Parent Like a Pro: How To Handle Back To School In Spain
The 12 weeks of school holidays are over, and believe it or not, it’s flown! My son spent three weeks in the UK with family and friends, enjoying everything British. He’s been looking forward to the trip since I told him at the start of the year. He was treated to pub lunches, day trips, shopping and even trying Nando’s for the first time!
Now that he’s a little older it’s not so daunting for him to be away from home for a short while. Being with family also helps and we know he’s in good hands. It also breaks up the holidays, after all, time flies when you’re having fun right? That’s exactly what’s happened this year!
Of course, all good things must come to an end. During the past week, I’ve been busy with back to school preparations. I can’t help but feel a little concerned, wondering what the new school year has in store. The first year in the new school was tough and the following year involved tons of hard work and catching up to do.
I guess it’s normal to feel a little anxious on the approach to the new school year. It’s especially tough when dealing with new methods of doing things in a foreign country. It’s our third year and we’re still getting to grips with ‘new’ rules and routines.
You see, starting a new school year in Valencia is more than just waving your child goodbye at the school gates. I found that different schools in Spain have their own way of doing things. To be an efficient parent; planning and understanding how the system works is the key.
I remember the first time I took my son to school. I was confused and frustrated as hell. There were no introductions. My son was shuffled quickly into the classroom, and no updates on how his day/week went. He needed materials which they didn’t inform me about. The money we spent on school materials, uniforms and fees were ridiculous. It was enough to make my head spin and regret the whole idea of living here at all!
This time around, I’m more aware and familiar with what goes on, so things are getting easier. Every year is a learning curve. Schooling in Spain is different. It takes a while to get the hang of, but once you know it’s quite easy to follow. So with that mind, I would love to share with you my stress-free guide on how to handle going back to school in Spain like a pro!
Be A Member of AMPA
AMPA stands for the Asociación de Madres y Padres. A Spanish version of a parent-teacher association. Joining AMPA is beneficial for your family. You will be entitled to discounts and reduction of fees, including field trips, books, after-school clubs and leisure activities.
The annual fee to be a member AMPA is around €22 per family. This is regardless of the number of children that are students of the school. The fee is usually paid via direct debit.
It’s particularly handy if the school organises several trips during the year. For instance, my sons class went on a residential this year for two days. Being a member of AMPA means the fee was reduced from €30 to €6.00.
Xarxa de Llibres is an educative programme for the region of Valencia in Spain. Which aims to provide free books and other materials for students in Valencia. You can read my detailed post on ‘Parents Guide To ‘La Xarxa De Llibres’ for more information and how to join.
Join The Parents WhatsApp Group
This group is a total lifesaver! Joining the parents WhatsApp group has opened a whole new world for me. It’s a great way to communicate with parents from the same class group. Anything school, homework, community and fiesta related are discussed on this group. Very handy in keeping you updated about what’s going on and extremely useful if you are ever stuck with homework!
How I miss being able to go to Asda and get a pack of school shirts for £3.00! I truly miss those days when I didn’t have to spend a fortune on back to school stuff!
This year we’ve spent €200 on uniforms for our 9-year old. Uniforms have to be bought from school as they have to bear the school logo. The correct uniforms must be worn according to the season.
Your child will own a whole library of school materials! It’s important you invest in a good marker pen or a back to school label pack. This year I tried a company called Stikets. Stickets is an online store that offers packs of stickers and labels for clothes, shoes, bags, books and much more. I like the different design styles, colour options and most importantly they’re affordable.
At first, I didn’t want Sam to stay for school dinner with the school hours being so long (09:00-17:00). After a few months of picking him up for lunch every day, we decided that it was far too disruptive especially when we were trying to get some work done.
Unfortunately bringing sandwiches for lunch is not very popular with Spanish schools. They insist that your child stays at school to or go home for lunch. This really depends on how far you live from the school and whether you don’t mind running around during the day.
Lunch at his school is around €5.20 per day which we pay on a monthly basis through our bank.
Invest In A Good Mochila
Your child will probably carry half of their own weight every day in the form of books, notebooks, pencil cases, water bottle and whatever the teacher requests.
A good quality mochila (rucksack) is a must! Believe me, I’ve tried a few! In the first years, I purchased a separate carro (cart) where a rucksack can be attached. I find these can break easily. Sam has to carry his bag up and down three flights of stairs every day! As you can imagine his bag goes through some rigorous testing and I had to replace two bags and two carts within a year!
Standard School Equipment
Valencian dictionary – Valenciano is taught in all public and concertado schools in the Valencian region. It’s useful to have a reference book for the subjects that are taught in Valenciano.
Good Quality Notebooks (Cuadernos) – Invest in good quality notebooks. Preferably the ones which are perforated. At the end of each tema (topic), the students are required to remove all work that they have done during that term. They will need to transfer their work into a plastic sleeve and then given to the teacher for marking.
Box of tissues – for those little accidents.
Pack of coloured paper – Mainly used for creating a cover page for their ‘tema’ (topic).
Bottle of water – labelled with their name on it.
Wash Bag – Or bolsa de aseos, soap and small towel must be brought in this bag at every P.E lesson. A boot bag will usually do.
Parents Introduction To The New Year
The first week of going back is usually an easy process, the kids have at least a week to get themselves together. Sometimes, subject books can also arrive later, so your child can ease themselves into the routine quite easily.
The teacher will usually hold a meeting a week before your child starts. Holidays, rules, lunch arrangements, possible trips and days out are usually discussed.
During the beginning of the September, the children go to school for half a day. My son attends from 09:00-13:00. This schedule will continue for a few weeks until the beginning of October. From October until the end of May the children will attend a full day 09:00-17:00.
For a fee of around €15 a year, the school offers an access to their online platform where parents and teachers can view and manage day to day school activities. The platform is a personalised portal where you can view your child’s homework, grades, email teachers directly, justify incidents and other download important announcements.
I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that you and your child’s life will revolve around homework. Be prepared to invest some time to learn Castellano. There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing what your child has to do. Do a lot of research on learning resources and take classes if you can. Kids as young as 7 are expected to do at least 3-4 pieces of every night. This can be overwhelming if your child doesn’t know the language yet.
Reading books are also an important part of schooling here in Spain. My son is expected to read at least 5 books during the year. The school uses a platform called Ranopla, where they can log on and answer a series of questions about the books that they’ve read. By doing this they will also gain points which go towards their grades at the end of the year.
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