Photo: Matt Molinari
Don’t expect to understand what language parents are speaking at morning drop-off.
In the United States, you’re almost always chatting with Mrs. Jones in English about the morning woes of little Johnny. In Spain, depending on where you are sending your child to kinder (0-3 years) you might listen to Mrs. Jones speak English, French, Spanish, Catalan, Danish, German or Italian. The children often speak more languages than their parents.
Don’t expect school to ever start on-time.
9 or 9:30 am is more of a suggestion than an actual rule Spanish parents (and sometimes teachers) abide by. Life here in Barcelona specifically is very relaxed. In America, you might be charged extra for being late at pick up or given the side eye for being consistently last at drop-off, but in Spain, you just don’t worry about it (or anything else for that matter).
Don’t expect to send your child away all day; they will be back for lunch.
Unless your preschooler is in daycare or enrolled in a private school, your bundle of joy will be sent home for lunch, Spain’s most important and staple meal of the day. An average preschool/kinder day starts at 9 am with a break from noon-3pm then back to school from 3pm-5pm as opposed to a traditional American school which reserves 1 hour for lunch with a 25-30 minute recess. This does vary and in big city preschools and grade schools going home is an option, but children are still expected to have a large meal for lunch alongside their peers.
Don’t expect for your preschooler to learn just one language.
Children are exposed to many, many languages in Spain. Although our son isn’t in an international school, we looked into one as an option where the Kinder coordinator casually told us the children speak English (60%), Spanish (20%) and Catalan (20%) with an option at the ripe age of 3 to begin lessons in French and Chinese. These are offered at the attractive price of 0 Euros. Yes, you read that correctly, your three year old can be semi-fluent if not totally fluent in five languages at the end of the school year if you deem necessary.
Don’t expect your preschooler’s teacher to abide by a dress code.
In fact, don’t expect much as far as dress code goes for anyone at all. Teachers don’t comply with a specific dress code and often dress in playful, colorful outfits you wouldn’t expect a teacher to wear on a day to day basis. I find that it brings down boundaries between teachers and students and I’m sure saves the teachers quite a bit of money on business casual clothing expenses.
Don’t expect your preschooler to call his or her teacher by their last name.
It is almost uniform across Spain to hear children from kinder to high school call their teachers by their first names. Some teachers (often foreign) complain about the informality, but I find that it creates a sense of warmth with the younger kids.
Don’t expect for all preschools to be on the ground level, easy to find or acutely visible.
Speaking from experience, you might map out the preschool for a visit; walk around aimlessly for twenty minutes only to find that the preschool was located on the fourth of fifth floor of a seven-story building with no easy or obvious way inside. Everything here in Barcelona seems cloaked in old world building structures which are just as beautiful as they are confusing. Count on the American parents to get lost on the way to take a tour, and also rely on the Spanish teachers not to care one bit that you are late.