The Netherlands is a very friendly and safe place to raise children. Several studies, for example this one by UNICEF, have found that Dutch children are the happiest in the world.
Most Dutch parents want their children to grow up as independent, social, open-minded, critical thinking, well-educated and responsible individuals. While the standards of education are generally very high, there is usually not much pressure on young children to achieve. Children get a lot of room to explore the world around them and figure out how things work. They may appear a bit more outspoken and less disciplined than you might be used to.
It is very common for Dutch parents to work part-time and stay at home with the children for one or two days per week each. For this reason many children don’t go to daycare full-time, but this is certainly not an official rule.
Instead of a daycare centre (crèche), many children are also taken care of by childminders ‘gastouders’. These qualified caregivers look after your children at either your home or theirs. In the latter case there will often be a few other children present as well.
Compared to, say, the Scandinavian countries, daycare in the Netherlands can be pretty expensive. When both parents work, you usually qualify for a tax rebate ('kinderopvangtoeslag'), the amount of which depends on your household income. This is also applicable when you make use of a qualified childminder and after-school care (BSO). It is not very common for Dutch parents to have a live-in au pair or nanny, but there are some agencies that could help you find the right people. For occasional babysitters you could try websites like Oudermatch or a local Oppascentrale, or ask other parents for referrals.
The website and Facebook forum of Amsterdam Mamas are great sources of information and support for international parents in Amsterdam and the surrounding regions too.
Next to the kinderopvangtoeslag, you will most likely also be entitled to the 'kinderbijslag' (child benefit), which ranges from €198 to €282 per quarter per child (at time of writing), depending on their age.
Parents with a lower income may also apply for 'kindgebonden budget' (child budget), which contributes towards the costs of raising children.
If parents work part-time, the most common days off are Wednesdays and Fridays. Consequently, these are the days you will be able to meet most local children. Almost every neighbourhood has a couple of playgrounds and parks where you will find many of neighbourhood children playing and the adults looking after them watching from a distance and having a natter. When the weather is less clement, 'Speel-o-theeks' (often in the same building as the consultatiebureau), and the public libraries ('Openbare bibliotheek') regularly organise free children’s activities. You will also find plenty of places that offer activities to children who are interested in music, arts and crafts, or dance and movement. Usually these activities are privately organised and you have to pay for them.
Playgroups or meetups that are organised on a fixed basis are often a bit more difficult to find. Your best bet would be to check the Meetup website for what is on in your area - but don’t be surprised if most people you meet in this way are international rather than Dutch.
A lot of museums have a nice children’s section as well. One of the best things you can splash out on is a national museum card ('Museumjaarkaart'). You pay about 60 euros per year for adults and 33 euros for children up to 18 years, and then you can visit almost every museum in the country for free (children under 4 often have free entrance).
When you travel by public transport with children, you should make sure to get a personal OV chip card with a ‘Kids Vrij’ subscription. With this card children can travel for free by train and with a discount on other means of public transport (link). Travel information for all public transport companies you can find on www.9292.nl.
School is obligatory from the age of five, but most children start school the day after their fourth birthday, which means they stream in throughout the year. Primary school is called 'basisschool' in Dutch and children typically stay there from age 4-12, after which they move onto secondary school, which offers programmes at different academic levels. Most schools, including many religious schools and the ones based on an educational philosophy like Montessori or Waldorf, are funded by the government. Schools often ask for a voluntary parent contribution of around 50 euros per year to pay for some extra things (though certain schools may ask for up to 900 euros).
Most children attend a school close to their home, and travel to school on foot or by bike. After school, many children want to have a spontaneous playdate, usually with the child they have been playing with during the day. It is not very common for parents to arrange a playdate on behalf of their children in advance.
It is also not very common for Dutch schools to offer a wide range of after-school activities. Usually children’s activities are organised in external clubs. While this is often a nice way to get friends from different schools, and often different social and cultural backgrounds as well, it is usually a logistic challenge for working parents. You will have to ask other parents and/or a nanny to drop off your children for these activities, and/or pick them up.
Don’t forget swimming lessons. With all this water around, learning how to swim is a big thing for Dutch children. Only after obtaining both their A and B diplomas is a child allowed to swim unsupervised in a swimming pool. Depending on the age of the child, and the type of swimming class, getting these two diplomas may take between a few months and a couple of years to complete. Most swimming classes have a waiting list of several months, and you can usually sign up from age four. Many parents have experienced that age five is a good time to start classes.
Most offices and shops close by 6pm and many families aim to have a sit-down dinner with all family members as soon as the working parents come home. Dutch children go to bed relatively early, at around 7.30-8pm. This is when the ‘adult time’ starts. For this reason you’ll find a lot of (sports) clubs or meetings start at 8pm.