The wheels on the school bus go round and round
By: Olga MeckingWhen we were still going to playgroups, my girls’ favourite song was “The Wheels on the Bus”. They learned all the movements, and we sang it at home. Little did I know then that the bus would be the very vehicle taking our eldest girl to her school.
Choosing a school for a child, any child, can be a daunting task. There are questions to be answered, decisions to be made: What kind of school? Private or public? Mainstream or Montessori? Picking a school for a multilingual expat child is even more complicated. Should we send our girl to a local or international school? She speaks Polish, German and Dutch, so how are we going to make sure that all of these languages are supported and respected? While German is offered by many schools, what about Polish?
The age at which children start school varies from country to country. In the Netherlands, they start at just 4 years old. Also, unlike in other countries, you can send your child to any school you want, even if it’s on the other side of the town. That’s exactly what we did and this is why our daughter will be going to school by bus.
While I am not very happy with this arrangement, the decision wasn’t really that hard for us. We wanted our languages and cultures to be respected and at the same time, we wanted our daughter to learn Dutch so that she would feel at home in the Netherlands. Just a year before she had to be enrolled, the European School of The Hague opened its doors to a whole new class of little children. We could choose Dutch as the classroom language and mother tongue support in German and maybe even Polish would be offered as well. My husband works at a European Institution so there were no waiting lists and no tuition fees for us. Moreover, European schools everywhere are known for providing good quality education.
We visited the school a few weeks ago, and while I expected big classrooms and a boring curriculum, we saw cute little rooms with toys and smart boards. Everything seemed very child-centred, there was a huge playground outside and the canteen served hot meals. This seemed like a perfect fit for our girl. We felt very lucky to have found such a great school!
Except it is far away from where we live. Of course, we could have bought a house closer to the school, but the prices in the international district of The Hague are ridiculously high. Of course, we could have sent her to the school just around the corner from our house, where she could meet her friends from daycare. We could have chosen differently, but we didn’t. I am not happy about the journey she will have to take, but it seems like a small price to pay in return for good quality education and a multicultural, multilingual environment.
This is why, starting from September 2nd, 2013, the wheels on the school bus will be going round and round, taking my daughter all the way to school. I will go on with my day, doing whatever it is I have to do and hoping that my daughter arrived at her destination without any problems. Until the wheels on the school bus go round and round yet again, bringing her safely back home.
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Contest Comments » There are 18 comments
Choosing a school as an expat parent is really stressful. Thanks for sharing your positive experience in such a cute manner. I really enjoyed this post and I am sure that other parents will feel the same.
This is something I don't even want to think about yet! I came from a tiny town where there was only one school, or we had to go to boarding school if our parents wanted (or could afford) something different. I don't know what I'll do if I'm still here. There is an international school here in Almere, but I'm not sure if my husband would support that as he went to the primary school across the green from our house (that's right. We live 200m from his childhood home). Plus, it's the best performing primary school in the city.... Great food for thought, as always Olga
I know when I worked at the American School, the parents really struggled sometimes with just these problems. There was even a family sending their son there from Breda, because he would have been held back a year in Dutch schools.
Always tough for any parent of any nationality, but what a gift we have here in NL to be able to choose from so much variety! Unless of course living in a small village.
It seems like you chose the best alternative available. Nothing is ever going to be perfect.
You're pointing out one of the main "problems" on sending children to an international school: the distance. Children attending those schools mainly don't live in the neighborhood and need to take the bus from a very early stage on, which requires a certain independence that other children don't need to have. - Thanks Olga, this is a great post!
Coming from, a then communist, Poland to US and starting school there, ment also a completely new experience for me - the yellow school bus. I loved it, meeting my friends at the bus stop every morning and then riding with them to school and the bus driver who gave us candies. It was so much fun. Now when I look at the coach buses with TVs and huge comfy seats, that are passing by our house every morning and evening taking kids to and from the bilingual school just a few kilometers away, I feel sorry for those kids. Some of them have to get up before 6 o'clock and be ready for the bus before 6:30, rain or shine, waiting at the corner to be picked up. Some travel from other cities just to attend this private school. When we considered sending kids to American or European school, we also had to think about the distance - 1.5 trip one-way. 3 hours in trafic a day. It was too far and there was no way we could move closer to the school. So we chose ... homeschooling. This way kids learn all the languages we use at home and don't need to travel to school. :-) Polish mom living in Taiwan
Wise parents, wise choice. Some families are even prepared to move to a different city just because of the school. Would be great if the best school could be just on the other side of the street, but if the school provides transportation for kids, there is no problem. All the best for little Klara
Olga, For all that you're getting from that school, I understand the distance! How long does it take for the bus to get to the school? I drive my daughter one hour each way every day, just for one week, in the summer to take her to immersion French camp. Wish I could do it for more weeks, but I'm thankful for the past two years that I've been able to do it for one week. I speak some French with her at home, she has a one-on-one French class every week and the immersion French camp gives her a chance to learn French with other kids. There is a year round school there, but it is expensive, and an hour away. My makeshift French learning program for her is not like being in an immersion French school, but we are doing something at least, is how I feel! Jen :)
Before it was time for my first born to start school we researched all the primary schools in the area and actually moved house to be in the catchment area of the best school in town. The school boasts the "outstanding" review from the education authorities, runs a gifted and talented program and offers a family like, friendly environment. It seemed perfect and only a short walk from our new home! The reality was different though. This school was so obsessed by stats and results that the individual student meant nothing there. No idea what happened to the gifted and talented program as my already fully literate daughter was given colouring sheets while others learned their letters and sounds. She used to complain how bored she was there! So after the first year I moved her across town to a school marked barely "good". Now she gets tasks from the year above to stimulate her development and nobody uses big words like "gift" or "talent" here. Here during school assemblies she doesn't have to hear about how outstanding her school is. She knows it anyway. I remember about it every morning when we get into the car and drive in the rush hour traffic past the old school. It's worth it. On top of that there is Polish Saturday school every week with a half an hour drive each way. I'd been reluctant to additionally burden my kids with it for years. I always wanted them to have their weekend free to play and relax. I only decided to sign up for Polish school when my children asked for it. And I'm so glad I did! I still teach them their minority language at home but the school supports it really well and thanks to it they finally met some Polish friends! Also the car journeys can be used for reading, listening to music or stories on CDs and playing various games. So it doesn't have to be a wasted time :-) A great post as usual, Olga!
I can empathize, we have wondered so many times at what kind of school our son would be the happiest with and that we can afford. At the moment he goes to a school 20 minutes from our home but no school bus dropping him there. We just travel together. Well written!
Many years my parents made a similar decision - they decided to send me to an American school 20-30 min away and not to a Dutch one close by. This had a lot of consequences - I am bilingual in English and Polish, but have almost completely forgotten my Dutch. I am a scientist - and it was the biology and chemistry classes which are responsible for this, perhaps not just this, but they were the main factor. But each time you make a decision you have to base it on something, the school you have chosen sounds great and I hope Klara will like it
A decision which is already difficult for parents who speak the same language and are living in their home country clearly becomes expotentially difficult when you combine a mix of parental languages, country of residence language and a breadth of choice and option. I don't envy the decisions any parents have to make.
Hi Olga, yes education is very important! I am interested in hearing about your experiences. We have actually thought of sending our daughter to an international school but a school round the corner is very convenient...... I went to an international school abroad and I may great memories of my school days.
When there are other languages and cultures involved it's always hard to know if you're making the right choices for your little ones - and when you send them off to school at age 4 they seem so little. Sending them off on a bus must be daunting for you indeed!! But a multilingual, multicultural education is such a gift to give your daughter. Funnily enough we've been looking at that school too......
I live in Germany and my daughter goes to the school next year. I´m sad because we can´t choose a school aand here in North Hessen there are none international schools... She has no chance to learn/speak Polish at the school.
Good post, though one thing you said jumped out at me. You described prices in the "international district" of The Hague as very high. I think you're referring to the Statenkwartier. However, the school is not in the Statenkwartier. It's in the Boemenbuurt, which is much more reasonably priced. I live a 2 minute walk from the school and there are all kinds of apartments of 100 square meters, for example, in good condition that are under 200,000 euros. So, maybe you can move after all :) http://www.funda.nl/koop/s-gravenhage/bomenbuurt/100+woonopp/sorteer-prijs-op/
Olga, I would have done exactly the same if I were in your shoes. The European School of the Hague seems to be a great school. And they offer hot meals and bus service, have you seen these services in any other school here? Me not. I have a big dilemma when it comes to chose school, as I do like the convenience of having the school round the corner but I also want a good school I also have three kids and at this moment we could not aford private school fees for the three of them, so unless our finances changes or we try to get a job in an european Institution!