Inside you will find why Dutch parents don’t push their kids academically (from a Dutch mother at Happy Dutch Home!)
According to The Global Competitiveness Report 20161, the Dutch are the third best educated country in the world, right after Finland and Singapore.
This seems quite odd, since Dutch parents don’t push their children academically hardly at all. They don’t teach their toddlers the alphabet, preschool is mostly for playing and the children don’t participate in extra classes after primary school hours.
How come most Dutch children are still that well-educated in the end?
What is to be learned from Dutch mothers when it comes to your child’s cognitive development and learning abilities?
Embrace Learning Readiness
The Dutch believe in learning readiness from birth on.
A typical phrase a Dutch mom may use, is: ‘’Ze gaan allemaal lopend naar school’’, meaning that by the time primary school starts, every child can walk.
The Dutch feel that a baby will crawl when she’s ready, walk when she’s ready and talk when ready. No extra training or pressure is needed, just a lot of love and interaction.
That mindset, shared by both parents and teachers, explains why in the Netherlands there are almost no playgroups for babies. Toddler play groups may come in the picture when the child reaches the age of two and a half years.
From that age on, parents may choose to let their child participate in ‘peuterspeelzaal’ (a toddler preschool) two times a week, for three hours a day. This preschool is not so much about learning, but rather about socializing, participating in small art projects and enjoying free play.
In preschool (when the children are four and five years old), a few very basic and simple lessons are added to the ‘curriculum’, but still the emphasis is very much on playing and not on the lessons.
Only once the children are six or seven years old, they will start getting ‘real’ lessons in reading, counting and math. But because by now their cognitive abilities enable them to fully absorb (and enjoy) the material, they quickly catch up with children that may have learned those skills earlier2.
Dutch parents give children plenty of space to explore their own interests and qualities
Dutch moms firmly believe children need to be free to explore their individual interests and discover their own qualities.
Parents will try not to push the children in a particular direction, but rather help facilitating the child’s self-exploration by being supportive and answering whatever questions children have during their daily discovery of the world.
In this context, the family dinner is very important. At dinner time, the whole family gathers and everyone enjoys an open conversation at the table.
It’s in these moments that children talk about whatever they want and that both parents and children themselves learn what the child’s interests and qualities are, thereby exploring and strengthening them together.
In general, Dutch parents will expose their children to many different areas of interest in a low-pressure way. The attitude here is to try a lot of different things, see what they like and what they’re good at.
If a child for instance tries hockey, but doesn’t like it, no big deal. He can try something else.
But once a child does express passion and interest in an area, he will get all the support from the parents that he can get. Dutch moms believe that if a child discovers its true passions, it will automatically be more inclined to put in the hours and become better at whatever it chooses to do early on and later in life.
Create a stress-free environment
Research3 shows that stress makes it very hard to perform well academically. Hence, creating a stress-free environment means creating a healthy learning environment as well.
The UNICEF report4 on the well-being of children in rich countries points out that the Netherlands show the highest scores in this area. The fact that Dutch children experience very little stress is one of the important reasons that on average they are the happiest – and among the best educated – children in the world.
There are two important reasons why Dutch children experience relatively little stress.
The first reason is that they have plenty of spare time.
For a large part of the primary school, Dutch children hardly have any homework at all and most parents limit the after school clubs to two maximum. As a result, children have plenty of time to play outside, play with friends or to do absolutely nothing.
The fair amount of spare time children are enjoying, doesn’t mean the parents need to entertain them all the time, though. On the contrary.
The second important reason why Dutch children experience relatively little stress is that…
Most Dutch parents believe that for their children being happy and enjoying their childhood is the highest achievable goal.
They don’t care that much whether their children will become doctors, lawyers or famous pianists. Hence, the children do not feel heavy pressure to live up to their parents’ expectations in school.
The counter intuitive effect of this parenting philosophy is that it results in children that actually do become very well-educated and successful.
So to recap…
On the surface, it seems strange that not pushing your young children academically will actually help them in school.
However, when we stop and think about it, it makes more sense.
Who will perform better, a happy child that experiences very little stress or a stressed out child that feels she has to live up to the (big) expectations of their parents?
In summary, Dutch moms don’t push their small children academically because they believe:
- Children will learn best when ready,
- Discovering one’s passion will automatically lead to great achievements academically or otherwise, and
- Creating a stress-free and happy environment will enhance their children’s academic achievements.
Feel free to test the Dutch approach, but don’t be surprised if your child grows into a happy (and well-educated) adult.
Kittie Ansems is a Dutch mom, a former child care professional and a parenting book fanatic. Her website www.happydutchhome.com is all about helping moms survive their kids’ toddler years, using Dutch parenting principles.
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