Preparing for school in Spain – Mum and relocation consultant Stephanie Kirtley Alacreu gives some tips on how to prepare your child for school in Spain. Stephanie was raised in the UK. A career in luxury fashion took her to London, Paris and New York before she decided to settle in Valencia, Spain, with her 2 young daughters. After falling in love with the city and region Stephanie co-founded Encantada, a bespoke relocation service, with Maria Alacreu, a Spanish lawyer.
For all mums out there thinking about relocating to Spain, the thought of sending your child to a new school in a foreign country is pretty daunting. Or perhaps your child has already started in a Spanish school but is having difficulty adapting and settling in. Having “been there and done that” myself quite recently when I moved to Valencia just over two years ago, I thought it would be helpful to share a few of the tips that I have picked up along the way.
Start mentally preparing your child as soon as possible
Even if moving to Spain is just a pipe dream and seems far away, early preparation is essential to make sure that your child is mentally prepared. Pre-registration to public schools in Spain starts in early May along with the release of the enrolment calendar which means that you have plenty of time to start getting your child used to the idea.
It is important that you talk to your child early on about the move and that they will be starting a new school and not spring the surprise on them the moment that you are moving. Reassure your child and talk about all the positive and fun things – that it’s going to be an exciting adventure, that they’re going to make lots of new friends, not to mention that they are going to learn another language!
The sunny Spanish climate also means that kids can spend most of their time outdoors playing and naturally as part of the Spanish lifestyle, there will be lots of ice cream moments and they may even be allowed to go to bed later than they normally would back home!
For your child to feel comfortable, they will need to feel that they can understand what they are being told and so I recommend to start cramming Spanish lessons as soon as you get here. Typically, recognition and understanding of the language will come first and being able to speak comes later. Your child may not be able to answer in Spanish for some months however they do get there in the end.
Get your children speaking earlier by introducing basic Spanish words to your routine at home: buenos dias (good morning), buenos noches (goodnight), hola (hello), adios (bye), por favor (please), gracias (thank you), lo siento (sorry), si (yes) and no (no).
Private tutors can cost as little as 15 euros per hour somewhere like here in Valencia but there are other fun and subtle ways to immerse your children in the Spanish language before arriving. Try using language Apps like Duolingo Kids. My kids love playing on mum’s phone and so it was a big hit, we would play “Learn the Lingo” for half an hour before bedtime, they picked up so many words without it being such a chore.
You can also start to switch your cartoons to Spanish, we would watch Peppa Pig and Poco Yo together in Spanish on Netflix or on YouTube on the weekends which were my girl’s personal favourites but almost all cartoons on Netflix can be changed to Spanish and there are lots of Spanish options on YouTube. If you don’t speak Spanish, set the subtitles to English so that you can understand yourself, then play a game asking your child questions on what they understood. It’s hard at first but they get used to it and enjoy it!
Get your children feeling more comfortable and be as social as possible. Before your children start school and once you have arrived in Spain, try and live in a more Spanish way. You can sign them up for sports classes in your area such as football, tennis or swimming, that way they will have the chance to meet other children from the same school and perhaps recognise someone at the school gates or in the playground during their first days and will feel less isolated.
There are also lots of Expat Mum groups on Facebook that you can join. As soon as I arrived in Spain I joined and introduced myself to the “Mums in Valencia” group which helped me to connect with and meet mums with kids of a similar age to mine.
Dealing with the homework
It’s already hard enough keeping on top of our kid’s homework when it’s in our own language let alone one that we might not even speak ourselves. Never fear though, there are options available to help you wade through it and avoid the embarrassment of not understanding your five year old’s homework tasks! Get informed on your particular school as most state schools offer extra Spanish classes for free. You can also inquire about and sign your children up for homework clubs which are after school homework sessions, supervised by a native speaker who will help them with their homework and answer all their questions.
Lastly, you can also try online tutors which cost as little as 7 euros per hour. I use Tus Clases Particulares a really easy to use and cost-effective platform that you can search online and home tutors of different subjects in your area.
Be patient and stick at it
All children learn at different speeds and in the case of my girls who came to Spain at the ages of three and five, it did take a while to adapt and I often found myself worried about whether they would ever settle in at all. I overheard someone laughing and mimicking my eldest daughter’s accent which wasn’t easy and made me feel guilty for making the move and taking them out of their comfort zone. I am happy that I stuck at though as two years on, my girls are incredibly happy and settled here in Spain, their Spanish has come along leaps and bounds, they love their school and have made lots of Spanish friends!
Encantada can help
There is no one more important than your little one. If you are looking to move to the Valencia or Costa Blanca region, Encantada is here to advise you on finding the right school for your child and help you enrol making it an easy transition for both parent and child. Having made the move ourselves with children of our own, we know
the challenges and are here to help.
We can also assist with helping you to find a paediatrician, the right day care facilities for toddlers, and connect you with trusted agencies to help you find the perfect nanny.
Find out more about Moving to Spain
Find out more about Education in Spain