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Is it a good idea to raise children in the Netherlands?

29 September, 2022
Sylwia Szerszeń

Many people who work in the Netherlands choose to bring their family members with them, as it’s their new country of residence where they envision their future. But is it a good idea to raise your children in the Netherlands? Before making such an important life decision, you should familiarise yourself with the Dutch education system and the approach to raising children that prevails in this country.

The happiest children live in the Netherlands


For the past 20 years, international organisations such as UNICEF have been conducting surveys that measure the quality of life of children living in different parts of the world. UNICEF’s report of September 2020 looks at data from 41 high-income countries, ranking them according to the following criteria: children’s mental well-being, physical health, and the development of their academic and social skills.
For many years now, Dutch children have been recognised as the happiest in the world, which stems from the Dutch model of education, based on freedom and respect for the other. Children in the Netherlands are given a lot of trust and thus become more independent and resourceful. They are also encouraged to express their own opinions already at an early age. The young, growing-up generation doesn’t fear new challenges, and this is due to their ability to make instant but well-thought-out decisions. According to the UNICEF report, children from Denmark and Norway have also reached the podium.

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Growing up the Dutch way


Dutch parents don’t keep their children wrapped in cotton wool, as they believe that the child is being brought up to experience the world and that their guardians won’t always be there for them. As a result, Dutch children become more independent and responsible for their actions more quickly. In some central and eastern European countries, it’s fairly typical for parents to be overprotective. If you’re one of them, you’ll have to cut the proverbial umbilical cord, but in retrospect, you’ll understand that this is for the good of the child.

The Dutch raise their children in the spirit of open-mindedness. In homes, they talk to their children practically about everything. Sex, puberty, or homosexuality are not taboo and can be discussed with parents. Great attention is also paid to family meals, as well as a fixed daily schedule and bedtimes. Routines give children a sense of security.

Dutch children spend a lot of time outdoors and are encouraged to cycle already at an early age. Through physical activity, regardless of the weather conditions, they acquire resistance to illnesses and cold.

Certainly, after a move to the Netherlands, the child’s adaptation to the new situation can be difficult at first, but in most cases, the change is experienced more emotionally by the parents than by the children. People from central and eastern Europe who have emigrated to the Netherlands and would like their children to continue to have contact with their native language can enrol them in schools run by dedicated organisations managed by their countrymen. Such facilities are usually located in large cities such as The Hague, Amsterdam, Breda, Rotterdam, Tilburg, and Utrecht. Having said that, it’s important to remember that learning at such a school is only a supplement to education that won’t replace Dutch compulsory schooling.

Pre-school education of children in the Netherlands


Early preschool education in the Netherlands (known as WE.), which isn’t compulsory, concerns children from 2 to 4 years of age. It’s designed for kids who experience developmental problems, such as language learning. These pre-schools make it possible to remedy the child’s language deficiencies before they go to school and thus provide them with equal opportunities to have a successful start. This is especially relevant for children for whom Dutch is a second language and those who have learning difficulties. Classes are held in informal groups in primary schools or private facilities.

Children in the Netherlands are obliged to attend school from the age of 5 up until when they reach 18. Some Dutch schools offer children education at a level equivalent to what in many countries is understood by kindergarten (Kinderopvang). After children reach the age of four, they take part in classes preparing them for the next level of education.

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School system in the Netherlands


The education system in the Netherlands is slightly different from what you may have experienced in your home country. A primary school in the Netherlands, or ISCED 1, consists of eight grades or groups. Primary schooling is divided into the following levels
  • the youngest grades (1 and 2) – onderbouw;
  • middle grades (3 – 5) – middenbouw;
  • the oldest classes (6 – 8) – bovenbouw.
At the age of 12, children take their final test – CITO, which determines their abilities and the type of secondary school that’s most suitable for them.

Secondary schools also have several levels:
  • VMBO – lowest, vocational (4 years), with the possibility of furthering the schooling at an MBO – secondary vocational school, which is a pathway higher vocational education;
  • HAVO – intermediate (5 years), which prepares students for studies at higher vocational schools;
  • VWO – comprehensive (6 years), preparing students for university courses.

Student-friendly school


In Dutch schools, the focus is primarily on the free expression of one’s thoughts, which are not suppressed by imposed patterns. Children and youths are not given much homework, but sometimes they are asked to prepare a presentation. Rest is important to make it possible for children to achieve a sense of happiness and fulfilment. Teachers have a pro-student attitude – they are always there to help, and students can turn to them with any problem.

Learning through play is practised in schools, which facilitates memorisation. Teachers use IT teaching aids, quizzes, and presentations during lessons while students work using laptops or tablets. The emphasis is on learning to analyse data, maps, and graphs, which pays dividends in later years.

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Family comes first


Dutch families, just like many families in central and eastern Europe, highly value the time they spend together, as no social contacts can replace family ties. Therefore, almost half of Dutch adults work part-time. Parents devote at least one day a week to spending time with their children. The Dutch believe that a nice atmosphere at home without mutual resentment is the key to success. Children and adults are cared for in the Netherlands, thanks to which work-related stress isn’t a problem at home – a factor conducive to maintaining a good atmosphere among household members.

The key to success


In the Netherlands, children can remain children. They have much more freedom than their peers in other countries and face less pressure at school while spending more time with their parents. They are encouraged to have and voice their opinions and can talk openly about anything with those responsible for their upbringing. With responsible and sensible care, they grow up to become confident and independent people. The freedom-centric approach to raising children in the Netherlands yields excellent results.

Source: UNICEF