There is no prescribed national curriculum as such in childcare provision, but providers are obliged to draw up policy on child development and learning opportunities, in consultation with parents’ committees. The policy must include a vision on interacting with and caring for children. The various initiatives in the Netherlands concerned with child development policy frameworks aim primarily to supervise the implementation of child development policy plans. These plans set out policy as regards:
- the methods used, the maximum size and age distribution in groups;
- how children’s emotional security is ensured, what opportunities are provided for personal and social development, and how children are taught rules and social values;
- the opportunities for activity and play outside the group room;
- the type of assistance given to professional child carers by other adults.
Children participating in VVE-programme (early childhood education) must attend at least four half-days a week. From the age of four, children can go on to primary schools, where attainment targets apply. In the Netherlands, the compulsory school-starting age is five. Dutch is the language of communication in both day nurseries and out-of-school care in childcare centres. In places where Frisian or another regional language is widely spoken, this language may be spoken alongside Dutch. Children from a non-Dutch background may likewise be spoken to for part of the time in their own language to aid comprehension.
In order to ensure continuity of learning, children who have participated in VVE-programme should ideally, at the age of four, transfer to a primary school with a special early childhood education programme. Continuity of learning also depends on municipal authorities, playgroups, day nurseries and schools making agreements on early childhood education.
Areas of learning and development
There are different programmes for early childhood education (VVE) in the Netherlands.
- Some are used throughout the country, others – such as Taalrijk, Speeltaal and Kinderklanken – only locally. Programmes are usually carried out at day care or primary schools (years 1 and 2). These are called centre-based programmes.
- By contrast, home-based programmes are provided in the child’s home environment, usually by volunteers, and often include parenting support as well as activities to boost the child’s development. Opstapje is an example of a Dutch home-based programme for preschool children.
Some early childhood education programmes focus on only one developmental domain, usually language (narrow programmes). Broad programmes address multiple developmental domains and require parents’ active participation.
Two organisations in the Netherlands are authorised to recognise early childhood education programmes: Erkenningscommissie Interventies (the NJI committee for the recognition of child intervention programmes) (website only available in Dutch) and Panel Welzijn en Ontwikkelingsstimulering (the panel on welfare and developmental stimulation). Programmes must satisfy strict conditions in order to attain national recognition. So far, only five programmes are nationally recognised:
- KO Totaal, and
- the Reggio Emilia approach Sporen.
The Childcare Act regulates the quality, financing and supervision of childcare. A holder of a childcare center (childcare organization) or childminder agency must provide responsible childcare. This is care that contributes to a good and healthy development of the child in a safe and healthy environment.
Quality model Riksen-Walraven
The quality requirements in the Childcare Act are based on the pedagogical basic goals of Professor J.M.A. Riksen-Walraven:
- Provide a secure foundation
- Encouraging personal competence
- Promote social competence
- Transferring norms and values
In response to these goals, Riksen-Walraven also drew up a commonly used quality model for childcare. This model distinguishes between process quality characteristics and structural quality characteristics. Both aspects contribute to good quality in childcare.
Process quality is about the learning and development experiences that children gain in childcare, in other words, what a child experiences in the group and with themselves. It is the foundation of well-being and involvement and of the positive development of children. The childcare worker has a key role in this. The quality of the interaction between staff and child is the most important factor for process quality.
Structural quality characteristics are preconditions in policy and organization. They influence the daily care and education of children. This concerns matters such as a pedagogical policy plan, a targeted program, group size and composition, the number of square meters of indoor and outdoor space, safety, hygiene, further training and personnel policy and the choice of (play) materials.
Various forms of expertise are required for childcare to play a solid role in the foundation:
- Pedagogical expertise (for all pedagogical professions)
- Specific expertise (profession-specific): expertise that distinguishes professionals in different pedagogical fields from each other.
- Collaborative expertise (interprofessional): the expertise to collaborate productively from generic and different pedagogical specialties.
- Collaboration with parents and volunteers is an important part of all the above types of expertise.
The aim of early childhood education is to provide continuity of learning and support over an extended period of time, i.e. to deliver what professionals call a continuous developmental trajectory. This can be achieved by ensuring continuity in, for instance, the method used at playgroup and at primary school (same programme), parental involvement (playgroup and primary school inform and involve parents in more or less the same way) or learning climate (same rules of conduct at playgroup and primary school; playworkers and teachers respond similarly in certain play and learning situations). Playgroups and primary schools can also use the same instruments for observation and diagnostics (continuity of observation and diagnostics). Municipalities and primary schools have joint financial responsibility for the methods and monitoring systems used.
Children in early childhood education programmes are monitored using observation lists and assessments of development. The various developmental domains are usually assessed three times a year, or more often for children whose development is abnormal. The monitoring system provides an overall picture of a child’s development: is he lagging behind, or is he ahead of the other children? Monitoring information has many uses. It is:
• shared with other playworkers at handover;
• discussed at team meetings;
• used in managing a child’s specific problems;
• used in planning children’s activities;
• a tool in providing optimum support to children;
• discussed with parents;
• summarised in a handover form given to the primary school when the child reaches the age of four.
Transitation to primary school
Most primary schools work together with childcare organizations to ensure a smooth transition. There are no national regulations in place. This falls under the autonomy of childcare organizations and primary schools.