, Dutch immersion classes are not available.
In a language school, your child is amongst children from all over the world. The children have different backgrounds, and there is a difference in educational development. Children will follow an individual programme. These classes usually have around 15 children per class. The focus is on learning Dutch but also maths, gymnastics, art and music are taught.
The goal of these language schools is not to become fluent, but to understand enough Dutch to participate in class. Older children need to learn a wider vocabulary. Usually after one year of immersion class, younger children will attend the same class as their age group. Older children might have to retake a year.
A Dutch six-year-old child knows about 3.000 words. Every year, at least 2.000 are added to this. So, you can imagine it takes more time for an older child to participate in lessons and grasp the topic at hand.
In a Dutch school, homework is not common. From the age of 11, around one hour of homework per week can be expected. The child is capable of doing their homework by themselves. If they need help, you can always ask a Dutch teenager to help your child with their homework, for example with the reading.
12-18 years: Secondary language classes
From the age of 12, children who are new to the Netherlands and don’t speak any Dutch are placed in a secondary language class (Internationale Schakelklas, ISK). After enrolment, the child will be tested by the school so that they can be taught at an appropriate level. Students stay in an ISK class for approximately one to two years. On average the children retake a year (or two years for older children).
Pupils can be enrolled at any time of the year. Contact the school to make an appointment. The student must also be present for enrolment. Based on age, history of schooling and capacity, an individual plan will be developed.
Video: School system in the Netherlands
For a summary of the Dutch school system, watch this video produced by Nuffic, titled “School system in the Netherlands”:
We hope this article has given you a better understanding of the Dutch immersion process. It is a big step, but remember, bilingual children enjoy many advantages.
Succes met het leren van de Nederlandse taal (Good luck with learning Dutch)!
Young Expat Services provides educational consultancy, assistance in finding the right school, Dutch lessons for your children and support with the integration of your family into Dutch society. All YES employees have lived abroad as a child or later with their own families. So they know the "feeling" of leaving your home country and having to adjust to a new culture.