Back home in the US, our life as a family of six can feel pretty busy. The kids are all involved in seasonal sports and weekends sometimes feel like we are just running everyone around to their games and practices. However, we generally just do one sport at a time, and usually our weekday afternoons are pretty quiet with a lot of downtime and time to get together with friends.
In Spain, kids get out of school at 2pm, which means there is a lot of free time in the afternoons. Since our goal was full immersion in the language and culture here, we decided to sign them up for a lot of extra curricular activities. Thankfully, this has all been very convenient and easy to manage, as well as extremely inexpensive by US standards.
Here are the activities each kid is involved in:
4-year-old: Music and Movement, Soccer, Swimming Lessons, and Rollerblading
7-year-old: Soccer, Tennis, Swimming Lessons, and Rollerblading
10-year-old: Soccer, Tennis, and Rollerblading
12:-year-old: Judo, Tennis, Fencing, Rollerblading, Trombone (starting soon)
Directly across the street from us is a Catholic school that our kids do not attend, but opens their extra curricular activities to children from other schools. They have extensive offerings there and two days a week our kids do all their activities there, which is incredibly convenient. The activities we do there are:
Music and Movement – Singing and dancing class for 4 and 5-year-old kids that our daughter attends twice a week. Our daughter is more interested in sports than this type of activity, but we thought the extra language exposure provided in a music class would be beneficial, and she seems to enjoy it. We pay 45 euros a month for this.
Rollerblading – Our kids play hockey back home and found their skills transferred over pretty well to rollerblades, so they signed up for the advanced skating class which takes place in the gym or patio. They are mostly playing different games and racing on skates during this hour-long class that they attend twice a week. The class is for ages 6-12, but when my oldest broke his arm I asked if his younger sister could temporarily take his place, so our 4-year-old has joined as well and skates well enough to keep up with the big kids. We pay 30 euros a month per kid.
Judo – Our oldest son had expressed some interest in wrestling before we arrived, and when I realized Judo was offered right across the street I thought he may want to give a it a try. He liked it so much that he decided to attend classes there 3 days a week, which costs us 38 euros a month.
Fencing and Trombone
Our 12-year-old also attends a fencing class which takes place about a 10 minute walk from our house. He goes once a week and we pay 10 euros a month. He will be starting up trombone lessons soon, now that he finally has an instrument. We attempted to ship his trombone from the US in September but it got lost in the mail and we eventually gave up on it and bought him a new one here. We have an instructor lined up to start with him soon in a couple weeks, and I am guessing the cost will be 10-15 euros per hour.
City Sports Complex
The kids do tennis and swimming at the main city sports complex which is about a 5-10 minute bike ride from our house. It is an incredible campus that includes multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, a gym, paddle tennis courts, etc. When we first arrived, we signed up for a monthly family membership which allowed free usage of the pools, but afterwards converted it to an annual membership since we made good use of it. The family membership cost about 400 euros for the year. This does not include use of the tennis courts, but we can reserve these when we want for 4 euros an hour.
The three boys are taking weekend group tennis classes on Saturday and Sunday. We had to pay for the first two kids at a rate of 60 euros per kid per quarter (about 10 weeks), but then the third kid was free since we had two kids already enrolled. We will often reserve the court for the hour after their lesson and play as a family.
I wasn’t planning on putting the kids in swimming lessons in Spain, but we were spending a lot of time at the pool and I realized that lessons were going on during the hours we were already there, so I ended up signing the younger two kids up for swimming lessons. The rate was similar to tennis for twice weekly lessons, but when I went to pay I was told that they were both free since we only had to pay for the first two kids enrolled in any sports programs there. There are many benefits like this available for large families in Spain.
The three younger kids are all playing soccer, which is Spain’s national sport and also the most popular activity at recess. They had all played soccer sporadically in the US, but it wasn’t a favorite sport for them so other activities usually took priority. Our oldest tried playing here during the first few weeks, but found that the age level he was in was a bit too advanced for him and the older kids were not very welcoming of a newcomer, so he decided to focus on other sports instead.
There are several differences between soccer in the US and soccer in Spain
- We are used to having a short soccer season of about 10 weeks in the spring or fall. Here, soccer is a yearlong commitment and they play from September to May, which is possible due to the warmer climate. The younger two kids practice for an hour twice a week and our 10-year-old practices for 90 minutes twice a week. Thankfully they all practice at the same time which makes it easier logistically.
- We are used to volunteer parent coaches but soccer is mostly run by professional clubs with paid coaches. There are a few schools which seem to also have teams as part of their after school programs, but the vast majority of teams are from one of the many local clubs.
- Our kids have always played in the low-key town soccer programs where they have received a team t-shirt and that is all. Here, they receive uniforms for practice and games, as well as additional gear. They each have a short sleeve/shorts practice uniform, a long sleeve/pants practice uniform, a separate game uniform which includes a shirt, shorts, and socks, and they also received a warm jacket with the team logo on it that they are supposed to wear to practices and games during the colder months. One of our kids plays goalie and got a separate shirt in a different color for games. The other surprising thing about gear is that no one wears shin guards here.
- For one, practices start way before games. They started practicing in September and our 10-year-old didn’t have his first game until early November and our 7-year-old started at the end of November. For the youngest division, which our 4-year-old is in, they just organize small matches within the club. Games are also very official and organized by the city. Kids needing to show ID cards before each game. Parent culture is definitely a bit more intense here, but not as bad as I was expecting. However, our 7-year-old goalie apparently heard a parent loudly criticizing his goalie skills after he let a goal in. Thankfully I didn’t hear it.
- Somehow soccer has not really caught on among girls in Spain. The teams our kids are on are technically coed and a few girls do play, but it seems like most teams are all boys with only a few having a girl or two playing. This probably is not creating a great culture for girl soccer players. Our 4-year-old is very comfortable playing with boys so I didn’t anticipate this being an issue for her. However, after the first session all the kids in her 4-5 year old age group switched their schedules and she was the only one left. She ended up joining her brother’s team of 6-7 year old boys for practices, which has worked out surprisingly well. The boys in the group are so sweet with her and cheer her on whenever it is her turn, and she is comfortable playing with them in the little scrimmages.
- Age ranges. Most town soccer programs in the U.S. just go up through middle school ages since after that kids play high school sports. Sports and academics are mostly separate in Spain, so the youth sports clubs go all the way up until 18. They are broken into two-year ranges based on birthyear, so kids born in 2005 and 2006 together form the category known as Alevin, for example. It seems that when kids get to around high school age, there are separate teams for girls.
- It’s hard to compare the cost to US soccer since the amount of playing time and included gear is so different. For each kid we paid a 120 euro registration fee which I assume covered the cost of all the clothes they got initially. The monthly cost after that is similar to other activities, about 40 euros a month, although there is a small discount for the second sibling and the third enrolled sibling is half price.
Clearly the kids have been keeping busy with activities, but the adults in the family have been quite busy as well. My husband is mostly busy with work. He is keeping the same schedule as his Boston colleagues so he works from about 3pm-11pm every day. I am taking the year off from my regular job, but have been teaching an online graduate school class which has no set schedule, so I can do work at any time of day.
My main priority during my time in Spain is to improve my level of Spanish. I studied Spanish in high school and college and had continued to work on it sporadically as an adult, but always felt like I still lacked confidence in communicating. I have connected with several people in my city who want to work on their English, and we have regular language exchanges in our homes or in cafes where we each get to practice speaking and listening. I generally have at least one of these language exchanges per day, and I am gradually noticing an improvement in my ability to understand when people speak quickly or when two Spaniards are speaking to each other. The kids’ progress has definitely been much faster, however.
For further practice with the language, I recently signed up for an African literature book club which meets at the public library right near our home twice a month. Reading in Spanish has always been a relative strength of mine, but it is still definitely a challenge to read entire novels in Spanish and has helped me learn new vocabulary and internalize some of the grammar.
My husband is also working on Spanish, though he has never studied it formally so had a pretty low level of Spanish when we arrived. He enrolled in a morning class which meets twice a week at a local adult education center and has been making very good progress.
I also signed up for tennis classes which meet three times a week at the nearby sports complex, which has been a great way to develop both my tennis skills and my language skills. My husband swims at the pool while I am playing tennis.
All the members of our family are keeping very busy in Spain, and we have found that participating in these activities helps us to feel even more connected to our local community. We also love that we are able to easily walk or ride bikes to all of our activities. Transitioning back to the U.S. and our minivan full of hockey bags in the back will be a big adjustment for us next year.