How to deal with being the new parent at a Dutch school

How to deal with being the new parent at a Dutch school

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Taalthuis teaches you how to speak, read and write Dutch in an enjoyable way, using a wide range of interesting subjects. At Taalthuis, you will learn a lot about life in the Netherlands. This article shows that learning Dutch can be helpful in every day social settings, such as on Dutch school grounds when dropping off / picking up the kids.

Sooner or later, many expats have to deal with it: the rituals concerning picking up or dropping off your child(ren) at school. On Dutch school grounds, parents keep a close eye on their kids, but even more so on each other.

As a new parent, you may be awkwardly shifting back and forth, watching the school door expectantly, whilst you scan the other parents’ faces.

Even for Dutch parents, it is stressful when their children go to school for the first time, but as an expat, it is even more complicated. How do you make contact with the other parents if you do not know anyone yet, and do not know the language well? How does it work at school? It is all so different!

Taalthuis spoke to a number of expats and received useful information and tips. The fact that speaking Dutch gives you a big advantage was something that everyone had to admit. After reading this article, you will be more confident as an expat on school grounds after the summer holiday.

Singing along and helping at school

If you want to get to know the Netherlands at its craziest, you should watch reruns of the immensely popular television series De Luizenmoeder (The Lice Mother). De Luizenmoeder is about life in primary school: the gossip and backbiting between the parents, groups that are quickly formed and the mutual – often secretive – competition regarding who helps out most at school.

The funny and often recognisable scenes paint a nice picture of how things are at many Dutch primary schools. The most famous character is Miss Ank. Every morning, she sings the same song for her class, with which she welcomes the children and chases the parents out of the class: “Hello everybody, how nice that you are here. Are you here for the first time or are you already well known? Stamp with your feet and put your hands on your sides. I am Ank and who are you?”

Coralie (39) from France recognises the singing at school routine: “My two daughters are attending a vrijeschool and in the morning, nursery classes sing when the parents are there, after which you leave the classroom together. It’s also good for your Dutch! Before I got to know the other parents, I had to find out a lot on my own – how the school system worked, the content of the lessons, the school times.

For me, everything was new. I was full of questions because there are big differences between French and Dutch schools. The Dutch school system is, of course, different from that in other countries. It’s logical but confusing.

In the French countryside, for example, the children have school all day long and they are taken home with the school bus around half past four. The school is responsible for the children until they are safely returned to the parents. You do not have to help with all the outings and if you are ever called upon to help, you receive compensation.

It is true what happens in De Luizenmoeder! In the Netherlands, everyone pays attention to whether you are helping at school.”

Less discipline

Alena (40) from Ukraine recognises the big differences in education: “In Ukraine, there is more discipline, and the system is mainly focused on learning. Here it is somewhat freer. When my eldest went to school, I had already taken an NT2 II exam, because I wanted to continue studying in the Netherlands. My Dutch is fine and that helped me a lot.

But at the first school of my three sons, no one said anything to me. I thought: certainly, it’s because I am foreign. Later, however, it turned out that nobody spoke to each other at that school. Quickly, I picked another one where I felt at home. Everyone was really friendly. I got to know a lot of people; it actually happened automatically, and it felt very natural. The children really enjoyed it, so we as parents did too.”

Cycling to school

Another typical Dutch matter: cycling. Wherever you look, you see cyclists everywhere, including parents bringing their child to school by bike. That seems crazy if you did not grow up in the Netherlands.

Flavia (44) from Brazil, who has two children, had difficulty getting used to this in the beginning: “In Rio de Janeiro, there are no cycling paths, which makes it quite unsafe to cycle there. When we arrived in the Netherlands a few months ago, we only cycled in the park. We found taking the bike to school rather scary.

But once the youngest is old enough, my two children can go to the international school together, four kilometres away. But not in autumn or winter. If it’s below 18 degrees, we are all too cold. Cycling is a typical part of the “Dutch lifestyle”. I think if you do it every day, it really improves the quality of your life.”

Learning Dutch and showing initiative

Expat Hedwig (50) from Germany initially found it difficult to connect with people at her son’s school: “My son is now in group eight and is doing very well. But for the first few years in the Netherlands. I really had to find my way. I was working four days a week and was only on school grounds on Wednesday afternoon.

In the beginning, I felt pretty lonely when I saw all the women chatting. Understanding Dutch is not that difficult, but speaking it is much more complicated. I noticed that as a German I was ashamed to make mistakes; I mean there’s not so much difference between the languages, right? So, I kept my mouth shut until I came up with the idea to introduce something “unique”, something typically German that I felt confident about.

In the Christmas period, I took the initiative to bake Weihnachtskuchen in my son’s class. That not only gave me a nice opportunity to make contact with the children but also with the parents. Thus, I was invited for a coffee one time and then for a birthday, which resulted in a nice group of friends. My Dutch has improved a lot in the meantime and I dare to speak it more.

Next year, my son will go to secondary school and then I will not see my “school friends” every week, but we will remain in contact.”

At Taalthuis you can learn Dutch in a fun and supportive environment, in seven cities around the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht.

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Margreet van 't Haaff


Margreet van 't Haaff

Margreet studied Dutch language and literature at Leiden University. She was a high school teacher and founded Taalthuis in 2006. Since then she teaches Dutch as a second language. Taalthuis...

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