Back to/Starting at School/Nursery!

Posted by Clarissa Primavesi on

I’m updating this old blog post about starting nursery/school as we approach September and that end of summer holidays feeling is coming back! Spain is different to most of Europe and the USA in that children start school the calendar year they turn 3. (Well, officially it’s the calendar year they turn 6 for legal schooling, but all schools have a pre-school available from 3 and most parents decide to start them at this time. It’s not school as I know it! It’s more like a nursery, with a nap in the day and focus on learning through play, no formal “lessons” as such which is ideal for this age). But this means Charlie, who was born in October, will be starting school when he’s only 2! In the UK, he would be one of the oldest in his class as the age cut off is the academic year as opposed to the calendar year and this is quite a strange thing to get my head around! However, he has been in guardaria (nursery) since he was 1 year old, so he is used to the routine and being in a small class of peers. 

Below is the blog post I wrote after Charlie had been in nursery for a few months, and it’s reassuring to read my own words as I mentally prepare to change him to his new school, new teachers and a uniform! I am already feeling anxious about it. Are you starting a form of childcare for your baby in September? Let me know how you’re feeling about it. And if you have any questions about the Spanish school system, check out Steps into Spain run by Sinéad Galvin who knows everything about it!

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Starting your baby or toddler in childcare for the first time can be hard! Charlie recently started nursery here in Madrid. He was just about to turn one and it was the right time for him. We had been through the COVID-19 lock-down and over the summer had managed quite a few socially distanced picnics in the park with the mums I had met at my pre-natal course and their babies and I knew he needed more interaction and stimulation than he was getting.


That doesn’t mean I left him that first day and skipped away! No, I was a mess! The restrictions in Spain meant I wasn’t able to stay with him for the settling in period, instead I left him with the t-shirt I had slept in that night and his teacher said it really comforted him. He also only stayed for one hour for the first three mornings. The next step was two and a half hours which he took to really well. Finally he stayed all morning and I collected him after lunch for his nap. After about three weeks of settling in, he stayed for merienda and I collected him at the end of the day. It turns out, anyone who provides food is a winner in his eyes, so now when I drop him off in the mornings and he eyes up his second breakfast he is so happy to go to his teacher. Thankfully he’s also very happy to be picked up again at the end of the day (grubby and happy from all his fun activities!)

From listening to stories from my friends, it seems the little ones can take anywhere from a week to a month to settle into their new routine. Crying when you leave them AND when you pick them up again is normal. It is OK. It is probably harder on you than it is on them. Hopefully whoever is caring for your little one will be able to let you know when they calmed down after you left and in general how they are during the day.

Some tips I have learned from Charlie’s first 3 months of nursery:

  • Familiar things can help. An item of clothing that smells of you, a dummy, their usual water cup/crockery etc.
  • Don’t expect too much of them at the end of the day. They have been stimulated and sociable and on good behaviour all day, plan some peaceful chilled out activities to end their day with.
  • It will get better for all the family, don’t give up and know it will get better.

If you are about to send your little one to nursery for the first time, good luck and let me know how it goes!

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