In the Netherlands school is compulsory from 5, but you can attend from 4, which most children do so. This is a rolling start through the year, so the day after your 4th birthday you start school and children are starting throughout the school year. I found this a bit weird to start with, but after a while I could see the benefits. With only a few new children the teacher can focus on them to get them used to the new routines, and there can be children in the class who your child already knows from preschool/daycare/groups who can help them adjust. For the school my son goes to, and I think is quite common across the Netherlands, that first class is a dual-year group (groups 1&2).

And it isn’t “school” as I would think of it – they learn their letters, but don’t really start reading and writing; they learn their numbers, but don’t really start doing sums. They do lots of playing, inside and out, art and crafts, with a focus is on learning the school routines and functioning in that environment. The big change comes when they go up to the next class (group 3) and they are hit with sitting at a desk most of the day, reading, writing, maths, and more traditional lessons.

After the initial start to school every transition to a new class occurs over the summer holidays. This means that children spend differing amounts of time in the first class depending on when their birthday is. The general rules are as follows:

  • Children with June to September birthdays start school at pretty much the start of the school year, so spend two full academic years in groups 1 & 2 and progress to group 3 roughly at their sixth birthday;
  • Children with January to May birthdays start mid-way through the school year, and so do that bit plus two full years in groups 1 & 2 and progress to group three when they are roughly six and a half;
  • Children with birthdays in October to December can go either way depending on how they are doing and which the school thinks is best.


Rocket boy is a November birthday, so he is in this last category and could be starting group 3 in September this year, or waiting til the following year. To celebrate his birthday at school we took in a little cake for every child in the class and every teacher in the school. He got to choose two friends to go round all the classrooms and help him, and all the teachers signed a birthday card for him.

So he could be either one of the oldest, or one of the youngest in his class. We have been talking to his teachers about this at the parents’ evenings and I don’t think any of us can yet make up our minds which is best for him! Academically the tests he’s done show that he has the required level of understanding, and his Dutch is good enough, but he struggles to sit still and concentrate at times and his fine motor skills (though improving) need more work. He has friends in his class who are both older and younger than him; he’s probably closer to those that are older he seems to get on well with everyone most of the time. Though it can be difficult getting any sort of information out of him about what he’s done at school!

I honestly don’t know which would be best for him. Given that I found the first half of primary school boring and quite often sat there daydreaming I am tempted to push for group 3 this year if I can. I’m also aware that his contemporaries in the UK have all started school now and are already learning to read and write. While over the long term I have no doubt that starting later is beneficial, especially for boys, I’m a bit worried if he does do another year in group 3 that he will find it difficult meeting up with them as he will feel behind. Though there is here no stigma attached to staying behind and children will often repeat a year if needed. We shall have to see how he does over the next few months and what his teacher thinks is best to do.


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