Thursday, 4 August 2016

Little Steps to the Basisschool

If you are living in the Netherlands your child can start attending primary school at the age of four. All three of my children are now in various stages of primary school but for each one of them making the leap from peuterspeelzaal to the basisschool was a big one. So here's my story about how we tried to make it easier.

My youngest son will soon turn four. In the Netherlands this means he can start at primary school.

He currently attends a peuterspeelzaal for two mornings a week. He’s well aware that he’ll soon be going to school every day like his two elder brothers. He also knows that the class he will spend his first two years of school life in is ready and eagerly waiting for him.

He’s already busy with wennen, a few mornings before he actually starts as an introduction to his teacher, his classmates, his classroom and how his days will look in school.

There have been tears. There have been bursts of anger because he doesn’t want to go to a new school. Through the eyes of my highly sensitive three year old all that change is bad, scary.

Te spannend!” he shouts through his tears.

And I agree. It is a huge amount of change in one big bang; from a few hours a week to full time education just around the corner of his fourth birthday.

So his school life will begin slowly but surely, one step at a time. First he’ll just do mornings, one day at a time. Whatever he can manage. I’ll let him take the lead.

I want the basisschool to be a fun, positive and exciting experience right from the start for the last of my brood. Third time around I know exactly what a drain starting school can be on a brand new four year old. I know how difficult a new environment for a highly sensitive child can be.

Unfortunately, I also know that without the understanding and support of a teacher starting in school can be a negative, upsetting experience for a highly sensitive child.

My eldest son didn’t have the benefit of my experience and wisdom when he first stepped into his classroom. His school start was rocky to say the least. It ended in a change of school.

So now I’m planning ahead. I’m talking to my youngest son’s teacher. She knows he’s sensitive to change, nervous about new things. I stayed for the duration of his first morning in school. The second morning there were tears, but there were already trusted faces in the classroom so the tears quickly subsided.

There are still tears as I leave him in the classroom for a third time, short-lived ones, but tears nonetheless. However, this time around I know he will be fine as I head out of the school.

This morning he asked, as he lay snuggled in bed,

“Mama, am I going to the basisschool today?”

“Yes,” I told him, and he leapt out of bed with cries of “yippee”.

“I’m going to big school, I’m going to big school,” he sings as he dances around our living room wiggling his bottom at us.

I drop him off and he barely looks at me as I leave his classroom. He’s deep in conversation with the little girl sitting next to him on their tiny chairs. There are no tears, just smiles and excitement. My heart soars as I walk home.

It’s early days but he feels at home in his new classroom. His teacher already gets him, makes time for him, does all she can to make him feel comfortable in this new place, to prepare him for the following day.

He smiles broadly when he talks about his school. He chatters about being a big boy going to the basisschool.

More importantly he is the picture of happiness when I pick him up on the school playground at lunchtime. He runs out, beaming, eager to tell me about all the things he has done. He has made friends already.

The tide has turned. Getting him to go to the last few peuterspeelzaal sessions has become challenging,

“But I’m done going to baby school,” he exclaims indignantly. “Ik ben een grote jongen en ik ga naar de basisschool!”

He’s ready.

 Quick Tips and Info:

  • Children enter the Dutch education system as soon as they turn 4. There is therefore a constant stream of new children joining group 1 throughout the entire school year.
  • School is only actually compulsory from age 5 when children become leerplichtig.
  • Some schools in the bigger towns (Amsterdam and The Hague as examples) have long waiting lists (and lottery systems) so register well in advance with your preferred school.
  • Before a child turns 4 it is usual for a school to invite you for an intake meeting. Your child will also be invited for a few intro hours (om te wennen) before they actually start. It is a great way to get your child prepared for the big transition.
  • Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s personality and any issues you foresee with your child settling in at school. The sooner they understand your child, the more they can help and advise.
  • Children celebrate their birthday in school with a traktatie. For ideas see my birthday Pinterest board.
*This post was originally published last year on the Passionate Parenting site.

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