Are you thinking of home educating abroad – in Spain, for example? In Part 3 of our “Spanish Adventures” blog series – written with packing boxes piled around me as we approach the end of our 6 months here – I’m going to share my top 5 hints and tips for a successful long term stay in the Spanish Costas.
We’ve spent the past months enjoying the winter sunshine of the Costa Tropical on the south coast of Spain – the third time we’ve spent an extended period here when the cold and dark days in the UK get too much for us all. When we first decided to come, we were told that we’d all just “absorb” the language by being in amongst it, which I mentioned in my first blog (link: https://www.oxfordhomeschooling.co.uk/blog/home-schooling-adventures-spain-part-1/ ), but it turns out that this just isn’t the case. We’re effectively immersed in English just by being together as a family, and it takes a lot more work that we’d expected to be able to learn Spanish. There is nothing better than talking to a native speaker to be able to improve your spoken Spanish, as well as getting your ear in to understanding it. Many Spanish people want to improve their English and there will be no shortage of people happy to meet for a coffee and share some learning, and you’ll make new friends at the same time. The friendliness of the locals has been extraordinary, and their openness to supporting our Spanish learning has been wonderful.
Siestas and Fiestas – being prepared!
Opening hours in Spain are somewhat unusual to the English shopper, to say the least! Most shops will open at 8, or 9, or 10. Usually they close at 2, and open again at 4.30 or 5, until about 8pm and almost everything is closed on a Sunday. They may display their opening times at the shop entrance, but these are unlikely to be hugely reliable! This can be frustrating to home educating families who do “school” in the morning and then decide to head out after lunch – only to find that everything is shut for the next few hours. Watch out also for the shops that close at 2 on a Saturday and then don’t open again until Monday! Siestas are one thing but Fiestas such as the Fiesta Nacional being celebrated in the picture above (or even the more local ones) are a much bigger thing. If there’s one thing that the Spanish love, it’s a fiesta. Almost everywhere is closed on a big fiesta day, including some restaurants and bars, and as some fiesta days (and many bank holidays) are on Mondays you can be stuck without access even to a supermarket for several days at a time. Be prepared!
Coastal towns in Spain are packed with empty apartments and villas over the winter, closed up and ready for the busy summer season. Long term winter-only rentals can be found for a fraction of the cost of summer periods, especially for stays of a month or longer, frequently a quarter or a fifth of high season rates. Estate Agents, however, are often unhelpful, and can charge up to a month’s rent in commission, so my top tip here is to ask around rather than relying on them to find your winter home. Post on local Facebook groups, ask in shops, talk to people in the playground. Word of mouth is your friend here.
Town life starts at 9…pm!
Go for a meal in a restaurant in Spain, arrive before 8 in the evening, and you’ll most likely be dining alone. Many families don’t even think about eating before then and not until 9 is it that you’ll see tables start to fill. Playgrounds are frequently packed with small and medium-sized children until past my own bedtime, and the town plazas (squares) will be lively twilight spaces, filled with socialising adults and scootering children. It is common for music festivals to start at 1a.m. and go on until 5a.m., when bag-eyed adults stagger home for a couple of hours of sleep before heading in to work the next day. Despite spending so much time here, I still have no idea how they do it – it exhausts me just watching them!
Churros and Chocolate caliante
My final top, unmissable tip is churros and chocolate caliante. Churros are sticks of deep fried batter, similar to a donut but with a slightly lighter consistency. Served warm and freshly cooked with lashings of sugar, then dipped into thick, syrupy hot chocolate, churros are a love/hate treat best enjoyed as a family breakfast. Many towns have pop-up churrerias which appear on Sunday mornings, and sometimes they’re available in chiringuitos – restaurants and cafes which line the beach, or town restaurants. There is much to be loved about Spanish cuisine, and whilst it’s fair to say that churros and chocolate caliente isn’t the height of gastronomy, it’s still a not-to-be-missed experience of life in Spain.
We’ll shortly be leaving this amazing place and returning to the rain of England, but Spain will continue to hold precious memories and wonderful times, and invaluable, life-long learning experiences for our children, and also for ourselves. Spain is a wonderful country, and I would highly recommend it to home educating families.