Raise a family in topdutch
Children in the Netherlands are regularly ranked as the happiest in Europe. Our mentality is ‘learn through play’: both inside the classroom - with our low pressure learning system - and outside the classroom - where children can find a playground every few blocks.
We have the shortest average working week in the world, which is because many of our parents choose to work part-time, something often easily facilitated by employers if that’s what you choose. As you can imagine, children are all-but born on a bike; starting out being carted around on a bakfiets (in English a ‘cargo bike’, although here the cargo is often a toddler), and being transitioned into independent riding at around three. That means our children spend a lot of their time outside and being active. Moms and dads are generally pretty equal, and men are expected to change diapers and do the dishes alongside women. That being said, it is often women who choose to take more time off work to look after the kids: although stay-at-home dads are becoming more common.
Schooling in TopDutch
Deciding on a school for your child depends on a number of factors. Firstly, an international or Dutch school. If you decide on a Dutch school, we facilitate newcomers with immersion classes that can help children transition to the Dutch language and culture for a year or two before starting formal Dutch school. Most new arrivals in the TopDutch region make the international/Dutch decision based on factors such as the age of their children, how long-term the move is going to be and their financial situation.
Dutch education system
Mandatory schooling in the Netherlands starts in elementary school (basisschool). Children may start at the age of four, but it is only mandatory from their fifth birthday. Which school your child attends is entirely your choice, we don’t have catchment areas. Instead, we have schools based around different social, educational or demonotational ideologies, which are divided into three main sections; public schools (following the state curriculum), denominational particular schools or confessioneel bijzonder onderwijs (adhering to different religious foundations), and general particular schools or algemeen bijzonder onderwijs (adhering to different educational concepts such as Montesorri or Waldorf).
The vast majority of schools in the TopDutch region are state schools, even our royal family attend them (fun fact: Queen Maxima was registered official nit-checker at the princesses’ elementary school)! However, it is common practice for schools to ask for a donation from their parents at the beginning of the school year.
Elementary schools have eight grades (groepen) which are generally completed at the age of 12, although occasionally students skip or retake a year if it’s considered in their best interests. At the end of grade 8, students take a final, standardized test which is used, alongside the advice of their teacher, to indicate which type of high school they go to.
The length and style of high school is based on a student’s academic needs and abilities. There are three levels of high school:
Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs
- - pre-vocational secondary education
- - 4 years
- - qualifies students for MBO tertiary education, which is further vocational schooling ending in a diploma but not bachelor/master level
Hoger Algemeen Vormend Onderwijs
- - higher-general secondary education
- - 5 years
- - qualifies students for HBO higher education (universities of applied sciences)
Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs
- - pre-university education
- - 6 years
- - qualifies students for WO higher education (research universities)
- two further sub-sections: Atheneum and Gymnasium
The choice at the age of 12 for the type of school a child attends does not limit them to one route, often students can choose to change route, however it may take longer for them to graduate. In all of the schools, English is a mandatory part of the curriculum.
In the TopDutch region we have a choice between both state-funded and private international schools at elementary and secondary school level. English is the main language of instruction in all of the international schools in the TopDutch region, however of course there is a lot of support to help children that do not yet speak much English and Dutch is always taught as a second language.
There are currently two international choices in the region at elementary level.
- - GSV International Department (Groningen) is a partially state-funded choice for English-taught education. They follow the British Curriculum for Primary Schools, combined with the International Primary Curriculum. Within the wider school is also a bi-lingual department, which is aimed at Dutch pupils who want to be educated partially in English.
- - Eerde International Boarding School (Ommen) is a day and boarding private school that educates from ages 4-19. They follow Cambridge Primary Curriculum for Maths and English, combined with International Primary Curriculum for other subjects.
Again, there are two international choices in the region for secondary level education.
- - International School Groningen (Haren, Groningen) is a state-funded English-taught secondary school. They follow the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program from 11-16 and the International Baccalaureate Diploma program from 16-19.
- - Eerde International Boarding School (Ommen) is a day and boarding private school that educates from ages 4-19. From the age of 11-14 they study the International Middle Years Curriculum mixed with the Cambridge Lower Secondary Curriculum. From 14-16 students take IGCEs and from 16-19 they take the International Baccalaureate Diploma program.
Fun for all the family
International support networks
Children are quick to adapt, but sometimes parents moving abroad find themselves wanting to get together with people in the same situation as them. Connect International provides an opportunity to get together with other expats and allow you to support each other. They have regular kids nights and parents nights where internationals in the TopDutch region can get together and chat.
Things to do
Although, in the TopDutch region, your child will never be far away from a local playground, sometimes we seek a break from monkey bars and wood chips. TopDutch kids are very active, and activities such as swimming and ice-skating are popular and easily accessible. For all future vets, we have a zoo and a water zoo in the region, and if instead you have your own little monkey on your hands, maybe wear them out in an amusement park. For a large, and localized, list of attractions for youngsters in the TopDutch region, check out the website of the IWCN. The TopDutch region is not just a hub of culture for grown-ups, there’s also loads of events for international children to experience. To keep up-to-date with upcoming kids events, you can use the children’s section of Here and Now, a website which maintains an English language list of events in the TopDutch region.
Childcare and child benefits
Anyone who is insured under the Dutch national insurance scheme (generally: anyone who lives or works in the Netherlands, with a few exceptions e.g. international students) is entitled to child benefit (kinderbijslag). This is an allowance for the costs of raising children between birth and 18, and can be claimed by anyone raising a child i.e. parents, adopted parents, step-parents, foster parents, legal guardians. Babies are expensive, but teenagers even more so, so the amount you receive increases at the age of 6 and again at 12. In 2018, for a child from 0 to 5 years the quarterly amount is €201.05, for a child aged 6 to 11 it is €244.13, and for a child between 12 and 17, it is €287.21. You can apply for child benefit through the SVK agency. Lower income families are also sometimes entitled to a further allowance in the form of a tax credit, named child budget. Generally, the SVK agency will inform the tax office of your application for the child benefit, and the decision to whether you’re also entitled to child budget will be organized automatically. However, if you believe you should be entitled to child budget and have not been contacted by the tax office, you can inquire here.
Types of childcare
Many families in the TopDutch region decide to send their children to daycare from the ages 0-4, before they are legally obliged to attend school. Getting a place in a childcare center (kinderdagverblijven) is easier in the TopDutch region than in other areas in the Netherlands, however the majority of places are Dutch-speaking. The daycare group SKSG offers two English-speaking opportunities in Groningen: daycare from ages 0-4, and pre-school from 3-4. Apart from that, many international parents choose to send their child to a Dutch-speaking daycare. Of course, the decision is best made by you and your knowledge of your child.
Apart from traditional daycare centers, there are a number of other childcare options available in the region, depending on your needs and wishes:
- - Childminders (gastouders): Typically, these self-employed childminders take care of between 1 and 6 children in their own home, or your own home. Unlike normal babysitters, they must be licensed, and you can find reliably through agencies or gastouderbureau in Dutch, who ensure that the environment is safe and clean, and arrange practical matters such as payments or disputes.
- - Babysitters (oppas): More flexible, short-term childcare who work either a few hours a day or just when needed. You can find that babysitters may be teenagers, or licensed childminders who are looking for a few more hours. If you’re looking for English-speaking babysitters in the TopDutch region, you can find a group here.
- - Nannies: Often, nannies hold a diploma and are well-experienced. They may either live in the house, or in their own home but holding a contract with set hours. As hiring a nanny is essentially hiring an employee, the taxing regulations can be quite complex, so it might be advisable to go through a service provider such as Blue Umbrella
- - Au Pairs: Somewhere in-between a babysitter and a nanny, Au Pairs are international youngsters who come to live in your house and help take care of your child up to 30 hours a week, in exchange for board and lodgings and a small wage of €300-340 a month. This is also a good way to get childcare in your native language. Au Pairs are hired through Au Pair agencies, and as they will have to apply for a special visa, they must be recognized by the Dutch government. You can find the list of recognized agencies here.
Any of the above listed childcare options, with the exception of babysitters and Au Pairs entitle working parents to a further benefit; the childcare benefit (kinderopvangtoeslag). The amount of money you get depends on your yearly income, the cost of the childcare choice you have and the amount of hours your child(ren) are in childcare. You can find the details of how to apply here.