In Barcelona not only is there a language barrier (the language here is Catalan and not Spanish) but you are without your support network of family and friends. It can be an isolating time and expat parents are often not really aware of the resources available to them.
English-speaking Mother and Baby Groups in Barcelona
Support groups for mums who have just had a baby or have very young children are few and far between in Barcelona. This is partly because Catalan women tend to rely on their own mothers for help in the early days and also because once the statutory four months maternity leave is up, the vast majority of women go back to work and it is not uncommon to see babies as young as four months in nursery (Guarderia). However, there are increasing numbers of support groups around, which have proved a lifesaver for many mums without families here. The groups are a great way to share information and to meet others in similar situations. There are a number of English-speaking and international mother and baby / tot groups in Barcelona and Sitges such as: New mum meets - in the chill-out area at the back of Barcelona shop Mujer, The Big Crawl - weekly group for mums and tots in Barcelona for the more active, older babies, Barcelona Women´s Network Mums & Toddler group and Sitges Play Group - the only place in Sitges where mums and dads can stay and play with their children. Given that many parents in Barcelona have no option but to put their babies & toddlers into nursery at a young age due to work commitments, some mums have told us that there is a lack of day-time activities available for little ones in Barcelona. However, if you look hard enough there are a huge range of activities available for children in Barcelona such as yoga for mums and babies, fun & interactive music groups for babies and toddlers with Barcelona Tots, Baby Rock English sessions designed to introduce English to small children through the medium of music and movement, baby swimming classes and children's concerts.
Schools in Barcelona
Many feel that the single, largest problem facing most international families when relocating to Barcelona is where to educate our children. Whether to follow the Catalan system or whether to opt for one of the numerous international schools is hotly debated amongst Expats. The Catalan language proves to be the deciding point for most parents, many of whom are unaware before moving to Barcelona that this is the language in which their child will be educated. Many are also unaware that all correspondence between parent and school will be conducted purely in Catalan. State Education in Barcelona is co-educational, free and conducted in Catalan rather than Spanish. Places are allocated according to where you live and although education doesn't begin until the age of six many babies start at nurseries (guarderias) at the age of four months and almost all are at school (preescolar) full-time from the age of three. All children have the right to free education, however in many schools the demand simply outweighs the number of places resulting in a point system at the initial stages and then often a lottery is drawn with many parents unable to secure a place at the first school of their choice. Unlike in many European countries, there is limited job mobility within Catalonia, meaning that children normally remain at one school for the duration of their education and therefore it is not as common for places to open at a later stage. Bridget Nelson, of Planet English, offers an interesting insight into the education system: "International Schools generally have better facilities, in theory but not always the case – smaller class numbers , and teachers who have been trained in child – centred education. Of course the language is an important factor especially for families who expect to return to their country. For non English speaking parents wanting their children to attain a high standard in English – it´s also probably the best option. Disadvantages are that they are generally not so well integrated into the local community – especially in Barcelona, and probably don´t follow local culture or traditions so much. State Schools on the other hand, live their local culture to the full, but the class sizes can be quite big and in general educational methods are still quite traditional and in my opinion, not very child centred. Children who go to the local state school probably pick up Castellano and Catalan much quicker than children who go to International Schools."
Pregnancy in Barcelona
Barcelona´s maternity facilities range from large hospitals to smaller clinics and in medical terms, are regarded as being of a high standard. The bigger hospitals tend to operate under the social security system and the clinics under private insurance. Birthing options, however, are limited although this is beginning to change as more women are opting for a natural birth. Ante-natal or pre-pregnancy classes & groups are fairly difficult to come across in Barcelona but are on the increase. Many Catalan pregnant women often get advice from their own families so without family here, information can be scarce and conflicting.
This article has been submitted by Mary Brooke from Mum Abroad. www.mumabroad.com offers recommendations by local mums in Barcelona, Sitges, Girona, Tarragona, the Costa Brava and the Costa Daurada for childcare, education, activities and events.