Would my "free" toddler be better off in a structured or in a free school?

Kids in the Netherlands go to school on their fourth birthday, so it is time to pick a school for my three and a half year old son. We’ve narrowed the choice down to two good schools. Both get good performance reviews and both have a good atmosphere when we visited them. I might just flip a coin between the two schools, but there is one major difference and I wonder how that would impact my son.

You see, while it is hard to pinpoint any solid character traits on a three and a half year old, my son is used to doing his own thing. He is not spoilt, he is nice and social, and he isn’t hyperactive. He accepts that no is no. But he likes to do his own thing and when he is called to do something else by us, or the daycare workers, he needs more time then other kids to get with the program. More then other kids he needs to be told and explained why he should obey. We may have spoilt him in that way. Our no is no, but his no gets maybe more attention then is good for him. I dislike to force him to do something he really doesn’t want to do, and my husband and me take the time to ease him into it or to find a compromise.
People who know him say he can very well play by himself, and perhaps this “independence” is the flipside of that.

Now, one school is far more strict then the other. Children there wait in line all the time, things go well planned and on a strict schedule. Expectations are clearly expressed and chidren are firmly held to them.
Things are more loose on the other school.

Which school would fit my toddler best? I can make arguments for both schools. But I don’t know, and I would hate to get him enrolled in one school only to find out he would do better at the other.

I think I would go with the more loose school. Some children need and want regimentation but it doesn’t sound from your description like your son is one of those. It also doesn’t sound like your looser option is a bunch of kids running around like mad people with minimal supervision, just that they’re more relaxed about transitions.

I’d go with the more regimented school. You’ve admitted that your son is spoiled, and having a school that does not indulge him may be able to teach him lessons now, when he’s younger, that you are not. It’s much easier for him to learn it now, and shave the corners off of any potential brattiness, then later in childhood when he may alienate other kids and cause more friction at home.

I don’t really consider being made to stand in line and stick to a schedule strict, so much as useable life skills.

Go for the more regimented school. The sooner your son starts learning discipline and self-discipline the better.

The kid can be as loose as he wants, or you let him be, at home., or later in life, when he’s on his own.

If he goes to the stricter school now he will learn to put up and deal with the regimentation that society at large will most often demand. Go with the stricter school.

Looser school. Four-year-olds are not really designed by nature for discipline, regimentation, etc.

If it were me, I would send him to the stricter school since that is what my kids are used to at home.

You let him tell you ‘no’ and he’s three? That will turn into talking back very quickly.

Having sent my son to a much looser school, I wish I’d sent him to a more regimented one. I think it would’ve made his first months of kindergarten infinitely easier. So I’d err toward more regimented. Just my two cents, though.

What is the teacher to child ratio at each school?

What kind of activities are different at the two schools?

Try to observe a whole day at each school. Compare the way the kids treat each other, and treat the staff. See what happens when one child has a tantrum. How do the teachers handle conflict? Do the kids throw fits after Mommy leaves? How is that handled?

Kids are going to fight, kids are going to hit, kids are going to throw things, kids are going to bite. Do you see more conflict in one school over the other?

Not enough information, really.

Isn’t Montessori a really big thing in the Netherlands? Put him in one of those, he’ll love it.

Everything else being relatively equal between the two schools, I’d opt for the looser one. If the child is strong willed and independent, the stricter school could cause more unpleasantness than necessary.

kids generally seem to thrive with some structure. Plus the kidlet at school and at home can seem like 2 completely unrelated kids. Seriously, when I hear teachers talking about my middle daughter the helpful angel at school, I wonder who kidnaps here everyday after school. Kids proactively code switch very early in life.

By your own description, at home its very accomodating. A little structure probably won’t hurt and could do a lot of good.

Not sure, but I hear free-range children have higher protein content.

I personally would be more looking at how to prepare the child for school (socially and academically) and group interactions, then where he would have a better time and “fit”.

The way I see it, they have lots of free play time at home, so if I’m paying a lot of money (or even spending any effort at all) on school, I want it to have an edifying effect.

My kids are both very independent and I would say they are on the harder side to discipline, so I’m very glad they get all this structure at school. It definitely reinforces the general message that “You are part of society and if you want to reap the benefits you need to contribute and participate.”

Also, you would be AMAZED how much consensus can be achieved by teaching children to follow the group. Things that are hard for me are so easy for the teachers, because they just get the followers, and then even the instigators (I have an instigator) are more amenable to following the entire group. It’s not the same as the binary child-parent relationship.

But if your goal is for your child to have a good time, go for the easier school. Don’t complain later when it’s harder to find an environment to accommodate his whims, though.

My advice would be to ignore our advice: we can’t possibly have enough information to say anything relevant for your situation. It’s perfectly possible that your kid will thrive under a more regimented approach, and it’s also possible that it’ll knock off his awesome edges, destroying his precocious sense of autonomy. It’s perfectly possible that your kid will thrive under a looser setting, and it’s also possible that he’ll fall to pieces and become increasingly selfish and lazy. Both situations are plausible from what you’ve said.

Which school and/or teacher would be more likely to prepare your son for transitions? If he needs to know why (which is completely reasonable IMHO), which will be more likely to explain?

As a teacher, I’ve observed that a good school knows students need proper transitions and offer explanations so pupils understand what they’re doing and why. These sorts of things can happen at a regimented school as well as one that isn’t.

See if you can’t take him in for a visit and observe how he-- and the teachers-- behave and react.

How many years will he stay at this school? If it’s just for preschool (certainly ages 4-5, possibly even up to age 7), I’d advocate strongly for the looser school. If he’ll be at this school longer than that, it’s a harder decision.

I work at a non-profit that runs an arts-based alternative “preschool” and everything is VERY loose. Activities are play-based and process-oriented. If you are interested, I can post some links to research showing how important play is to all children, but especially preschoolers.

Have you looked at where the kids go after groep 8?

My parents took me out of my first school when they found out the principle was thrilled when one kid went to HAVO. This was a pretty free school, I can’t remember what type…

My next school was horrendous, 6 years of hell that I now call “the fascist school” (it was in Rotterdam, so I think you’re safe). However, 90% went to het gymnasium and I find to this day that most people I meet lack woefully in the skills they should have picked up in primary school (spelling, their times tables, history etc).

So good and bad, I learned more but it was it was a damaging place. But maybe still beter than the first option…

NB: neither of the schools you are looking at will be that dramatic, I’m sure. Just thought I’d let you know about both sides of the spectrum in my experience.

Are you saying that everyone else did worse or better? Worse I could see being a problem. But better? That’s silly. Why would it be wrong to be happy that a kid made it into the second highest (HAVO) instead of the highest (VWO)? Is it not likely that that particular kid, without help, might have wound up in the lowest track (VMBO)?

And are you also saying that you have to decide this early which track they get into? Whether they go to hogeschool (college) or university is determined by what groep 1 (preschool) they start at?

And, yes, if these questions can’t be answered simply, I’d be more than happy to start a thread on the subject. My knowledge of all this comes only from Wikipedia.

The one that’s closest to your home.