Comenius trip to obs Het Palet, Opheusden, The Netherlands (October5th – 10th 2014)


Sunday 5th October 2014

We arrived in The Netherlands on Sunday October 5th 2014. We travelled by train to Leerdam.

Our first impression of the country was that it was very flat with numerous canals. Also noticeable were the number of cyclists. Over the course of our stay we saw how beautiful the countryside is, with its amazing canals, dykes, apple and pear orchards, windmills and attractive thatched houses on the sides of the dykes and in the villages.

We were welcomed by Anton and Diana in Leerdam and discussed the following day’s programme. Later we met Eva Holt from Prague, Czech Republic.


Monday 6th October 2014

We met Eva in Leerdam.  Anton drove us from there to the schools in Kesteren and then on to Opheusden.

At the Het Palet school in Kesteren, we were warmly welcomed by Diana, who gave us a tour of the school. It is a school run on the Dalton System of education. We were impressed by how bright and spacious the school was. The pupils have quite a bit of independence in what they learn, while working within themes presented to them each week. Each pupil has his/her own tablet.

Next we travelled on to obs Het Palet, Opheusden.

At the school gate, the pupils, staff and parents greeted us with a guard of honour. Five of the pupils, dressed in traditional costume, performed a wonderful traditional Molukun welcoming dance. This was the first of many signs of the Comenius project in action in the school. We met staff members Els, Willy, Frencis, Jeanette, Lenny, Elena and Marga.

This is also a Dalton school. The staff and pupils were very friendly and welcoming and this created a warm atmosphere about the school.

We saw an interesting mediation system in action. It is used to help solve school-yard disagreements, with pupils acting as mediators. All teachers receive training in mediation methods. The pupils are then trained by the teachers. Two different pupils act as mediators each day. All pupils in the school are taught the steps to follow should a disagreement occur. 1) Discuss it between themselves. 2) Call for the help of the mediators. The mediators bring the children involved to the hall where they all sit down and discuss the problem. The mediators can call in witnesses to give an input. If this doesn’t work then the teachers are called upon to help.  It is clear that the method is effective in Het Palet and the children cooperate well with the process.  A similar approach could possibly be considered for use in a large school, such as St Cronan’s but would involve careful planning.

During the day we taught some lessons in the different classes, teaching the pupils rhymes and songs in English and making St. Brigid’s crosses.


This turned out to be very appropriate as St. Brigid is associated with peace and sharing and OBS Het Palet is  a ‘Peace’ school.

Eva also gave some very interesting lessons about the Czech Republic in which the pupils practised their maths skills, calculating speed and distance. The pupils really got involved with this and their interest was clearly stimulated.

We were treated to a delicious lunch by the staff.

In the evening we were invited to a delicious dinner in Anton’s home where we met Gareth Parsons from Mansfield, England.   


Tuesday 7th October 2014

We went back to the school in Opheusden. We accompanied Gareth, who had brought his ukulele, around to the different classes as he taught some songs and rhymes. We all got involved with the singing and actions. The children clearly enjoy music and singing and this was a great way to connect with them, despite the language barrier.

Later Anton brought us on a sight-seeing tour of the area.


Wednesday 8 October 2014

Having given our lessons to the children earlier in the week this was now our opportunity to see demonstrations of lessons in each of the four classes in the school.  Years 7 & 8  (10-12 years) prepared presentations in English on three different events from Dutch history.  It was impressive to see the students’ confidence and their ability to compile and present clear and at times moving insights into their chosen topics.  It was also evident that, while they had received guidance from their teachers, Willy and Frencis, the work was very much their own.  Equally evident was the students’ appreciation of these significant events and their interest in their country’s history.   It was an impressive and valuable experience of a Dutch classroom.


Along with their teacher, Elena, Years 5 & 6 (8-10 years) demonstrated for us how tablets are used for their literacy lessons.  The use of tablets reduces the need for text books and the software provides interactive activities.  As work is completed the results are recorded for access by the teacher.  Follow up work is also provided for each pupil depending on their results.  We could see certain benefits of this for classroom management.  The children appeared to enjoy using the tablets though some commented that they would prefer books.

Years 3 & 4 welcomed us into their lesson in which year 4 (7-8 years) were using tablets while year 3 (6-7 years) worked on a maths activity workbook.  Jeannette, their teacher, discussed the challenges of mixed grade teaching and keeping the children engaged with work.  Both groups seemed capable of independent work despite the distractions of visitors around them.

The youngest group, Years 1 & 2  (4 & 5 years) were in a colourful classroom environment well suited to the needs of their age.

The room comprised work and play areas and their teacher Lenny was very experienced.  While we were with them they worked in a circle group during which they discussed the theme of parties.  Using images and posters Lenny created a display which the children would continue to use during further lessons.  The children were clearly engaged with this work.  Lenny observed carefully as they took part and also was aware of their fading concentration after some time.  It was also obvious that the children were being guided to develop personal responsibility and  independence – characteristics evident and well developed in the older children.

We were interested to learn that, in The Netherlands, children start school when they reach their 4th birthday, visiting gradually as the date approaches.  This system seems to work well as each newcomer observes the settled behaviour of their classmates and models his/her own behaviour accordingly.  The atmosphere in the classroom was calm, the children were generally confident and outgoing and thoroughly enjoyed having visitors.

On Wednesday school finishes early for all children and so the staff were able to join us for lunch in a nearby restaurant which was very enjoyable.  After lunch, we took the train with Gareth into Amsterdam where we visited the Anne Frank museum – a comprehensive insight into her life story.


Thursday 9th  October 2014

On Thursday we arrived at school as usual at 9.30.  Parents and guests were already beginning to assemble for the stage presentation by the children; their interpretation of the school’s involvement in the Comenius programme.  It was a little difficult to follow the Dutch introduction but we understood that the older children had, in a short time, prepared dance routines representing sports around the world.  Their dance teacher had put together simple routines to music and it was obvious the children enjoyed performing.  They were confident and relaxed and the movement was fun and simple. 

The two younger groups demonstrated how much English they have been learning.  Years 3 & 4 gave simple presentations involving counting, days of the week etc; while the youngest group sang some simple songs, including the most impressive addition of two rhymes in English that they had learned from our classroom visit just two days earlier !

Also on Wednesday and Thursday Micheal showed the children video clips of gaelic and hurling matches as well as showing them hurleys.  They were all fascinated at the speed of each sport, especially hurling.  Micheal also gave the older groups an opportunity to try out the hurley in their playground.  They took part eagerly and some showed great skill!


At our final meeting in the Opheusden staff room Anton asked us to give initial observations on the week’s events.  It was clear there were many compliments about the events and hospitality to all the guests; Anton asked us for constructive criticism regarding any aspects which we thought could be improved.  Although we could find little to improve on we suggested that to complete the partnership of the programme it may be valuable to include some parents (perhaps from the school’s Parents’ Association) on occasion so as to help them understand the programme, the involvement of the teachers and the value of the schools’ participation for their children.  Anton welcomed this idea for consideration for the future.

Finally, on Thursday evening we attended a stage production of ‘Anne’ in Amsterdam.  This was a large-scale stage production telling the story of her life.   The set was immense, the stage management, lighting and technical displays were striking and the option of an English soundtrack with headphones provided us with a very moving depiction of the events which made Anne’s story so famous.

Our visit concluded on Friday.  The success of our visit is thanks to the effort, commitment and hospitality of the teachers and organisers in Opheusden.  It is an opportunity which has given us valuable educational experiences and lasting memories.


Micheal O Murchu

Margaret Lyons




Comenius Trip: 

Tuesday 8th April: Travelled to Malta.

Wednesday 9th April: On arrival at Mgarr Harbour we travelled directly to our host school Qala Primary.

Meet and greet with Comenius group from Gozo and the Netherlands – Madame Sandra Casarini, Marthese Attard,  Sylvana Cini, and the ‘lads’  - Paul ...., Josef ........, and Justin Debono.  Also present were the visiting Dutch teachers,  Anton Verwey, Elena  ....,  and Diana Brouwer. 

Following mid morning break the entire Comenius group visited some Junior and Senior classrooms and met teachers and pupils.

At lunchtime the group had the pleasure of fine dining at the neighbouring Pembroke Restaurant which is part of the Gozo Tourism Catering College.

Later that afternoon we set off on our cultural sightseeing  trip of Gozo.  Our first stop was the awe-inspiring megalithic complex of Ggantija in Xaghra. The temples were built about 5000 years ago, and are believed to be the oldest free standing structures in the world and are said to be older than the pyramids in Egypt. ‘Ggant’ is the Maltese word for giant, hence the name Ggantija.    


In the evening the group met for dinner at The Boathouse Restaurant, Xlendi, where the Dutch  teachers were staying .

Thursday 10th     

We returned to our host school and gathered with our colleagues in Madame’s Office for a meeting to discuss the evaluation stage of the project.

 Later that morning, as part of Qala’s interpretation of the Comenius Anti-Xenophobia Project, the pupils of Years 5 and 6 performed a musical for us. It was directed by their visiting Music teacher/specialist Ms. Sylvana Cini. The musical was called ‘The Peace Child’ and was truly spectacular. 

That afternoon’s sightseeing included a trip by minibus  to The Azure Window –a natural arch formed in the cliffs thousands of years ago. It is near Dwerja Bay, close to the village of San Lorenz. The area is very popular with swimmers and scuba divers because of its crystal-clear waters and underwater caves.  


Our next stop was the famous Ta’Pinu Sanctuary.  This church has become a place of pilgrimage, with numerous claims of miraculous healings. During a visit to Gozo in 1990, Pope John Paul prayed in this church and celebrated Mass  on the parvis.

Friday 11th:  Our school day began with visits to two of the Junior classes – Maria Assunta’ s class and Year 2. We had prepared a photographic presentation about our school and the locality which  Ms. Martina Walsh delivered. The pupils were especially happy to receive the teddy bear stickers and other Irish gifts we brought.


We were struck by the pupils’ spo ntaneity and good humour, and Ms. Walsh joined them in a game of ‘Ring a Rosy’.

Year 2 were icing buns when we arrived  - in honour of the birthday boy.  We were each treated to a fairy cake. 

The Comenius group including Mrs. Browne observed an English lesson on procedural writing  - ‘How to Make Toast.’ Once again the pupils were very attentive and engaged, and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘hands on’ experience. 


Before lunch we paid a courtesy visit to the Principal of Gozo College. We were delighted to hear that he had spent a year in Ireland on secondment in order to study the ‘Home School Liason Teacher’ system .  He told us that he had many happy memories of his visit.


  Following our final lunch with our Comenius colleagues, we spent the afternoon sightseeing in Rabat - capital of Gozo. The main tourist attraction in Rabat is The Citadella. This fortified town built on top of a hill has a long history.  The Gozitans took shelter behind its walls whenever corsairs raided the island in search of slaves. Inside the Citadella one can find a beautiful 17th century cathedral  designed by the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa.

Another lovely sunny afternoon with great panoramic views of the island along the fortified walls.

Monday 14th April 2014

Following more sightseeing and cultural outings over the weekend including a visit to a wonderful production of Tosca, we reconvened on Monday morning at Sannat school where we received a very warm welcome and renewed friendships with our colleagues who had visited Bray last year.

The day began with the Stations of the Cross and we then visited the Special Education Unit and were shown the excellent facilities. We joined some classes in the school hall where Peter from Austria was showing a powerpoint on the Comenius visit to his school last January.

Overall, it was a most enjoyable and interesting visit to Gozo with plenty to see and do and all agreed it was a great opportunity to meet colleagues and see at first hand how the theme of this project is put into action.

Martina Walsh and Linda Farrell