This past weekend we had my mom’s extended family Christmas celebration. This is the Dutch side of my heritage, and one I’m very proud of! As I was speaking with my uncle who is from Friesland (a part of the Netherlands) he was mentioning how sad it is that the heritage is getting lost in the next generations down. It’s true, as the kids get married (and most of them to someone who is not Dutch), the traditions , stories and memories get shared less and less. That’s why I think it’s so important to record the stories from the grand and great-grandparents, recalling what life was like where they grew up, and sharing them with our children.

I love my claim to being Dutch, and I want our children to experience and enjoy as much of their background from both sides as possible. So for our pre-Christmas / winter book unit study, the perfect choice was a focus on the Netherlands. I did not know there were so many great children’s stories from there! And the history of Netherlands is quite rich – I think this is a study you will quite enjoy!

Hans Brinker Unit Study

on the Netherlands

Hans Brinker Netherlands Unit Study

Sinterklaas Day (December 6) was just a weekend or so ago, and the perfect beginning to a unit study on the Netherlands. Traditionally, Sinterklaas is the original Santa Claus, but more importantly, the figure and example of Saint Nicholas. The REAL story of Saint Nicholas is worth reading through, whether your family does Santa Claus or not. There are some great videos and short unit studies that really shed some good light on the whole background of Saint Nick.

The main book we used for our study on the Netherlands was the story of Hans Brinker (also called The Silver Skates) by Mary Mapes Dodge. This is an old story about a family whose father works on the dikes, hides their entire life savings of $1,000 somewhere, is injured, and lives with a brain injury where he cannot speak or remember anything for 10 years. The family barely scrapes by each year as the wife laments not knowing where the money is. The son and daughter skate the canal on wooden blocks and hear about a skating race which they want to enter. They befriend some other children who encourage them to go for it, and give them “real” skates to practice. Along the way, Hans, the son, meets a famous doctor who he thinks can help his father. The doctor eventually agrees to see his father, pro-bono, and they determine that a very risky surgery could be done that could restore his father’s memory.

It’s a really good story, and a though it’s a picture book (in some formats), it’s a little bit longer than the average book. It gives great detail on Dutch history and culture, really making it come alive! We watched the TV movie from 1969 on youtube, and though it’s definitely an older film, the kids all enjoyed it quite well.

Disney put out a version of the Hans Brinker in it’s Wonderful World of Colour  in 1962 (prior to the TV movie) that looks like it’s also really good. Now to get our hands on a copy of it!

You can also listen to the Librivox audio recording on YouTube (though I can’t find it in

A fun little craft to go along with the story is making a pair of silver skates of course!

silver skates craft
If you would rather not go the glitter route, you can always use the glitter paper or foam, or even cut up pieces of foil to place over top.

Culture of The Netherlands

There are so many great stories, cultures, history and activities to experience with a unit study on the Netherlands. It’s hard to choose just a few! These are just some of the areas you can focus your study on Dutch history and culture.

Book Unit Studies

2 of the unit studies we downloaded and used are ones that go along with other books about Dutch life. They both go into details on the history, symbols and heritage of Holland and how Dutch families lived.
boxes for katje

Boxes for Katje on Vimeo

 Hana in the Time of Tulips – unit study from Homeschool Share


More great books about the Netherlands:

Kinderdike – the story of rebuilding a village in southern Holland after a disastrous flood
A Bloom of Friendship – how the Canadian Tulip Festival began as a gesture of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands during WWII
The Boy Who Held Back the Sea and  and The Hole in the Dike – both supposed legends of a little Dutch boy in Holland (claimed to be Hans Brinker) who stuck his finger in a hole in the dike and saved the whole village of Haarlem


Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is one of my absolute FAVOURITE artists. He was a post-impressionist painter who was known for honest depictions and bold colour. Some of his most famous pieces include the Sunflowers and Starry Night.

Tea Time with Van Gogh

Read more about Van Gogh with these books!

Learn more about him in the World’s Greatest Artists unit study series from Confessions of a Homeschooler.

Hands-On Art

Since we had previously done a really fun Starry Night Art Project with Mercy is New, we decided to try her Sunflowers project this time. It looks like it’s a lot of fun! There are 2 parts to it – Part 1 focuses on the drawing, and Part 2 on the painting.

For an easier version of Starry Night, try the tracing / coloring page or just painting over it. It’s all about experience texture and strokes in the painting.


Another famous artist from the Netherlands is, of course, Rembrandt! I don’t know what it is, I’m not a huge art fan, but he’s definitely another one of my most favourite artists. It must just be that Dutch blood flowing through my veins :0)

What Makes a Rembrandt a Rembrandt – these are fascinating books that go in-depth into an artists’s lifestyle and culture and how it affects, shapes and makes their style their style. I think they are all out of print, so scour your libraries and used book shelves, they’re keepers!

Rembrandt and Seventeenth Century Holland

This post from Half a Hundred Acre Wood has many great resources for continuing a unit study on Rembrandt.


One of the greatest symbols of the Netherlands is, of course, the windmill! How a windmill was used and works is quite fascinating. Because most of Holland was underwater and near the sea, they built the dikes to separate out canals, and then the windmills to pump the water up, over the dike, and into the sea.

 The kids had built an Archimedes screw with their co-op in a simple machines class last year, but here are some fun instructions for how to make your own working Archimedes screw.

 Make a cute windmill craft to end off the science portion of your study!
windmill craft


One of my favourite parts of our units studies is always the food, and growing up Dutch you get to experience a few of the best! There aren’t a lot of signature dishes the Dutch are known for, but specific foods do get passed on.

Speculaas cookies
Boeter Koek (Almond butter cake, so delicious!)
Olie Bollen (the original Dutchie donuts!)
Stroopwaffels (my sister has a stroop waffel maker! They are so delicious, wafer thin cookies with syrup in the middle, yum yum!)
Dutch Appeltart (deep dish apple pie)
Pannenkoeken (a pancake slightly thicker than a French crepe: 1 cup flour, 2 tsp sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 2 eggs and 2 cups milk)


Other foods you won’t be able to make but are symbolic of Dutch heritage include:
Gouda cheese
Droppies (Dutch licorice, be sure to try some double zout ;D)
Chocolate hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles on toast)
Pepermunt (King mints every Sunday in church :D)

Coloring Pages for the Littles (and older ones too)

More great posts about Netherlands Unit Studies:

This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s Book and a Big Idea: Winter and Christmas series.

For more great Winter and Christmas book ideas, check out the iHomeschool Network!