If you’re living in the Netherlands, here’s a guide to childcare and pre-school (peuterspeelzaal) in the Netherlands.
Many Dutch women return to work after the end of statutory maternity leave – usually 10 – 12 weeks after the baby is born – and childcare is extensively used in the Netherlands. Partou Daycare, one of the most popular networks of childcare centres in the Netherlands, explains all the options you will find to make sure your kids are well taken care of in their early years, from preschools and daycare centres to child-minders and au-pairs.
Running around 300 centers with more than 3,800 employees, Partou is one of the largest childcare organisations in the Netherlands. They invest in quality, development and innovation to maintain the high quality level of their care, while keeping each Partou centre small, cosy and welcoming for both parents and children. Their employees speak English and they are very popular with expat families.
Preschool in the Netherlands
For many expat families, toddler pre-school (peuterspeelzaal) is the first foray into the Dutch school system. Peuterspeelzaal is an educational program to help children aged between two-and-a-half and four as they prepare to start school. Pre-schools come under the governance of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
Toddlers learn intellectual, emotional and educational skills such as language and counting, social interaction, following directions, playing, sports and music. Peuterspeelzaal is available five days per week (Monday-Friday). You can choose to send your child for three hours or five hours (excluding/including lunch) and from between one – five days per week (some centres will require a minimum of two days per week). Most preschools open at 8:30 with the day running through to 15:00.
The cost of childcare is split between the parents, their employers and the government under the Dutch Act on Child Care introduced in 2005. The contribution of parents is income based. There are government factsheets available that provide comprehensive information on child allowances. A 12-page booklet produced by Sardes provides further interesting details on the pre-schooling system.
Selecting a preschool in the Netherlands
Picking a peuterspeelzaal depends on three main criteria: location, methodology and availability. Language is also a strong factor with a heavy percentage of pre-schools solely teaching in Dutch. However there are also a considerable number of English language nurseries, particularly around The Hague. For location, you might select one in your neighbourhood or one connected to the primary school your child will later attend. There are several available teaching methodologies, which focus on different areas or teaching styles. But ultimately, availability of space may very well be the deciding factor.
8:30-9:00: Arrival and play with parents. Parents must wave goodbye before they leave.
9:00: Play activity – drawing, painting, crafts in relation to the monthly theme
10:00 – Snack
10:30 – Circle – songs and stories in relation to the theme
10:45 – Play outside or inside if raining/snowing
11:45 – Pick up for children staying 3 hours
12:00 – Lunch – bread with cheese or hagelslag
12:45 – Activity – movement or creative activity
13-13:30 – Pick up for children staying 5 hours
Daycare in the Netherlands
Another option for children aged 0 – 4 is the daycare centre where children are cared for while parents are at work. Children are divided either vertically, with all age groups together (0 to 4 years) or horizontally, with children of a similar age. Daycare centres generally mirror the working day and open from 7:30 am or 8:00 until 18:00 or 18:30. Some centres allow half day sessions and others even have 24-hour facilities. The flexibility of these types of centres may be one reason why waiting lists tend to be very long.
The principal options are a child minder (oppasmoeder, gasthouder) or a babysitter/au pair. The main distinctions are that a child minder looks after up to four children in their home, while a babysitter or au pair looks after your child in your home. Generally you will register for your own nanny or au pair, who usually take care of up to four children in their home. This can be a very flexible option for parents.
Preparing for the first day
Make a big fuss about the upcoming start day. Take your child to the building to see where the school is and to peek in the windows. You can talk about how your child is getting older and is a big kid now. Most importantly, be positive.
The first day can be overwhelming to both parent and child. Here are some tips on how to manage it:
- Start off with a good breakfast.
- Remind the child about how exciting it is to go to school (that they have visited, etc).
- Perhaps offer a present at the end of the day for good behavior.
- If your child is potty-trained, make sure to show them the bathroom and explain who will take them while you are away.
- Reassure them that you will be there to collect them at the end of the playtime.
- Expect to leave at 9am regardless of how your child is reacting – the teachers are trained to help kids settle in.
- Allow time on the first day to meet with the teachers to go over specific needs (dummy, favorite toy, toilet-training information, etc).
- Label clothing and bags with your child’s name
- Take a fruit or snack along – some provide snacks and some don’t
- Take along a pair of soft indoor shoes for your child
- Come prepared with emergency and doctor contact information (you will complete a form on your first day)