For expat parents with a child aged for preschool in Spain, here’s our guide to Spanish nurseries, kindergartens and daycares for international kids.
Compulsory education doesn’t start in Spain until the age of six, but most parents in Spain take advantage of preschool education for their children, sometimes from as young as a few months old. In Spain, children’s education before primary school is called educación infantil, or infant education. Here, we’ll introduce you to preschool in Spain, with information on registration and tips for your first day.
Types of Preschool in Spain
Preschool in Spain is divided broadly into two stages, based on the child’s age: Nursery schools (guarderias) cater for children from around three months up to three years old, while kindergarten or infant schools (escuela infantil) are for children from three until six. Though preschool is not compulsory, it’s common: The OECD reports that Spain has nearly full enrolment in early childhood education, with 95% of 3-year-olds and 97% for 4-year-olds enrolled. Spanish public schooling is free for children from three to 18 years of age, although private school options are also available.
The availability of preschool in Spain is not always widespread; it depends on the area, particularly for state schools, as well as the demand. Often it can be quite difficult to find a place for your child.
Guarderias – Nursery schools in Spain
Women receive a statutory period of four months maternity leave in Spain, and the majority return to work afterward. So, it is not uncommon to see babies as young as four months at guarderias. Because of the country’s sizeable expat community, there are English language nursery schools in Spain in some areas, particularly in the major cities or the Costas and Islands.
Nurseries principally offer low-cost childcare, rather than necessarily focusing on child development. However, particularly if you you enrol your child in a public, Spanish-speaking nursery school, they can be useful in helping your child to learn Spanish, as well as a great opportunity for you to integrate with your community. Bear in mind that, unless you decide to later send your children to an international school in Spain, public schooling is almost entirely in Spanish, so it is highly advantageous for your child to learn the language early.
There are also private, fee-based nursery schools and these generally cater for children aged two to six. Sometimes these are attached to primary schools, in which case children can just transition into their formal education. There is a reasonable amount of flexibility in terms of hours of attendance and parents can choose mornings, afternoons, full days or just a few days per week. Schools sometimes also provide transport between home and schools.
Escuela infantil – Kindergartens in Spain
Although kindergarten is voluntary, most children in Spain attend, starting from the age of three and continuing until age six, when compulsory education at primary school begins. The public preschools in Spain aim to prepare young children for social integration within the school environment by emphasizing development in several areas:
- Emotional development
- Movement and body control habits
- Communication and language
- Basic guidelines of coexistence and social relations
- Achieving a balanced and positive image of themselves and acquire personal autonomy
Schools offer lessons in basic reading, writing and mathematics, as well as playing in team games and developing their creativity through arts and crafts, painting and music. Emphasis is also given to developing civic behaviour, the environment, cultural integration, cycling and road safety awareness. Children are sometimes taken on supervised outings, roped together in small groups (for their own safety).
Register your child at school in Spain
You can register your child with a state school once you and your family are registered as residents at the local town hall. The local authorities will require the following documents:
- Proof of residence (rental contract or property deeds)
- Passport or residence card
- Child’s birth certificate
- Proof of the child’s vaccinations and a medical certificate of health (in some areas)
Tips for kids on the first day of preschool
Starting school is a big step for any child, and preschool in Spain isn’t any different. Do your best to make it feel like a safe and happy experience. Take your child to the building before school starts, just to see where the school is and to get a sense of where they’ll be going. Let them peek in the windows. You can talk about how your child is getting older and is a big kid now. Most importantly, be positive.
Here are some tips to set your child up for success at a new school in Spain:
- Start off with a good breakfast.
- Remind the child about how exciting it is to go to school (they’ll learn new things, meet new friends, etc).
- Reassure them that you will be there to collect them at the end of the playtime.
- Perhaps offer a present or treat at the end of the day for good behavior.
- If your child is potty-trained, make sure to show them the bathroom and explain who will take them while you are away.
- Come prepared with emergency and doctor contact information (you may be asked to complete some forms on the first day)
- Allow time on the first day to meet with the teachers to go over specific needs (dummy, favorite toy, toilet-training information, etc).
- Expect to leave after leaving your child at the school, regardless of how your child is reacting – the teachers are trained to help kids settle in.
Pro tips for preschool parents
Send your kid to school like a pro. Here are some more tips:
- Label any clothing, bags or toys with your child’s name
- Check if the school provides snacks (some do and some don’t). Pack a snack or some fruit for your child if they get hungry.
- Take along a pair of soft indoor shoes for your child
Early education can be deeply rewarding for children and parents both. Once kids are six years old, and they’ve finished preschool in Spain, they’ll enroll in primary education. For more information on how to choose a school in Spain, see Expatica’s guide to Spanish schools: local, private, bilingual and international schools.