Pre-school education

Kindergarten and nursery schools in Spain

Spain has a long tradition of state-funded pre-school (educación infantil), with over 90 per cent of children aged three to five attending for at least a year before starting compulsory schooling.

The term pre-school embraces play school, nursery school (guardería), kindergarten (jardín de la infancia) and infant school (escuela infantil). Note, however, that the provision of public and private pre-school facilities varies considerably with the town and the region, particularly regarding state schools.

State pre-school education is divided into two cycles: First Cycle (primer ciclo/ciclo 1º) for children aged one to three and Second Cycle (segundo ciclo/ciclo 2º) for ages three to six. Attendance is voluntary and free in public centres in many areas.

There are also many private, fee-paying nursery schools, usually taking children aged from two to six, some of which are part of a primary school. Arrangements are generally flexible and parents can choose attendance during mornings or afternoons, all day, or only on selected days. Many schools provide transport to and from homes. Fees are generally low and schools are popular, well organised and good value.

Note that some nursery schools are more nurseries than schools, and simply an inexpensive way for parents to obtain supervised childcare. The best pre-schools are designed to introduce children to the social environment of school and concentrate on the basic skills of co-ordination, encouraging the development of self-awareness and providing an introduction to group activities. Exercises include arts and crafts (e.g. drawing, painting and pottery), music, dancing, educational games, perceptual and motor activities, and listening skills. During the final years of nursery school, the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic are taught in preparation for primary school. There are plans to teach English from the age of three or four in state schools throughout Spain. Children are also taken on outings and it’s common to see groups of small children ‘roped’ together (for their own protection), being shepherded by a teacher.

Nursery school is highly recommended, particularly if your children are going to continue with a state education. After one or two years of nursery school they will be integrated into the local community and will have learnt Spanish in preparation for primary school. Research (in many countries) has shown that children who don’t attend pre-school are at a distinct disadvantage when they start primary school.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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