Surviving the Dutch school, traditions and habits

You have chosen a Dutch primary school for your child; how exciting to start this Dutch adventure! Being in a Dutch school means dealing with the Dutch culture and you want your child to integrate as soon as possible. Let Young Expat Services inform you about the main Dutch customs. Naturally, there can be small differences from school to school, but at least you have a general idea of what to expect.

Celebrations throughout the year

Birthday (verjaardag)
For your child, this is probably the most important day of the year. At school, this will be celebrated as follows. Your child brings a treat (traktatie) for their classmates and for the teachers. It’s wise to discuss the most suitable day for the traktatie with the teacher in advance. Please note that most schools have a healthy treat policy. Younger children generally receive a paper birthday hat made by the teacher. The birthday child picks two other children to walk through the school and give the other teachers a small treat. So you should bring a treat for the teachers as well.

Birthday parties (verjaardagspartijtje)
If you organize a birthday party, please distribute the invitations in a discrete way. This in order to avoid disappointment for the children who are not invited. Please note that you’re not obliged to invite the whole class. Many Dutch people invite as many children as the age of the birthday child, e.g. 5 years old means 5 invitees. If your child is invited to a birthday party, you drop off your child and pick them up when the party is over.  It’s not custom that you stay with your child. Also, Dutch children unwrap their presents at the party and thank for it at the party so don’t expect a thank you note.

11th November (Sint Maarten)
In some parts of the Netherlands (including the Amsterdam area)  on November 11th, children walk down the streets in small groups carrying handmade paper lanterns.

They’ll ring the doors and sing a Sint Maarten song. After the song they’ll receive candy. A populair song to sing is: Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten De koeien hebben staarten De meisjes hebben rokjes aan Daar komt Sint Martinus aan

5th December (Sinterklaas)
Sinterklaas activities start at least 3 weeks before December 5th. The school and the classrooms are decorated with Sinterklaas decorations. The children leave one of their shoes overnight in the classroom to receive a small gift in it. ‘Messy Piet’, one of Sinterklaas’ helpers, will usually visit the school leaving a big mess in the classrooms. The children love this. On his birthday at December 5th , Sinterklaas and his helpers (Pieten) arrive at school and the children will sing songs to welcome them. Parents are usually only invited to watch the arrival of Sinterklaas in the morning. The children receive a gift from Sinterklaas (this is organized by the school). The older children (age 8 and up) celebrate in a different way. They randomly pick a name of a classmate written on a piece of paper (lootjes trekken), like Secret Santa. They need to buy a small gift for this classmate. This gift has to be hidden in a handmade creation called a ‘suprise‘ accompanied with a self- written poem (Sinterklaasgedicht) about that classmate.

Christmas (Kerst)
The Christmas celebration depends on the religious background of the school. Some schools go to church or have a Christmas play. Many schools organize a Christmas dinner party (evening), the children are dressed-up nicely and they will bring a meal to share. There will probably be a sign-up list at school where you can write down what you’ll bring.

Easter (Pasen)
A lot of schools organize an Easter breakfast. Some schools make an Easter box. This box (can be a shoe box) is decorated by your child and you fill this with a nice breakfast. This box is for another child (secret Easter Bunny).

Many schools patricipate in the ‘Avondvierdaagse’. This is a walk taking place over four evenings. All children gather at a central place (e.g. the local sportsground) and start walking the route together with children from other schools. Every evening, the route differs and you can choose to walk 5 or 10 kilometers per day. The fourth evening (the last one) is special, family and friends will wait at the finish to give the children gifts, flowers or sweets. They all receive a medal for participating.

At the end of the year, the children of group 8 will perform in a musical. In general, this is their last activity at school before they leave. It is performed several times (for the children at school and naturally for their parents/ grandparents).

Teachers day (lerarendag)
Some schools organize a teachers’ day. On this day all the teachers’ birthdays are celebrated. Class parents will probably organize the presents, otherwise, your child can bring a small present.

Other Dutch school customs

Reporting sickness (ziek melden)
If your child is ill, you should inform the school as soon as possible. You don’t need a doctor’s note for school. Your child goes back to school when you decide he or she is fit again.

Lice (luizen)
Not the most popular thing to talk about. It’s very annoying when a child has lice, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In order to prevent an outbreak, so- called lice-parents regularly check all the childrens’ hair. If they find lice or nits the parents are phoned to pick up their child. Their hair should be treated immediately to stop it from getting worse. After treatment, the child can come back to school.

Playdates (speelafspraakjes)
Playdates are very popular and a big thing for our pupils. After school, the children play at each other’s homes without the parents of the visiting child.

Playdates are organized by the parents and children, school is not involved in this. In general, the children should be picked up before dinner. You should inform your teacher when your child leaves school with someone else. Without your advance permission a child is not allowed to leave with anyone else.

PE (gym)
The youngest children have PE in their underwear and are barefooted. When you buy sports shoes for them, make sure the soles are white (so the soles won’t leave marks) and your child can get the shoes on/off by him/herself (e.g. velcro shoes). The children bring their own sports clothes from the age of 6. Please make sure, that your child wears clothes that are easy to take off and put on by themselves on the days they have PE.

Lunch box
Please make sure that your child brings a snack or lunch they can eat independently. At Dutch schools, there are no facilities to prepare food.

Contact Young Expat Services
Young Expat Services is specialised in supporting families with children coming to the Netherlands and helping them find the right school. If you have any questions about Dutch or international schools, please feel free to contact and consult them! They will be happy to help you.