American Mom Compares Spain and US for Kids

American Mom Compares Spain and US for Kids

  • My family moved from the US to Spain because of my husband’s job in the military. 
  • While my kids didn’t speak Spanish, the adjustment was easy. 
  • Returning to the US was harder for them than moving to Spain. 

In August 2019, my husband, three children, and I embarked on our next journey as a military family. My active-duty husband received military orders to Rota, Spain, marking our second move since he joined the US Navy.

From Groton, Connecticut, to sunny San Diego, California, our previous permanent change of station did not prepare us for this moment. For the first time, we were leaving behind more than family and friends. Instead, we were wishing a farewell to our cultural norms.

Our new normal officially began as we spent hours during our flight going over common Spanish phrases to prepare for our transition. For the next three years, Spain was the place we called home.

We decided to live in military housing at the Naval Station to ease our adjustment to this significant change. Living on base was like a small American city planted on Spain grounds. Nevertheless, we were desperate for our children to experience the Spanish culture, making school the perfect gateway.

Our children attended Centro de Educacion Infantil y Primaria before switching to David Glasgow Farragut Elementary School on base. Despite the language barrier and sudden culture shock, I did not expect what was to come.

My husband and I prepared for the worst, expecting an agonizing first month of school filled with demands to book the soonest flight back to the States. Instead, they fell in love with their new home. However, we were certain our return to the US would be easier, but surprisingly, this wasn’t the case. In fact, our return was harder, and here’s why.

My toddler started school earlier in Spain

In the US, children are expected to start school at 5 years old, making preschool optional and, in most cases, out-of-reach for parents who could not afford it.

Contrastingly, I didn’t have to submit a 30-page application, enter a lottery, pay large sums of money, or submit pay stubs to qualify for state-funded preschool. Instead, 3 is the starting age for all children to attend school in Spain, allowing my toddler to get a head start sooner than her peers in the US.

Their school started later in the day, which allowed them to rest properly

Unlike the US, where preparing for the day can start as early as 5:30 a.m. to make it to school by 7:25 a.m., Spanish schools start later. It was common to see children strolling to school between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. The extra hour of rest made a huge difference.

Our children were less cranky, much more alert, and we didn’t feel the pressure of the morning rush. I’ve also noticed a change in their attitude, allowing them to absorb more information throughout the day enthusiastically.

Since our return to the US, it took an entire year before tardy passes became a thing of the past.

Their school was dated, but they got so much love from teachers

The first thing our children noticed was the dated school buildings. It became evident that there was minimal effort to keep up with modern times. I’m sure the school they attended looks exactly how it was built in the 1960s. However, the gold was hidden within the ancient walls, revealing less emphasis on infrastructure and more on love.

Our children were greeted with more hugs and kisses than I’ve ever seen in a school. They were deeply embraced, and when in trouble, parents were quickly reminded that they were just kids. Discipline was far and few, and although my American parenting style craved for a strict rule or two, I was thankful for a community that accepted them with open arms.

My kids ate better food

Without the hefty price tag, the quality of food our children received was superior. The combination of freshly cooked, well-balanced, and nutritional full-course meals was unlike anything I’ve seen in an American school lunchroom. In fact, lunch in Spain resembled a typical meal you’d find at your local dine-in restaurant.

As a result, my children have lost the desire to eat overly processed pre-made American school lunches, forcing me to get creative with Bento boxes on Pinterest. Considering the rise of childhood obesity, this would be the perfect place to start implementing change.

There were no school shootings in Spain while we were there

Safety will continue to be the most common concern among parents who must leave their children in the hands of their school district. From bullying to unexpected accidents and school shootings — these have remained at the top of the list of worries for American parents.

I still yearn for the peace we’ve felt in the schools in Spain. As the number of school shootings continues to climb in the US, Spain maintains its clean record free of school shootings.

The safety we’ve felt was incomparable. Our children could walk to school without my attendance or an ounce of fear.

Spain has changed my family in ways that I could never repay. Today, we’ve adopted some of the Spanish culture, bringing a piece of Spain with us everywhere we go.