As I’m sure is common with most parents contemplating a big change, one of the biggest concerns we had with our big move to the Netherlands was how well our son would adjust. I don’t remember what exact terms I searched for, but after a general google of “Netherlands childhood”, I was very happy to find that Dutch kids have it pretty good. So good in fact, that UNICEF ranked the Netherlands #1 for childhood well-being and happiness.
So what exactly does that mean? If you look closely at the report, you’ll see that many factors such as health and safety, family relationships, quality of education, and social satisfaction were major factors in UNICEF’s study. Now that we’ve been here awhile (almost A YEAR?!), I have my own ideas about it. As both a parent and educator, this is a topic I have a lot to say about, so it’s safe to say this will likely be a 2-3 part series.
One of the first things that struck me upon moving here is the way children are not only accepted, but truly welcomed, just about everywhere. For example, many of the restaurants here not only have a “Kids Menu” (and not always just chicken nuggets and fries), but also a sort of kids-corner. They are usually small and tucked away from crowds, but as a parent of a young kid I have to say it’s pretty awesome to have places to go that have a few toys and books to help keep my kid entertained. I’ll never understand why this hasn’t caught on in the states. I’m not suggesting that we turn all restaurants into kid zones with ball pits and noisy toys, but believe me, having a few things to help keep kids happy will help keep ALL CUSTOMERS happy.
I can think of one coffee shop in Chicago that had a little train table and toys for kids tucked in the back. That small gesture kept me returning again and again. Joe was happy to play with the trains, and so I was happy to fork over $5.00 for a latte and a few minutes of peace to read a book. If you’re in Chicago and reading this, the coffee shop was the Buena Park location of Dollop. If you go I highly recommend the brie, pear, and fig jam sammy 🙂 .
In addition to these little corners, museums often offer kids tours and workshops, even from as young as 4 years old. These events are meant for kids only, and parents are told to go take a hike (literally) or have a coffee somewhere. Shortly after we arrived last summer, a volunteer giving tours at a local cathedral saw that Joe was really interested in “all the old dead guys” buried in the ground. She proceeded to take him on his own personalized history tour for almost 30 minutes while I trailed behind, watching as he was enthralled with someone other than me telling him cool stuff.
I am also consistently impressed with the kid destinations here. These range from the big (Linnaeushof– Europe’s largest playground, Hans & Grietje– A Hansel and Gretel themed pancake house/wonderland?), to the small (Kweektuin– free local park with castle ruins, a petting zoo, nature playground, and cafe/playcorner).
Simply walking around my neighborhood is a reminder of how welcome children are. There are probably half a dozen free little libraries with children’s books in them, and neighbors do thoughtful things like hang tire swings in trees that are open for everyone to use.
Above all, the most striking difference I’ve seen here for children is a real, true, sense of independence from a young age. Children seem to learn to ride a bike around the age of 4 (or younger, there is one speed demon I regularly see jumping ramps who is barely out of diapers), and they begin venturing out to meet up with their friends without adults by age 7. Birthday parties also seem to be kids-only events. Joe was invited to his first birthday party back in October, and I was surprised to see that even though the attendees were 3-5 year olds, they were happily dropped off by their parents. We stayed for that first party, but I’m looking forward to the next one so I can take myself out to coffee for a few hours!
Stay tuned for the next part of this series. I’m excited to share my observations on the Dutch education system (including my surprise that “Spring Fever” week at Joe’s school was going to be his first introduction to Sex ed!)