Dutch swimming diplomas

A big part of a parent’s life in the Netherlands is taking kids to swimming lessons.  Today was a big day, as my youngest achieved her swimming diploma – meaning the end of several years of weekly swimming lessons after school and on weekends.  As far as I’m aware (and I’d love comments on this), it’s fairly rare for Dutch children to do swimming lessons at school.  Growing up in Australia, I remember it being part of our early curriculum though.  I hated it and often deliberately left my swimming “togs” at home, but that didn’t often work out too well when I lived only a few doors down from the school!  I have vague memories of Lifesaving badges we worked through, I probably have them packed away in a box somewhere.  Isabella loves it though, and if we still lived in Australia, I could totally see her in Little Nippers!

Usually, in The Netherlands, children swim for their A, B, C Diploma.  The “Nationaal Platform Zwembaden” (National Platform of Swimming Pools) have run this programme for many years, and if you click on the image below, it will take you to their website.

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Basically, each diploma has certain requirements, and you can read them in English via the PDF of the website above (the bit “in het Engels”)

My eldest achieved her “A” but then went on to the new system below.

In fact, Wikipedia has an interesting article in Dutch that explains swimming diplomas in the Netherlands have a history right back to 1893!


My girls started on this A,B,C system when we first came to the Netherlands a few years ago, but they swim at a new “flagship” pool in The Hague, which has run a pilot for a new system called “Hofspetters/Superspetters”.  This is an initiative by the KNZB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Zwembond – Royal Dutch Swimming Association) and is designed to replace the A,B,C with just one diploma.

Here’s their video:

So instead of swimming for 3 separate diplomas over a couple of years, the goal is that it’s a more difficult diploma, but just one “afzwemmen”.  Their pitch is that it can be gained within one school year, but my youngest is a strong swimmer that went quite quickly through the programme, swimming twice a week, and it still took her 2 years and 135 lessons.  My eldest started on the original programme and got her “A” but then also did this “Hofspetters”.  She had about a year’s swimming lessons in Australia first then another 2.5 years here, and just got her diploma about 6 months ago.

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“Afzwemmen” is a very Dutch thing that’s difficult to explain to non-Dutchies!  Basically, it’s a one hour “celebration/demonstration” for the children to gain their diploma.  Essentially by the time they get there, they have already passed everything necessary in the lessons, but this is just the final step.  Usually held on a weekend, it seems to be attended by parents, grandparents and siblings, meaning a very crowded tribune!

It’s also always seemed quite strange to me that swimming lessons continue throughout the winter….growing up in Queensland, I always just saw swimming lessons a summer activity. Here though, pools are indoor and heated – and incredibly humid.

So today, I sat crammed into one of these stands  (this was looking across to the less crowded side!) and watched with pride as my daughter – and 74 other children – were led through the various strokes.

I get totally confused with the translations of what she had to do, perhaps that will be a post of it’s own.  These are the Australian swimming style terms I know:

  • Freestyle
  • Backstroke
  • Breaststroke
  • Butterfly
  • …and the less official but still my favourites:  “dog paddle” and “side stroke”!

Comments below for which is which in Dutch is welcome!  They also do one here I don’t remember ever learning in Australia, which kind of reminds me of an upside down frog!  My daughter is very good at that one and overtook the other kids, so maybe she’ll be an upside-down-frog-stroke champion one day.

They start the kids off in clothes and shoes, as one of the main goals of the swimming lessons is to make sure that if a child falls into the water by accident, they already have experience of the feeling of swimming fully clothed to the edge.  Very sensible thing to focus on in a country full of canals.  We don’t have many swimming pools here and certainly no law that they have to be fenced like in Australia.  Which, by the way, I think is wonderful if it even saves one child’s life….but here doesn’t make much sense when there are canals at every turn and very little space for a pool or decent weather to use it.


The kids have to start with a “koprol” (somersault) into the water, to also teach them how to get their bearings from going in head first.


They also have to show they are able to climb up and over obstacles….


It ends with a lap of each style: backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle and the upside down frog one!

Then, just when the parents think they can’t cope with the humidity and crowding in the stands any more, the kids can go get changed and we’re all ushered into a room to get their medals and diplomas!  They started alphabetically and I was thinking we were going to have to wait all the way to the end with our surname starting with “V”, but thankfully, they did it alphabetically by first name!

Her friend also got his diploma on the same day and his lovely mum ordered a chocolate medal for them both.  She also told me the story of how the woman doing the letters on the chocolate just didn’t “get” the new diploma and insisted on writing the “c diploma”!  Oh well, I guess either way, it will taste as sweet.

Would love your comments below on your experiences of swimming diplomas in Australia and the Netherlands, either recently or when you were a child.


The Netherlands verses Australia – bike or car to the shops?

Paul van Bellen recently shared this great video on the Dutch Australian Facebook page:

I interviewed Paul via Facebook…..

Where were you born?

Was Born in The Netherlands. Left when I was 2. Grew up in Sydney

What motivated you to make this?

I like what bikes can do to improve society.

What do you hope will happen, where and when?

I hope bicycles start to get taken more seriously around the World as a smart transport solution!

How long did this take you to make?

1 week.

Where and when was it filmed?

Holland part in March. Sydney part on Sunday.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Let’s look to The Netherlands for guidance to building a better neighbourhood!

Safety Differences for Cyclists & Drivers between Australia and the Netherlands


Unfortunately, the roads in Australia seem to be more dangerous for both bicyclists and drivers than those in the Netherlands. Expats should make a few changes to how they approach these activities in Australia, especially in light of the following stats.

Cycling Safety

The Netherlands is one of the safest places in the world for bicyclists, and many Dutch cyclists never even put on a helmet. By contrast, helmets are required by law for all bicyclists in Australia.

The Netherlands takes a different approach when it comes to making cyclists safer. Instead of changing the laws or rules for the bicyclists, the country focuses on changing the rules and expectations for the heavy vehicles that surround them. After any bike fatality in the Netherlands, an intense investigation is opened. Using slow-motion cameras, the authorities in the area of the accident try to figure out exactly what happened, and if possible, they redesign the road and increase the width of the bike lane.

Helmets became mandatory nation-wide in Australia by 1992, and since then the number of cyclists’ deaths has varied between 26 and 57 a year. The government’s response has simply been to encourage helmet use, according to HelmetFreedom.org, and expats who are aware of this difference can work with the local law enforcement agencies and bicycle safety advocates to encourage Australia to adopt some of the safety and research tactics that have proven successful in the Netherlands.

Driving Safety

In addition to being safe for bicyclists, the Netherlands is also relatively safe for drivers. Yearly, the country experiences about 46 fatalities for every one million residents, making it the third-safest country in Europe (in Amsterdam, the rate is only 27 fatalities per one million inhabitants). The European Commission attributes these low numbers to the density of cars on the roadways. Roads that are full of traffic tend to have lower speeds and thus create a safer environment for drivers.

Australia, in contrast, has lots of wide open spaces and roads with little to no traffic. There are approximately 1,303 road fatalities in Australia each year, according to the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport, which equals a rate of 59 fatalities per one million inhabitants. That’s significantly higher than the Netherlands.

Drivers from the Netherlands pay for their safe roads in the form of a road tax or BPM, which is used to make the roads even safer. Australians, in contrast, pay for their relatively dangerous roads with high car insurance premiums. The average cost of car insurance in Australia has increased by almost 8 percent over the last year, according to a study conducted by the financial services company Canstar, making it even more important for shoppers to compare rates before buying a policy.

Guest post by Karen Holly. Karen has been an insurance agent for more than 10 years and shares her auto, life and home insurance expertise on her company’s blog.

Dutch vs Australian spiders













When we lived in Australia, I was always cautious about and quite scared of spiders.  In fact, I shouldn’t be researching this article before bedtime because I’ve just taken a look at the pictures in this Australian Geographic Gallery of Australia’s 10 most dangerous spiders and I’m likely to have nightmares.  Interestingly enough though, I learnt in that article that Australian spiders may not be quite as deadly as many think.

Regardless, during my own childhood in Australia we were taught to stay well away from spiders and during our Life in Australia I’d keep a close eye on the children in the garden (also teaching them about snakes!).

However here in The Netherlands, it seems to be a different story.  I was actually quite horrified in our first few weeks here to discover the girls running around the back garden with their cousins “collecting” spiders webs on a stick.  My initial instinct was to tell them to “stay away”!  However after a chat with them about the benefits of spiders to the eco-system (which may or may not have sunk in to their little minds), as a parent I didn’t class it as a dangerous situation.  As far as I know, Dutch spiders are not poisonous?  I’ve just found a site via google about a huge variety of Spiders of The Netherlands but like I said before, being bedtime and all, I’m not going to look at it in much detail!

So instead, I’ll share a story from our week.  My youngest daughter has a routine of ringing our doorbell as we arrive home – just for fun.  This time though, she jumped back in fright.  “Mama, a spider!”.  I replied (after taking a look) – “He’s ok there, you can get a stick and gently move him.  But that’s only because it’s a Dutch spider and not dangerous. In Australia, you must never go near the spiders, they’re poisonous”.  Her response?  (Brilliant 4 year old logic).  “But Mama, this spider might have gotten on a plane from Australia and flown here – like we did!”

So perhaps, just stay away from spiders where-ever you are!  Are you scared of spiders?  Any experiences with Dutch or Australian spiders?  Love to hear from you in a comment below.


Dutch doorbell spider