It was the first day of school in Delft. We walked up to the school director who welcomed us. We all went together up the stairs and into our son’s class. The group 3 (ages six to seven) classroom filled up with excited children and teachers. We got a small tour and Adrian signed in on the classroom digital board. Our son had started Dutch school. We got a hug, a “fijne dag” and that’s how it all started.
A year later, we are happy parents at our Dutch primary school in Delft. Our son is succeeding in Dutch, speaking fluently while I still struggle. He eats bread and cheese for lunch. At seven years old he knows all about boat building, Leonardo da Vinci, and everything rekenen.
By Vania Suazo
MOVING TO THE NETHERLANDS
To tell you about my experience with Dutch schools I have to tell my personal story. With many trips back and forth between Honduras and the Netherlands, we had to make a definitive move to be together all the time as a family. We went through a surprisingly short immigration process, starting our IND application in August 2019 and receiving a positive response in October 2019. My personal tip: include everything in your application; having a timeline of your story is the way to go. Imagine you are the one reading your story.
WAITLISTS AND TOURS
We knew (thanks to my incredible Dutch partner) that getting placement in a public school would take time, so we started reaching out to schools at the beginning of 2019. Most of the schools we contacted replied quickly. A lot of them immediately told us we could join the waiting list and that they would get in touch with us.
We ended up with a list of three schools nearby our home that had available spaces for the upcoming school year. The quality of education, the distance from home, and the school infrastructure were key factors for us. With these requirements in mind, we arranged to visit each of the schools.
First, we visited De Schatkaart (https://www.deschatkaartdelft.nl/) located in de Kristalweg. Rene, the school’s interim director, toured us around. With his perfect spoken English, we loved this glimpse of the school.
We got to see the children in their classes, engaging with their teachers and friends. In a relaxed atmosphere, teachers greeted us with a smile and open doors to their classrooms. Children moved with autonomy and were not glued to their seats. Much visible documentation was displayed throughout. We saw the remains of a theater project of children from group 7-8. Operational tools provided peeks at an engineering project. We explored the full in-school gym. We discussed the in-school scheduled swimming classes every Monday. On its educational approach, the school focused on the child’s biological clock and a ‘doing it yourself’ mentality. With De Schatkaart, we had the feeling we had found a good place. We knew it was a growing school in Delft, with many great things going on.
De Eglantier TANTHOF
Next, we went to my partner’s old school. Located in Tanthof, De Eglantier Tanthof (https://www.eglantiertanthof.nl/) greeted us with an amazing outdoor playground. A friendly director hosted us. The school held more than 40 different nationalities in its student body. A group of mothers sat for their weekly Dutch language practice group for parents. Classes were full of eager students. My partner fondly remembered he and his older brother walking home from this school as children, greeted every day by a neighborly black cat with white spots.
However, we did not want to continue with primary education with a set curriculum. Our search consisted of finding a shape and form to follow. In the same quest, a lot of freedom and an individualized direction was essential. This is what we felt as parents after only two school visits. Therefore, we kept thinking about the options we had and decided to follow where our heart was pointing to.
WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR FAMILY?
Ultimately, we chose a school in Delft that worked for us. We went into each tour asking questions that interested us and were relevant to our story. And we took our decision based on the school’s learning approach. Additionally, the distance from our home (5 minutes by car, 10 by bike – well, 20 sometimes with our biking skills!) was important. Other decisive factors were the support our child would have in transitioning, the availability to start classes soon and, finally, our personal intuition.
This was what worked for my family. For other families, determining factors might be different. International schools might be the best fit for constantly moving families. For people with strict schedules, having a school within walking distance might be best. Considering how you will travel to and from school is an important factor.
In summary, knowing your priorities is crucial when committing to a new school.
ADAPTING TO DUTCH SCHOOL
We started classes in the last week of November 2019, almost three full months into the school year. Our son went in excited to see his new school and meet new friends. Dutch was not familiar to him as he had attended bilingual schools in English and Spanish. Because of this, at first we picked him up for an hour’s lunch break and then took him back to school. Fast enough, we realized this was not ideal for our schedules. After that, we started using the in-school TSO (tussenschoolse opvang) service. The teachers encouraged us to only have fruit for a morning snack, and bread for lunch. Certainly, this was an adaptation for us as we used to have more variety and, of course, hot meals for lunch.
During these first days, we heavily relied on the car for drop off and pick up. We were not used to biking everyday everywhere. My son’s biking skills were not there at all. My skills also left a lot to be desired! Back in Honduras, we used the car to go everywhere. So, over the Christmas break, we practised full time our biking skills. After that, my son picked it up.
From there on, we started using the bikes to get to school on an everyday basis, mornings and afternoons. Sometimes my partner and I rotate. We still know that biking is the healthiest and most conscientious option. You start seeing this as a blessing when you realize you are lucky to use a bike as a transportation form. You get to be present for those moments. Even in the 8.00am bike traffic, where moms and dads are rushing with their own mini bikers.
MANAGING THE LOCKDOWN
In a blink of an eye, it’s February 2020 and we had our first official parent-teacher meeting. Teachers were accommodating, speaking fully in English while describing our son’s progress and adaptation.
Unfortunately, one month later, coronavirus caught up with the Netherlands and we all went into a lockdown.
We appreciated how our chosen school approached distance learning. We didn’t feel overwhelmed. Rather, we felt our school understood that home is not a school because there were no intense Zoom sessions or long online learning hours. The school set clear objectives and we molded them with our own pace.
HAPPY IN OUR SCHOOL
It’s been a little over a year now, from when we first found ourselves dropping our son off at his new school. A little less than a month ago, I sat in the office of Mr Marc, the new school director. We talked about the school and how I would be writing this article. We had a full conversation about the school and the community around it. I ended up joining the parent council. To me, this speaks of where we are now with the school. We want the school to keep growing. Our school provides a space where Dutch and expat families feel secure. We want our son to keep smiling every time he goes to school. He is sad when schools can’t open because he misses his jufs, Mr. Arend, and his friends.
Now we bike in the rain, we laugh when biking does not go as planned, and we know what to expect.
We are happy with our school. I know that by doing research, asking questions, and seeing a smile day after day, we have found our school in Delft.
about the author
Vania Suazo is a dynamic professional who moved to the Netherlands with her partner and son. She holds a bachelor’s in Journalism. She has a love for education. Vania owns a Kindergarten and early learning center in Roatan, Honduras.
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