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I am currently in the process of trying to get my 21-month-old son Luca into a guardería (nursery) for September. My pediatrician asked me if he has been “socializing” and when I looked at him blankly (images of Luca toddling unsteadily through a cocktail party filling my mind), he proceeded to lecture me for five minutes about why it was important that he begin to socializar very soon. I cannot remember any of the specific reasons but he left an impression. An impression of my son at 23 years old, huddled under his Star Wars sheets, as he chats online with his only friend, a 47-year old Civil War reenacter. All because I didn’t send him to a guardería to learn how to socialize properly.
This seems to be the general viewpoint of most of the locals I meet. Babies and toddlers must socialize and the best way to do this is in a guardería. For most, this notion makes practical sense. The majority of parents in Barcelona both have jobs, which makes sending young children to full-time daycare the only option. A few weeks ago, Spain’s Minister of Work and Immigration stated in an article in La Vanguardia that if he had to choose one measure above all others to promote equality, efficiency of the economy, capacity, production and wealth for the country, it would be for all children to be enrolled in school immediately after birth.
For us expats, these attitudes towards the role and necessity of the guardería can pose a few problems. For personal, cultural or work-related reasons, many of us do not want full-time childcare and in most guarderías, there is very little flexibility when it comes to part-time options. The American/English preschool model in which a child attends only a few hours for a few mornings a week is practically non-existent. In most public guarderías, it is assumed that the child will attend every day for at least 5 hours and although many private guarderias offer half-day options, the fees are usually more or less the same as for a full day.
This leaves many of us to choose between having our kids at home with us ALL THE TIME (an option which can lead to varying degrees of poverty and/or insanity), or paying more money than we want, to send them to a guardería for more time than we want.
I work in the mornings, so when we first moved to Barcelona last year and couldn’t find a local guardería that worked for us, I hired someone to come and watch Luca in our house for three hours every morning. This has worked beautifully because I was lucky enough to find a student who is super-responsible, kind, loving and creative. Unfortunately she is moving to Madrid at the end of the summer and thus, the search for a guardería.
According to the majority of Barcelona natives, the public guarderías are generally superior to private guarderías (which are run as businesses). Unfortunately, it can be tough to get a place in the public guarderías. Due to their low prices and excellent reputation, the demand is high and children are selected based on a maddeningly elusive point system, which takes factors such as income and the distance you live or work from the guardería into account. However, this year the number of places in Barcelona’s public guarderías has been doubled so there may be more hope than in the past.
As for me, all the public guarderías in my neighborhood are too far away for convenience. I also want Luca to go for only a few hours every morning, which isn’t an option with the public guarderías. In the end, I’ll probably put him in one of the nearby private guarderías, most of which offer a 9am-12pm option. I’ve already visited several and found that the half-day prices range from about €200 to 400 per month (full-time which includes lunch, generally costs about €75-100 more). So far I haven’t found quite what I’m looking for. There was the one where the director was so chipper that I was sure she was either on speed or spent her former life as a Disney character. Then there was another one where the walls were completely covered in a kind of faux wood that triggered a series of flashbacks to the Seventies involving station wagons and dimly-lit basement recreation rooms. Clearly, I haven’t yet found 'the one' but I’m trying to remain positive. In the meantime, what are your childcare solutions? Do you stay home with your kids, send them to a guardería or hire someone in? How has it worked for you so far?
For those of you who are still looking like I am, here are some options:
Hire a canguro (Babysitter)
-Ask for recommendations on an expat forum such as Mumabroad or post an announcement on a babysitting web site such as Canguro En Casa. This is what I did last year and within two days, I had about 20 very well-qualified candidates to interview. Depending on the job, a regular canguro will generally cost anything from €5-8/hour.
-If you work from home, you can stay in your pajamas all day.
-Your child will begin learning another language.
-Your child will receive individual attention.
-If your canguro is anything like mine has been, every surface of your house will be covered in abstract works of art constructed primarily out of empty milk cartons and toilet paper tubes.
-Your pediatrician (and other local do-gooders) are apt to worry that your child is not “socializing” enough.
-You might not like the person you hire which is no fun at all.
Send your child to a local guarderia.
-If it’s a public one, the fees will be low.
-Your child will begin learning a new language (probably Catalan but maybe a bit of Castilian as well).
-Your child will socialize with his peers.
-Local guarderias tend to be quite inflexible when it comes to adaptation periods (in other words, two seconds after you drop off your kid the first day, you can expect to have the door shut firmly behind you).
-Your child may have to spend more hours per day at the guarderia than you would prefer.
-The official public guardería website. Registration for September is happening RIGHT NOW (May 2nd to 14th) so if you want to try and get a spot for your kid, download the forms on the site, fill them out and then take to the guarderia where you want to register.
-Here is a list of most of the private guarderias in Barcelona. Although the typical registration period is in the spring, you can call at any time of year to see if there is an open spot.
Send your child to an international nursery.
Some of these nurseries offer full-time options while others offer programmes where a child can go for just a few mornings or afternoons a week.
-Your child will be taught in a familiar language.
-You can usually pick a schedule of attendance that is much more convenient for you.
-International nurseries are more likely to be flexible in terms of adaptation periods.
-Your child will not have as much exposure to new languages.
-Unless you live near one of these nurseries, it might be a real pain to haul your kid all the way there when the sessions are sometimes only a few hours long.
-The fees at international nurseries tend to be higher.
-Kids in Barcelona has a list of several of the international nurseries throughout Barcelona.