I’ve written before about how my blog doesn’t fit neatly into any one category: it’s a weird amalgam of mummy blog, expat blog and travel blog, because that’s what I am: an English journalist with two children living in Seville, who tries to explore this part of Andalucia as much as I can, and write about it. So I am delighted to have been shortlisted in the travel section of the Brilliance in Blogging awards, organised by Brit Mums, for the second year. If you feel the urge to vote for me, just click on the badge to the left, or even easier here. Voting closes on 19 May, so there’s a couple of weeks to go. Or why not just get it over with now? You will be rewarded with my undying gratitude – OK, so it’s anonymous, but my loving gratitude will wend its way towards you somehow.
As an English expat mum living in Spain, one of the areas of life I am often asked about is children: what’s it like bringing up kids in Spain? What are the schools in Spain like? Are you happy with your children’s education? So I thought (hoped) it might be interesting to give you a glimpse into the lives of two bilingual Anglo-andalusi niños.
My children attend an Andalucian state primary school – I’ve already written several posts about the school’s Andalucia Day activities and shows, as these are always fascinating to an outsider like me, not to mention of outstanding quality. The school also recently made a video starring every class – if you watch, you’ll see what it’s like inside.
This particular school, which is in the local village, is divided into Infantil (ages 3-5) and Primaria (aged 6-12), both in the same complex of buildings, but with separate playgrounds. It’s a big one, with around 1,000 pupils. At the age of four, my younger child started in Infantil last September – it’s similar to her nursery, with big classrooms, group tables, lots of toys and play time, and a wide variety of activities (during his time in Infantil, my son studied the Romans, including a visit to a major archaeological site nearby and a school exhibition – see below, as well as Monet), all with warm, dedicated teachers.
My elder child moved up into Primaria last September, which involves many hours of sitting behind desks in tightly packed rows, with a couple of gym classes a week for exercise. Six-year-olds aren’t good at staying still for minutes, let alone hours on end, so the jury’s still out on this stage of the Spanish education system. It’s a huge change from one level to the next – from a degree of freedom and fun, to sedentary rote-learning, which many children (unsurprisingly) find hard to adjust to. This year, budgets have been cut further, meaning fewer school trips (and fewer books), which obviously makes the whole school experience less varied, and less rounded too. One of the most successful outings was to the police cuartel, where all the children loved meeting the dogs and horses.
So what sort of activities do the pupils do, and how are the parents involved? Well in our school, they have just introduced “Protagonista de la Semana” – Star of the Week – in Infantil. Each week, a different child takes this role, and my daughter, in her first year of Infantil, was one of the early stars. I had to make up a board with images of her, and about her – photographs with family, drawings, and her favourite things (Peppa Pig figured large). And I had to go into her class to give a little talk about her (pink, chocolate, Peppa Piga, a dog called Pipo).
It was a very enjoyable experience, talking to her 18 classmates, finding out about them – and especially seeing the teacher in action – she’s got the whole kind-but-firm thing taped. There was no mucking about tolerated, but no raising of the voice, either. I take my hat off to all teachers, as commanding respect from children on a continuous basis is very, very hard. But keeping a class of 16 three-year-olds still and quiet is a hugely difficult task, admirably accomplished.
In April, it was Semana de los Padres – Parents’ Week. You can volunteer to do any activity with your child’s class, whether reading, craft, musical or energetic. The slot last around an hour, and many do activities related to their job – in my daughter’s class, a chef brought in a huge bucket of masa (dough) to make bread, and a dentist talked to the kids about the importance of oral hygiene. Until this year I’ve always chickened out, but I decided I had to do my bit.
With Lola’s class, I did some English vocabulary – colours – and then pasta pictures. While these are standard practice at English nurseries, they’re not familiar here, so they were intrigued, asking if they could eat the pasta!
For Zac’s class (the six-year-olds), I teamed up with another mother, who happens to be an unemployed PE teacher. Result. Talk about striking gold – we got the Monday morning slot, first out of the gates, and Loli had some great ideas for traditional playground games, so I just added a few linguistic elements like counting in English. None of it involved paper or pens – or, indeed, sitting down at all. Get the kids running about, was our idea; this was just after a long period of wet weather, when everyone had cabin fever after weeks of being stuck inside.
We sorted the class of 26 into teams, with each child numbered in English (wan, toooo, threee), for panuelito – you hold up a hanky, or scarf, and call a number – the corresponding child from each team has to run a and grab it, and the first to get back safely to their team wins. After that, we played some games like policias y ladrones (cops’n’robbers); then did carreras de relevos (relay races) in teams with variations like hopping; and finally split into two groups for gallinita ciega (blind man’s buff) and 123 pollinita ingles (grandmother’s footsteps). The kids loved competing, as they always do, and were mostly good-natured – I had feared having to adjudicate quarrels, a normal part of daily life as a mum.
Other activities have included painting themselves in the style of artists – hence the Andy Warhol-esque Lola you can see at the top of this post. Zac’s class did a big project when he was four, on the Romans, which included a visit to nearby Italica, the site which was the first Roman town in Spain. They had swords and watched “gladiators” fight in Italica’s impressive arena, and then produced fantastic collages like the one you can see above.
Apart from occasional visits to my nephews’ outstanding (literally – Ofsted top marks, Beacon Status etc) primary school in Suffolk, some years ago, I have no experience of British educational establishments. So sadly I can’t offer any sort of comparison with equivalent schools, in terms of staff, general experience or activities. Also, I am well aware that this is not any kind of serious examination of the Spanish education system, nor is it intended to be. It is designed merely to give an idea of what children do in schools here.
Are your kids at a Spanish primary school? Is your experience similar to mine, in terms of parent participation? If they’re in an English school, how does this compare?