“Kleuteronderwijs” sounds like a bad word, but in Dutch it means “pre-school.” For me it’s a mouthful to pronounce because the “eu” and the “r”, in Dutch, require things of my tongue that the English language does not. Kleuh-ter-ohn-der-wehz is how I’d recommend you pronounce it, because kleuteronderwijs is officially now an important and everyday word in my expat life.
With Noah now just turned one and sprinting towards two, the time has come to prepare for pre-school. In Belgium, like in America, primary school begins at the age of six (or sometimes five, depending) and lasts six years. But unlike America, pre-school in Belgium begins at the age of two-and-a-half. It’s not compulsory but 90% of children attend.
It’s hard for me to imagine Noah attending school September of next year but then again, two years ago I didn’t think I’d be attending an Open House at a local pre-school…
Today we checked out a pre-school not far from our house and it became easier “for me to imagine Noah attending school” because…
I got to see Noah in a school setting.
He sat on that tiny chair playing and talking to himself as he waved at us and clapped his hands in glee. It was ridiculously adorable and infectious, but I was also dumbfounded because Noah never rarely “sits” at home anymore if given the choice. Unless it’s to eat or put on his shoes, for which he’s on his butt with a smile. So I realized how good it would for Noah even at a very young two-and-a-half, not to mention to me and Davy, to have a whole other safe world at our fingertips for Noah to experience.
The classroom Noah was sitting in is attached to a “napping room”:
The thought and care of planning is evident in Belgian pre-schools, and not just because they provide precious little beds. Although the school day begins at 8:30am and ends at 3:40pm, parents can drop their children off as early as 7am and pick them up as late as 6pm. On Wednesdays, all schools end at 12pm, however childcare is provided up until 6pm as well. The system caters to the family’s needs as a whole unit and all at no charge, because it’s part of the Belgian school system.
I have friends in the states who’d have to pay a fortune to keep their toddlers in full-time pre-pre-schooling, let alone “just” daycare. I’m thanking all my stars that this is where I’m raising my child, even if I loved my own childhood and public school system in New York City. Having a new perspective on how other countries maintain their education systems has been quite a learning experience of my own. If I hadn’t moved to Belgium and had a child, I wouldn’t have any idea of what kleuteronderwijs was and why it mattered. It matters now.
Before Noah reaches primary school he’ll have played to his heart’s content with classmates. He’ll have also received formal lessons in music, a second language, and a sport. By the time Noah reaches the “first grade” he’ll have learned basic French, and this is what I’m selfishly most looking forward to. I admit I went into this Open House with the words not compulsory in my head, but hours later I’m without a doubt enrolling Noah in kleuteronderwijs. It’s recommended you enroll one school year in advance.
It’s incredible how fast he’s developing into a little man!