When you make a list of the places that are among the best for raising children, the Netherlands is one name that is bound to feature near the top. This charming European country has become one of the most desirable expat destinations in the world for several reasons, which include its high standard of living, rich culture, modern infrastructure, universal healthcare, scenic beauty, and overall environment. Today, more than 20% of its residents are from overseas. Amsterdam in particular is home to people of more than 150 nationalities. So what is it about this country that appeals to expatriates? Some of the factors are:Tolerance: The Dutch are known to be among the most broad-minded people in the world. While they are known to be reserved, they are respectful towards outsiders, regardless of race, ethnicity, or color. The local authorities usually adopt non-discrimination policies, which are propagated by the media. Not many are aware of the fact that the Netherlands was the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001, way before Canada and the US.
Cleanliness: Even though pollution levels are on the rise, the quality of air in the Netherlands is much better than some other European nations, mainly thanks to the abundance of vegetation in the gardens, parks, and green alleys. Almost 80% of the world’s flower bulbs come from this country. Most residents drink water straight out of the tap.
Environment friendliness: The Dutch are leaders when it comes to recycling of waste matter. People avoid using their cars and travel to most places on bicycle instead. Separate roads can be seen all over for cars and bikes. Kids are often seen traveling to school on bakfiets, a combination of a bike and a wheelbarrow. In an attempt to promote green energy, the government has plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by the year 2025. While the motion has been passed by the lower house, it has yet to be ratified by the senate. The vision is to have just electric cars on the streets.
Language: Since around 90% of the local population speaks English, language is not a barrier for English-speaking foreigners. In fact, the Netherlands has the highest English proficiency of any country where English is not the national language, above Sweden and Denmark. Moreover, more than half the people are fluent in German too.
Nutrition: The average diet is balanced, healthy, and most importantly, affordable. The locals consume rather high amounts of dairy products. According to a report by Oxfam, the Netherlands ranks the highest in the world, beating Switzerland and France, for the quality of its produce.
Connectivity: The Netherlands is in close proximity to popular European destinations (Germany, Belgium and the UK) and at the same time, it is very well connected to most other global countries. Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam operates more direct flights than any other airport.
Because of their active and outdoorsy lifestyle, the Dutch are among the healthiest people across the globe and they enjoy a fairly high life expectancy. A majority of expats of all ages and nationalities therefore find it quite easy to settle down in the Netherlands. However, the nation’s safety and security measures as well as its education standards make it attractive for kids of all ages. According to UNICEF, children raised in this country are the happiest in the world. Even when the younger people were asked to rate their own happiness levels, Dutch kids came out on top. This means that they don’t just have a good life by objective standards, they are also appreciative of it.
The Netherlands has an abundance of playgrounds and parks, which offer a multitude of sporting and other outdoor activities for children. Almost every neighborhood has a sports field for kids to practice football, volleyball, basketball and table tennis. Almost all parks have instructors or coaches that guide children on how to play. Schools have swimming and dancing lessons for all their students too.
There are only a few places where children have the freedom to play in the streets and the Netherlands is one of them. You will often see groups of kids cycling from one place to another, without any adult supervision.
The interactive museums in the Netherlands offer a captivating experiences to not just kids but also adults. All of them take a highly creative and engaging approach, allowing children to literally watch, feel, touch and taste elements of history. The “Do Not Touch” signs that are usually visible at most other types of museums are nowhere to be seen in the Dutch interactive museums. The best part is that the country has more than 400 such unique setups, giving young ones ample opportunity to explore, experience and learn.
Even though the Netherlands is one of the best places for raising children, there are a few things that should be considered carefully before you take the decision to pack your bags and hop on to a plane. Below are a few useful tips for expat parents moving to the Netherlands.
You can alleviate a lot of angst among your kids by simply preparing them for the major change that is about to take place in their lives. If possible, speak with them even before everything is finalized, so that you know how they feel about leaving their current home. Almost no child likes to be told that they have to up and move soon and have no say in the matter.
How you broach the topic will have an impact on their overall transition. If you make them look forward to the relocation, things are bound to be much smoother. However, if they are unhappy and apprehensive about moving, it will take them several months to accept the Netherlands as their new home, no matter how nice the place is. So start off by highlighting the positive aspects of the place. Encourage them to look at some pictures online and read as much as they can, about the country that you would like to move to. Chalk out a list of all the things to see and do in the Netherlands that may be of interest to your little ones.
Be prepared to face some amount of resistance; this is only natural, especially with older kids and teens, who find it very difficult to let go of their existing lives and embark on a completely new, unfamiliar journey. Younger children may show regression in certain ways, as it is their way of dealing with stress.
In general, people tend to like a place when they are on vacation. However, moving to a city that they have never seen often clouds their judgement, making them overly critical. To avoid this situation, it may be a good idea to have your family, including the young ones, take a vacation in Netherlands. If you think they really like the place, ask them how they would like to live there for the next few years.
One of the biggest concerns children have with moving is leaving their loved ones behind. You may want to assure your little ones that the physical distance need not matter that much and that they can still stay in regular touch with their family and friends back home, with the help of technology.
Choosing the right school
Residents of this nation, including expats, have to adhere to the Dutch Education Policy regarding compulsory schooling for all children between the ages of 5 and 18 years. However, almost 90% of kids begin formal education by the age of 3. In fact, expat children who aren’t fluent are in Dutch are usually enrolled for special early learning programs by the age of 2. Around 33% of the population undergoes some form of higher education.
Like most other developed countries, the education system in the Netherlands is excellent. The quality of teaching is high in both state-run and private schools. The number of private schools is almost twice the number of public schools across the nation. This is probably because several private educational institutes receive state funding if they follow certain religious or pedagogic principles. The country is also home to a number of well-reputed international institutions (both public and private) that offer the British National Curriculum or the International Baccalaureate.
The medium of education and instruction in most of the public schools is Dutch. However, English language streams are also gaining a lot of significance in Dutch state schools. According to the Ministry of Education the number of bilingual schools will grow at a rapid pace if the pilot is successful.
While state education is free for all ages, parents are asked to make voluntary contributions and pay for books, stationery, trips, lunchtime supervision, and afterschool care. Tuition fees are payable for English public schools but the amount is quite low compared to private and international institutes.
List all the options that you have shortlisted and run them by your children; after all, they are the ones who will be attending school and they should be able to share their opinion on what they think of each school you suggest.
The first day of school is daunting for any new student and this is one thing that your child is probably dreading more than anything else. Being the only foreigner in a school full of locals could make the situation worse for your young one. In such cases, you may want to consider opting for an international school, even if it is more expensive. This will give your child the chance to meet and interact with other expat kids.
Familiarizing the children with the language and culture
It is best to get your young ones to learn as much as they can about the local people as well as their traditions, values, beliefs, and customs, so that they settle down into their new home quickly and easily. Make the learning a shared, fun experience rather than a chore – as a group, read books and watch videos that are relevant to the place.
Gaining some level of fluency over the language will definitely make things easier. It may be a good idea for your children (and you) to attend Dutch language classes even before moving. In the process, they are bound to learn a little bit about the lifestyle, habits and etiquette of the locals.
Holidays and festivals play a crucial part of any culture. Once you move to the Netherlands, have your children observe, and if possible be a part of, all celebrations. Being involved in the festivities will help them get accustomed to the place.
Dutch cuisine is high in nutrition as well as taste. Most children love the food in the Netherlands, especially the cheese and desserts. Get your kids to sample the local fare as much as possible. The local restaurants offer great quality food at relatively reasonable prices.
Socializing and integration into the society
There are many expats in the Netherlands and they often tend to socialize more with each other than the locals. Of course, interacting with other foreigners is good for your children as it teaches them about diversity. At the same time, it is important for them to socialize with the locals too.
Outsiders often complain that the Dutch can be a bit unfriendly and snobbish. The locals are quite reserved and this applies to children too. Your kids aren’t likely to receive any invitations for the first few weeks, or even months. However, it is up to them to break the ice and once they do that, they will make some great friends.
Children often interact with other kids at parks and playgrounds, so it is advisable to have them visit these places regularly. Alternately, encourage your young ones to make the first move by inviting a few classmates over.
The suggestions mentioned above are just a few ways in which you could make the transition smoother for your family.
Have you moved to the Netherlands with children? Share your experiences in the comments!