Thursday, 6 September 2007

Nursery school, Spanish style

A number of my acquaintances have emigrated to Spain or are thinking of doing so. I have never wanted to go and live there, though I have had some happy times in Spain and have met some delightful Spaniards. I don’t like the climate, I don’t play golf and I don’t think I would care much for some of the expatriates I might encounter. But there is a huge benefit in living there if you have small children.

One of my twin daughters has a happy life in a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (the Spanish one, not the California/Nevada one where Roy ‘Mad Dog’ Earle came to a violent end). Her daughter went the local nursery school (Guarderia) when she was fifteen months old (they start in the September after they have learnt to walk). She went on to the main school two years later; children in Spain do not have to start school until they are six, but can do so before then if the parent pays for books and equipment.

The Guarderia is a world away from mere baby-minding. It is purpose-built, with two classes; the hours are 9am till 2pm. There are two teachers, both qualified, for each group of about twenty children, and a male teacher. The toddlers loved him; he gave them lots of cuddles—you couldn’t do that in England, of course. All foreign residents in Spain have the right to send their children there.

They give them all birthday parties—my granddaughter’s third (shared) one is pictured here—and offer a huge range of activities. They have at least three festivals in the year when they dress up in some costume. The holidays are much shorter than main school, six weeks instead of three months.

The Guarderia, subsidised by the Junta de Andalucia, costs 20 euros a month. Andalucia used to be the richest region in Spain; it is now one of the poorest but they somehow they can still manage to make such a provision for their children.

Now, at five, my daughter’s child is confident, sociable and extremely articulate in two languages. This, I guess, is largely down to her upbringing, but much must be the effect of her very early start at the nursery. By most measures we are substantially richer than the Spanish; if they can do this then why can’t we? It’s a rhetorical question: there are several reasons, none of them very good ones.

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