There are things in life that I have never found intimidating. Specifically with my own education. I come from a family where I was the first to go on to college and eventually graduate. I filled out my paperwork, I applied for student loans, and I made sure that everything I had to do was taken care of, either in person (waiting outside of the counselor’s office for hours on end) or through mindless games of guess-that-phone-extension with the registrar. My parents didn’t know how to help me and that was OK.
In light of this over self-confidence when it came to taking care of myself and my education- I never thought much about the education of my children. Back in the States my oldest started a toddler program two years ago- three days a week for a couple of hours just so that his new twin brothers and I didn’t suck the life out of him. Finding the right school (easy, it was a friend’s suggestion), enrolling, and becoming a part of the program was no big thing.
In essence- everything has been easy with regard to early education up until now. My family and I moved from South Carolina to The Netherlands in November of last year. I wasn’t in a ‘rush’ per say, to get the boys into a preschool program, but I feared expat isolation, lack of friends and exposure to their new culture.
When we went house hunting, our biggest concern was what kind of schools were in the area. It had to be very close to home (walking distance) and they had to welcome us. Outsiders. Americans in this small Netherlands village.
I seemed to have unbelievable luck with our choice. All three boys started at a peuterspeelzaal, which is a playgroup. It starts around ages 2 1/2 and children ‘graduate’ to the next level in the ‘real school’ at age 4. All three boys went- the twins two days a week for two hours- and my 3 year year old four days a week for extra language exposure. This playgroup has been wonderful- small, intimate, and my boys love it there. I felt like I could figure things out- I asked questions and took pictures of parental notices on the white board to translate later. It wasn’t easy, but I made my way.
Last month my son turned 4 and everything’s changed. I feel like I don’t understand anything and I am a mess.
I don’t know how to fill out the paperwork, I mark the emails to translate another day. I don’t send the right foods or drinks with him to school and I didn’t even know where to get the correct ‘gymschoenen‘ for him. I’ve misunderstood the pick up times, what needs to be signed and returned- and even the criteria on his vaccinations. I become overwhelmed and feel like a bother.
I used to be so together when it came to dotting i’s and crossing t’s when it came to school. In this very small community- which we adore- I am the American flake and can’t seem to get a grip on what I am and am not supposed to be doing.
I stressed about the length of the day because it is an all day program where the children are in a class with 4, 5 and 6 year olds until 3:00 in the afternoon. They were lenient with allowing me to ‘ease’ him into the system, but I also didn’t want to make him feel like an outcast or ‘not like the other kids’. It’s hard enough on him I’m sure that this is an all Dutch-speaking school and he has been thrown into the tank.
We chose this road. We decided to forgo the International School option for some reason and try out full-immersion in the culture and language because he is so young. No one forced me to put him here, it’s no one’s idea but ours.
As big as a flake that I am, however, each day when I pick him up he is smiling, happy to see me and chatters on about his day. He likes his teacher and his classmates even though there are 36 of them, he doesn’t seem to get lost in the madness- unlike me.
I need to get a grip on the understanding part of this new world with him. At 4, he doesn’t notice if I mess up but I do. I don’t want to be the one that fails him here or anywhere else.
Have you ever experienced this unknown feeling when it comes to your child’s school in a new country? What resources did you seek to help you better understand it?
This is an original guest post to World Moms Blog by Farrah in the Netherlands. Farrah is an American mom to 2 year old twin boys and their 4 year old brother living as new expats in The Netherlands. Because life in the States wasn’t crazy enough- they wanted to take their family to Europe and experience a whole new twist on what it was like to have more than enough to handle. She blogs their adventures on her site The Three Under and contributes monthly to Travel Mamas. You can find her on Twitter and her newest love- Instagram as @Momofthreeunder.
Photo credit to the author.
The most important thing is that your child is happy! Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t second-guess yourself, your kids will be fully bilingual in no time! The older you are the harder it is!!
I was 8 years old when my parents emigrated from Italy to South Africa. I could neither speak nor understand either of the 2 official languages at the time (English and Afrikaans). Yet I was STILL put into “regular” Primary School with only a pocket dictionary to help me!
Unlike your son, I cried every single day and I had no help or support from my parents at all. Despite (or maybe because of) this, by the end of the year I not only spoke English fluently, but I had also learnt enough Afrikaans to pass that subject. In fact I was one of the top students in the class and still have the book prize I was awarded that year! 🙂
Have no fear, you’ll all be just fine!
Thank you for sharing your story on World Moms Blog! Sometimes the road less traveled is a little tougher. If this is what you want for him, stick with it!
My daughter has been learning French for 4 years now, and there is an immersion French camp an hour away. For the past 2 years I’ve taken her — driven every day for 5 days that one hour there and one hour back with her little sister in tow. Yes, it’s inconvenient, and the week could be spent relaxing on the beach or just doing something else fun and local, but it’s something that’s important to me. So, we step out of our comfort zones and make it happen. I keep doing it because when she comes back she tends to speak up more in French, and that’s a really cool thing.
When I first became a mom I read a lot of parenting books, no matter what their difference, they all seemed to agree about the benefit of a second language. I took that and ran with it!
Thank you both for your encouragement! Since writing this post a few things have happened for the better.
I had a conference with his teacher and told her all of my concerns. She took each point and tried to come up with a solution for each.
First, when we go places I will send her photos online to share with the class. My son can ‘present’ to his classmates what he is talking about so they can understand via the photos if not his words.
Additionally we spoke about what days and times I can start spending time in the classroom and I was put in touch with his language teacher and given the links and passwords to his online language programs. We can practice at home together and I can see what he’s doing. I feel so much better about it all- here’s hoping that we continue the upward trend!
Thank you for having me!
That is great news, Farrah!
They are so little that they will be fine! They will learn the language in no time, and soon will be translating for you :). Wen my son was 3 and in a nursery program, there was a little Japanese girl who spoke no English (and neither did her mother) in his class. She picked it up in no time, and was playing and speaking with the other kids. The most important thing is that your children are happy, and with a mom like you, I’m sure they will have all of the support they need! 🙂
Thank you Maman! They are happy- which I realize is a huge relief. It’s the keeping them that way that I find to be my biggest challenge. In my own head I worry enough for all of us.
You just brought back a lot of memories! When I was recruited to work in an international school, I was told that preschool would be available for my son. It wasn’t. I had to set out to find a Korean preschool for him, and I was just lost! Luckily, I had help from the human resources manager, and I found a fabulous school for my little learner. The teachers at the school took great care of him, despite the mom who never did the right things at the right times. I finally recruited some high school students to be my translators, and asked that my son’s school cc’ my secretary with all emails. It took a while, but by working together, we found the right way. This has made me so much more understanding of families newly entering schools! It is so important that we have strong communication and networks set up to help people learn the new culture of the new school, whether it be in a foreign land or not.
In the end, I am so grateful that things turned out as they did. My son became fluent in Korean, learned a great deal about Korean culture, and developed a love for people who are different than he is. This is the greatest benefit to living abroad: raising caring, sensitive, empathetic global citizens.
Erin that’s exactly it. Finding our way is exactly what we do! And it is really helpful for having that support- I’m glad that it worked out for you and he learned the language- I can’t even imagine my kids as fluent!
Oh Sarah, what a journey!
I love that you have your children in the local school system and are allowing them to fully experience the local life!
No, I haven’t ever been in your situation but I did teach in London for four years and saw many, many mothers in your situation. It does get easier and, as Simona said, as long as the children are happy to go to school – the rest will fall into place, for sure.