|Looking after your little ones in Andalucia.|
Nursery Schools in Andalucia
In the Spanish education system, children can start nursery (guarderia, known popularly as guarde) at 4 months, and they can stay up to three years, when they move onto Infantil school. (This is taken by calendar year, unlike in England for example, so a child born in 2012 will start school in 2015 whether they were born in January 2012 or December 2012, even if they haven´t yet reached their third birthday).
Some areas, particularly in larger towns and cities, and especially on the Costa del Sol, have bilingual or international schools which offer nursery facilities as well as infantil (age 3-5), which is not obligatory for children to attend, although most do, primaria (primary, age 6-11), which is obligatory, and secundaria (secondary) education from 12-18. The state education system in Spain, and in Andalucia, has improved greatly in recent years.
The facilities offered by guarderias vary hugely - some may have a small patio (or exposed to sunlight with little shade), others may have a shady garden with paddling pool in the summer. Some are in converted houses in the centre of a town, with small rooms and restricted outside space, and difficult access for cars, but handy for walking; others further out of town, in residential areas with larger rooms and gardens and plenty of parking available.
Some may be open-plan so the children are free to roam around, others have separate rooms where they spend all their time. Nearly all will have a large central room where the children eat, and the vast majority will have some kind of outside area - you need to check there´s plenty of shade. You also want there to be plenty of outdoor toys and play equipment for the children in good condition - slides, swings, see-saws, cars.
All these criteria are important to consider in choosing the nursery for your child, although obviously the most important is always the staff, and how they respond to you and your child. The teachers will usually have an appropriate qualification, while their assistants may not. From the age of two, children have text books, which you have to pay for. They learn to distinguish, and name, different shapes, colours and objects by colouring and putting stickers in their exercise books.
But they also listen to music, play games, paint, make collages, go on outings, and learn about local customs and festivals, and sometimes watch DVDs. You´re expected to provide nappies, wipes and a muda (change of clothes). The good news is, they help with potty training - most have mini-toilets where the kids learn how to go to the loo, wash their hands afterwards etc. This is especially important for children starting school the following September, as once in school they aren´t allowed to wear nappies, and some children can take months to master the skills of the potty.
HOW TO APPLY
Applications for nursery places (the verb is solicitar), which are now under the Junta de Andalucia´s Consejeria de Educacion (Department of Education), are made in April for the following September. A provisional list of children who have been offered places in the guarde is then published, a time of 10 days is allowed for anyone to voice an objection, and the final list of children to be admitted to the nursery appears towards the end of June. You then have to formally enrol (matricular) your child at the end of June/beginning of July. If you have a private place (see below), you will have to pay a matricula (enrolment fee). You are then given your matriculacion (enrolment document).
Some guarderias have places subsidized by the Junta de Andalucia, offered to children of working mothers. The system may seem a bit complicated for first-timers: you are awarded points according how near to the nursery you live and work; whether you´re single or married; how much money you earn; how many children you have (three is considered a large family - familia numerosa); whether any of these also attend the nursery; whether you work there; and various other criteria such as if the child is a victim of terrorism or domestic violence. Depending on how many points you have, you are then awarded funding of 0, 25, 50 or 75 per cent by the Junta de Andalucia. Fees for nurseries start at around 300 euros per month.
You will need photocopies of various documents, including a recent empadronamiento certificate showing the name of the child, (ideally issued within the previous few weeks), libro de familia, your Declaracion de la Renta (tax return) from the previous year (and that of your partner where applicable), and, if you´re not employed on a contract with a monthly nomina (salary), a letter from your employer confirming that you work for them. If you have your own company, your contable can provide a suitable document to confirm your status. Although these criteria are set down by the Junta, they may vary slightly from province to province, and even from nursery to nursery, so always ask a guarderia to explain exactly what you need to provide.
On the matriculacion it states how much must be paid by the family, and how much the state will be contributing.
Many nurseries also offer catering (comedor) for children, which is free for those with subsidised places, or from about 50 euros a month for non-assisted places. If you provide your own food for your child, they may charge for staff to feed him anyway. Some offer transport to and from the nursery, always with a staff member on the bus.
HOURS AND HOLIDAYS
Again, these vary from nursery to nursery, but many will open from 7am to 5pm. They also offer specific timetables for mothers who work, or with older children at school: horario escolar (school timetable) is from 9am-2pm, and horario laboral (working timetable) is from 8am-3pm. Holidays can be different from one town to the next, according to local fiestas, so ask your guarderia for a calendar of its school year.