“Schools” for Sprout – international or not?

This post was written as a submission to the Bilingual blog Carnival hosted at Multilingual living.

Our big boy is 18mo already!!!

I know it seems a bit early to be discussing schools. Sprout is only 18mo, but I will go back to work someday (whether from home or not) and he will have to go to either some sort of daycare or “school”. In Belgium, children start pre-school, known as “maternelle” at around 2 1/2 yrs which seems awfully early to me! It’s not mandatory, but it seems hard to find an alternative form of daycare at that age.
Anyway, we have to figure out what to do… We are lucky enough to be living in a city with a significant expat population and a good deal of alternatives to hand.

So what are our alternatives?

We have the Belgian public school system with schools in French or Flemish. It seems to be mostly play and art, but still seems very formal to me, if you know what I mean. It is a very traditional group setting and I’m not sure that’s best for a young toddler. Plus, it’s (in our case) in French, which can either be good or bad, I’m not sure. We speak English and Portuguese at home and he has only occasional contact with French speakers, so I don’t know if there will be an adjustment issue at such a young age.Plus, the better schools seem to have waiting lists. And did I mention it seems quite formal for a 2 1/2yo? The BCT has an interest group on Belgian Schools, so will have to contact them for more info as well.

Then we have the private schools, of which Montessori would be my preference. I absolutely love Montessori, and we use many principles of the philosophy at home already. Plus, there would be the advantage of a bilingual programme (English/French) which I’m sure would make life easier because sprout wouldn’t have such a hard time making himself understood. BUT (and this is a very big BUT for us), I see on one of the available Montessori schools’ website that fees are almost €10000/year for mornings only! There is no way we can do that on 1 1/2 incomes. I doubt we could do it on 2… I really can’t understand these prices. I know the school is supposed to be good, and they have made quite an investment, but this just seem too elitist to me. The other one I found is a bit cheaper at €6000-€7000.

There are other private options, such as Waldorf Steiner schools, but in Flemish only, so we don’t want to mix in yet another language which neither parents know. There are also good Catholic schools, but we’d rather go non-confessional.

Then we have all “International” schools, such as the ISB, the British School, St. Paul’s, the European School, etc. The only one that really interests us there is the European School. There are International schools in various languages here, but again, we’re not interested in one we don’t speak. The English speaking schools seem to be very good, although too expensive. Plus, how do we then manage to teach Sprout proper French and Portuguese? I remember all too clearly the afternoons I spent in Portuguese school while growing up, knowing all my friends were out playing. Our languages and heritage are very important to us, but is that really the best way?

So, the European school seems very enticing to us. It has a very good reputation, the high school later on gives access to Universities all across Europe, plus Sprout would be learning in 3 languages (or more if he so chooses) – Portuguese, English and French. It’s not cheap – we heard secondary is somewhere around €9000 – but all in all it seems like a good option and I think we can afford it.Although I do think they only admit from 4yo (not that I mind 🙂 )… will have to look into it better.

But still, I worry… will we be depriving our son of truly integrating in Belgian culture if we pick the European school? Will we be limiting his options and pushing him away from his heritage languages if we put him in a Belgian school? How long will we stay here? I know I can’t predict all the variables, and I know no choice is perfect.I guess we really have to visit the schools and see where he’ll fit in best.

I would love to know: what schooling options have you chosen/will you choose? Why?

11 thoughts on ““Schools” for Sprout – international or not?

  1. Hiya… I would say definite no to Walloon schools, they are poorly organized and often have problems, and as you say the good ones are quickly taken and hard to get in.
    Flemish school will pose the language problem, but is indeed very very structured. Sift through my blog and you will find a lot of posts about the Flemish school structure.

    2,5 years is way too early to attend school the way the Franco/Belge do

    Can you not get organized with other women to do shared play mornings, where each of you commits to taking the other kids for a morning. If you can find two other mom’s you’d already be liberating a lot of time for yourself.

    BTW, you might already know – or not – that we’re unschoolers

    If you would like to talk about this some more, feel free to mail me mamapoekie at yahoo dot com

  2. Oh, a little PS: there is no such thing as Belgian culture: there’s Flemisch culture, walloon culture – which adheres close to French culture – and then Brussels is well… more of a mishmash culture really

  3. I guess being as another International child, u can go to visit other “alternative” school. Steiner is not the only one…

    Other similar schools:
    1. Ervaringsgericht onderwijs
    2. Freinet
    3. Jenaplan
    4. Leefschool
    5. Montessori
    and Steiner ..

    We’re from Flander part, so indeed we’re sending our son to Steiner. As I’ve been to the similar school. I appreciate the pedology and idea! If u need more info, u may check here:


    🙂 M.

  4. Oh, by the way..
    I choose Steiner school, the reason is very simple, because I like the atmosphere of school. The way they respect every individuals but as well try to keep them associate with others. And it’s in Flemish, as one of our family language is Flemish. so it’s easier for us.

    I saw ur last sentence, and i understand. We were thinking as well to send him to EN school, but I think it would be uneasy for him to integrate in BE later on, as his daddy is Flemish. Here is also where his roots come from..

    If you don’t know whether u r going to stay here permanent or not , maybe(just a suggestion) u can let ur child staying in the local school for couple years, such like Catholic, just to see how it goes. So both of u can have chance to explore the BE parenting ambient. And about letting him learning Portuguese language / cultural, both of you are from P, u can maintain it if u try hard. That’s what I do now. (I’m from Taiwan, and our friends r mainly international. So this is what I learned from others. 🙂 )

    About languages, of course I also hope that my son eventually would be multilingual, but so far, I think the”mother-tongue” is enough. So we only teach him Flemish&Mandarin. Although both of us speak as well other 4 languages.

    Choosing school is hard!! I know! Keep go on!! 🙂

  5. Our older critter has turned 2 and a half now and we also looked into many different options. Many Montessori and other International Schools are pretty spendy, although they do have very good programs. However, at the moment we settle for the community French school. It wasn’t because of the money, although it does take a big chunk out of your wallet if your job doesn’t pay for it, but rather, it was because we wanted him to experience a normal school, like the ones we grew up in. Once he is a bit bigger, then we can consider private schools.But, right now, all he wants to do is play! If we want anything special, like art tutor, music tutor, or even language tutor, then we can make arrangements for after school activities. Besides, we travel so much, which means that he would have to miss weeks here and there. And if he is in an intense program, then we would really fall behind.
    It’s a complicating decision, but every family needs to look into the options and make a choice based on their necessities and situations. And the critters will enjoy any place as long as it is clean and friendly!

  6. I understand you perfectly! I had the same considerations and decided to homeschool both my children. I work as a legal consultant from home and I combine it with teaching them. It works well for us and I’m glad to do this.

    We’re using the UK curriculum but ensuring they are on par with the Belgian one as well. The UK curriculum for pre-schoolers is more advanced than the Belgian one, so we’re ok. The children will learn French and Dutch when they begin their primary years and at this stage, it’s English, reading, writing etc.

    They have no problem with socialising as they have other activities, including Ding Dong to help them integrate with children and grown ups of different walks of life.

    The most important point about homeschooling (based on the Belgian law) is that the children learn to respect other cultures as well, and that they are on par with the average child.

  7. Irina – can I please pick your brain? We have found a school for him, but I’m still struggling with what I’ll do with my professional life. I would love to know more about how you’ve managed to handle the two. I too was a legal consultant (before quitting to stay at home with the little guy). I hope you don’t mind me emailing you privately!

  8. Pingback: A new school year | Brussels Sprout

  9. Hi
    I came across your blog and wanted to share my experience with you.
    I have now lived in Belgium for 4 1/2 years and my son was 3 when we first arrived here from the UK. I found, like you, that most other children of his age were in full time day care so it was very difficult to find social activities for him, and I didn’t want to lose him to full time education at such a young age.
    We had started looking at nurseries / schools for my son before we moved over and again went through the process of discussing local schools v British schools. We decided on the British school option as it was likely we would only be in Belgium for around 3 years, at which point my son woud go back into the British system.
    Anyway we eventually took the decision to send him to St Paul’s British Primary School, and I have to say it was the best decision we could have made. He started off with 3 half days a week in Nursery which then progressed to 4, mainly because he loved going so much. He then went full time shortly before joining Reception (he was 4 1/2 at this point) so that he could get used to the longer hours.
    My son has absolutely loved going into school every day he has been there. St paul’s is a superb school and was a perfect start for my son (and also myself I must add) into school life. The class sizes are small, the education the children receive is fantastic and the pastoral care is wonderful. The children enjoy it so much I am not even sure that they realise they are learning!! In Nursery most of the learning is done through fun and play, but by the time my son started Reception he knew his alphabet and could do the basics in reading and writing.
    It is an international school so has the benefits of a number of the school families being from various countries around the world. Additional language support is provided, if required, for children where English is their second language.
    French is taught from Nursery upwards, and the children are encouraged very early on to use their language skills in thier local community, while out shopping with their parents etc. To support this, the school regularly get involved in community activities that involve the children integrating with other children from local schools eg in concerts and art exhibitions.
    Now one of the obvious points you raised was the cost of the international schools, they are extremely expensive, and we were fortunate enough to have our school fees paid for. However, I know that the school offers an ‘Assisted Places’ scheme. I do not know the details of this, but I can say that it has been sufficient enough to enable some families I know to remain at the school when their school fees have been pulled by their company.
    I appreciate finding the right school is one of the most difficult decisions that we have to make for our children, and you will get lots of advice from lots of people, but if you are consideting the international school route, I would strongly recommend a visit to St paul’s – and ensure you enquire about their ‘Assisted Places’ scheme!!
    I hope that this is of some help and good luck in whatever you decide.

  10. Hi Nicola! Thanks so much for your insightful comment. It’s nice to hear positive stories. Unfortunately, private school was out of our budget (we found assisted places schemes to be still too expensive). We ended up going to public school. Had a horrible experience last year, but changed schools and we’re loving the new one 🙂

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