Wednesday, February 9, 2011

First Day at School Traditions

My four year old has just started to make his own way in the world - well, he's just started at primary school in any case.

It's not only his initiation into the Dutch education system, but mine too. The first difference between the Dutch and the British education systems is the fact that he is already starting. In the UK, he would still be in pre-school until the school year he turned five. Children in the Netherlands can start at primary school when they are four if they (or rather their parents) wish but it is not compulsory until five.

However, as my son has been in a peuterspeelzaal (preschool or nursery) since October 2009, this is a natural step for him to move with his friends to a new school.

Photo: Tim & Annette
What was strange to me as I waved my son off in his new classroom was the absence of school uniforms. In Britain it is common to wear a school uniform. Dutch children wear their own choice of clothes. So there's no photo of my son on his first day at school in his crisp, clean uniform (which looks like it's been dragged daily through a hedge by the end of the first term). Instead there is a photo of him wearing the clothes he wears every day and a rucksack on his back. Not quite the same picture for this British mum.

An American friend told me that she missed putting her daughter on the big, yellow school bus when she started school. This picture is as traditional and memorable in the US as putting a school uniform on for the first time in the UK. Both pictures very much linked to the first day at school.

Of course, it is not about whether school uniforms are right (there are lots of positives to not having a school uniform: costs and stressing to get it all washed on time spring to mind) or whether children should be bussed to school (in fact in the Netherlands, most parents can walk or cycle their kids to school so buses are redundant) - it's about the feeling of missing out on a classic, traditional memory which we associate with that first day in school.

What first day of school traditions or memories are associated with your home country?

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