|Nate in front of his school|
Time for Nate. Don't worry, this won't be nearly as emotionally harrowing, or long.
Nate only recently started school here. Preschools tend to have waiting lists, since they are free and available from the age of 2. It took until February to find a spot for him, so before that he spent big chunks of quality time with his dutch teacher, aka the television (fyi: Sesame Street is called Sesamstraat, and Big Bird is blue). Preschool was 4 days a week for about 2 1/2 hours at a time. This was Nate's first experience with school, as well as being left somewhere with no English spoken, and it was just a bit more scary than fun for him. The wonderful thing about living here is that most of his teachers could speak English if he really needed it. He spent a few months at the preschool, where he varied between loving it and crying to go home.
In May, he started going to the public school that Mia and Sam go to on Fridays. In the Netherlands, you can start primary school (or elementary school) when you turn 4. Literally, the day you turn 4, or the day after in most cases, and it doesn't matter when it is during the school year (unless it's during a vacation). Nate's birthday is May 29th, so that means he started school on May 30th. And it's full-time, 5 days a week. The poor kid was exhausted the first few weeks, but he LOVES it. He teacher is fantastic with him, and after a brief withdrawn, observant phase, he is opening up and talking and being happy and wonderfully well-adjusted. Thank you third child.
Being the youngest gives him a huge advantage. He still speaks the least Dutch, but he is learning in an entirely different way than the older kids. He mixes Dutch and English more, walks around singing Dutch songs, and is totally comfortable making mistakes and mispronouncing words. In other words, it's more of a natural language acquisition in the way a baby or toddler would learn-- through mimicking, babbling, singing, and playing. And with him, it does seem dramatic and sudden.
This week, Nate had his first ever play date here, with his best friend from school (Nino) who only speaks Dutch. There didn't seem to be a problem with communication, and they get quite a kick out of each other. We're all big fans of Nino now. Today on the metro, Nate started chatting it up with another little boy in Dutch. Yesterday he relayed a conversation he had with Nino that was apparently hilarious, but it was all in Dutch, so I just had to take his word for it.
So that's Nate. His last day of school was Friday, and he was really sad about it. And isn't that exactly what you want as a parent?
A few things about schools in general here:
- The school year is long. Summer vacation is 6 just weeks. There are a few more week long vacations through out the school year, but it's not like year-round school.
- The school day lasts from 8:30 or 9 until 3 or 3:30. Except for Wednesdays, which end at 12:30. For everyone.
- Most children start school at the age of 4 in Group 1, which is the equivalent of pre-kindergarten. Group 1 is optional, though most everyone does it. Group 2 is compulsory, and is equivalent to kindergarten. (Because Nate started Group 1 in the second half the year, he was technically considered to be in Group 0, and will start in September in Group 1).
- It is very hard to get approval to home school, as far as I understand. But the public education system is considered to be very good. All schools are free; the government subsidizes private schools so that all children can have access to them. Technically, I think, you are assigned to a neighborhood school, but can choose the school you want your child to attend, and put your child on a waiting list for that school when they turn 2.
- There are no school lunches provided, as far as I can tell, though you can pay for a milk or yogurt drink. So this means we pack lunches every day. The good thing is lunches are very simple here and usually consist of bread, fruit, and juice or water. The immersion school is very picky about this (I guess for the sake of cultural indoctrination), and my kids are terrified to vary from this prescription. So no carrots or crackers for us.
- Staying at school for lunch is optional, and you have to pay for supervision. The schools contract with a company to provide supervision while the teachers take their lunch, and you can either pay to leave your child, or come pick them up for lunch. As far as I can tell, the majority of the kids stay for lunch.
- In the morning, the kids come into class and shake their teacher's hand and say good morning. At the end of the day, the teacher brings them outside, and shakes each child's hand and says "tot morgen" (until tomorrow). My kids hate it; I love it.
- With so much water everywhere, every child in the Netherlands learns to swim. Once a week kids are bussed to a nearby pool for swim lessons. At the immersion school this was free, but I don't know if that is the case at the public schools.
- They also do gym once a week, and at least at the immersion school the kids shower after both gym and swimming. We were told that if they forget their swimming suit or gym clothes, they will wear their underwear. I don't think this is meant to be a threat or a harsh punishment. We see kids naked or in their underwear at the wading pools all the time, so I think it's meant to actually reassure the kids that they can still participate even if they forget their gym clothes. My kids of course, are not reassured by this at all. (And we have forgotten their gym clothes once and you should have seen the terror in their eyes when they realized. With our long bus ride to school, there is no way that I can make the trip back to bring them their clothes, so it really is a tough love situation. Lucky for them, gym was cancelled that day.
- One interesting thing about the Immersion school. The kids that go there are from from all over the world. I once heard Mia and Sam talking about which languages their classmates speak: Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Bulgarian, Italian, Burmese, and Russian were the languages they listed off. Many of these kids already speak more than one language.
- Finally, after school, many of the teachers come outside and smoke on the playground. Seriously. But many of the parents are smoking too.
Time for some videos from the school year. You are under no contractual obligation to watch these, except for those of you who signed the Generic Video Obligation Clause, in which case you are. I'm talking about you, Mom.
Here is a video you will appreciate if you've ever sat through a school music concert. This was at the immersion school, and Mia and Sam are sitting down in the front left. Keep an eye on the guy sitting in front of me-- he gives his wife a look that says it all.
Another video of a performance, this time from Mia's street dance clinic. Something went horribly wrong with the formatting, and it inadvertently kicked the awesomeness level up a few notches. Trust me, you will not want to miss this one.
And here is a video of them speaking Dutch. First off, let me just state that we have no idea what they are actually saying. Secondly, we had to bribe them with cookies and extra tastes of the dough before they would agree to say anything on camera. The opinions expressed may not represent the views of reasonable, adult human beings. No children were harmed in the filming of this video, but trust, it's not because we didn't want to.
This was at the end of the year costume party at the public school- I tried to get the bar in the background, but you can't really see it. Beer and wine were offered for the adults, lemonade for the kids. Welcome to Europe!
Finally, here's my favorite thing: parking at the school. Look at all those bikes!
This concludes Part II, and everything I've ever wanted to tell you about what we learned in school this year. And now I'm curious: say your kids have just 6 weeks of Summer vacation, dream come true or big bummer?