Our first priority when we arrived in Santiago de Chile was to find a good kindergarten, or as they say in Chile, ‘jardin infantil’.
Childcare is quite different here in Santiago, with many parents relying on the services of a ‘nana’ (nanny cum maid). Still, nurseries are a big thing here and I thought to list some of the major differences I came across on during my hunt:
Bilingual v Chilean
We prioritised Chilean nurseries over bilingual alternatives, because our kids are young (two and four years old) and they were already exposed to a little Spanish, so the switch to a fully Spanish speaking environment wasn’t too much of a jump.
Bear in mind that if you do decide to go down the all Spanish route that staff will perhaps not speak any English, and all correspondence with parents will be in Spanish too.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting that not all bilingual institutions will offer English to the same standard, and not all staff will be fluent.
Healthy eating and allergies
Nurseries vary wildly in terms of the menus. Some we looked at did not offer meals at all, with parents asked to bring lunch boxes, drinks and snacks.
Others offered lunch on a sharing basis, with children scooping from the same dish in the centre of the table. I liked the idea in principle as it encouraged children to share and try new foods, but it wouldn’t work for our youngest child who has allergy issues.
One nursery we looked at claimed to offer healthy meals, but when I asked for a little more detail, I discovered that the term ‘healthy’ is rather subjective – Monday was cake day, Thursday was ice cream day, Friday was sausage and chips day… Juice and never water…
My kids’ nursery seems to celebrate a birthday every week, with other festivals and parties in between. With these events always come cake, biscuits and salty snacks galore. I’ve had to relax my standards a lot, and just accept that my kids eat far fewer treats at home to compensate for the sugar rush at their nursery.
On the other hand, other jardines are much stricter with no sugar or salty items allowed on the premises whatsoever. A couple do not allow any dairy or nut products on site due to allergy issues.
In the UK it’s common for kids to attend preschool for a few days per week, according to their parents’ availability.
Here in Chile it’s far more common to only offer attendance on every day of the week, but with a choice of coming for the morning, the afternoon, for a short day finishing at 3pm, or for a full day until 6pm. Many nurseries we looked at only offered the option of a morning or afternoon, but not full days.
Finding a space
When we started looking around for places, I emailed dozens of institutions and most were fully booked. However when I telephoned (in Spanish), some mentioned that I should still come and take a look.
One preschool director apologised that there was no space, but she was kind enough to point me in the direction of other good institutions.
Many stated there was no space by email, but when I visited in person, they offered to add me to their waiting list.
With regards to our current nursery, initially we were told that there were no spaces available, but then when I visited in person and pleaded, they managed to find room.
Moral of the story – it’s always worth checking in person, just in case.
Facilities and activities
If you’re coming from the US or the UK and are used to kindergartens with incredible facilities and activities on offer, you might be a little disappointed. Our UK nursery offered a messy play area, a sand pit, a painting corner, role play zones, music centres and a playground complete with herb garden.
Here in Chile, nurseries are much simpler. Most offer some sort of outdoor space and it’s worth checking how often the kids have access to the outdoors. Unlike us Brits, Chileans are rather wary of cooler climes, and when the clouds come out, the kids go in…
Some places look fancy, clean and modern, but the actual activities for kids are rather limited.
Check, check and triple check
I was warned against the ‘Vitamina’ chain of kindergartens, with three directors of other (fully booked) nurseries strongly urging us against sending our children to any of the branches. The general consensus was that staff spent more time on their phones or chatting to each other than caring for the kids.
When I last checked, word on the expat and Chilean mummy block was that each Vitamina branch varied a lot in terms of quality, and some were really good, but the particular kindergarten we had in mind wasn’t great.
Wherever you’re looking, ask around. Check Facebook groups, have a chat with other mums in your apartment block and at your local park.
Smaller nurseries will generally offer much more cross over in terms of age groups. Our nursery is split into four age groupings, but activities overlap a lot. This is especially nice for our youngest child who gets to see his older brother so he doesn’t feel too scared or lonely.
As a Brit, costs don’t seem too excessive here in Chile, But if you’re coming from the likes of Belgium with its subsidised care, please sit down with a stiff drink before reading any further…
We pay around $775,000 CLP (£880 GBP / $1,180,000 USD) per month for two kids to attend on a full time basis.
Most nurseries offer ‘delantales’ (aprons) to protect from getting too messy as well as a tracksuit style uniform and these are charged extra.
Special classes and activities also come at an extra cost for us, including yoga and taekwondo. It’s a little annoying on principle, but my kids really seem to enjoy them so hey ho.
Health and safety
Coming from the UK, where it’s standard practise to fill out a zillion parental consent forms on a termly basis, it was quite a culture shock arriving in Chile.
Accident forms, access key codes and many safety precautions that are a legal requirement in the UK simply do not exist.
Mobile phones are generally allowed within nurseries. Photos taken by staff will be passed around on Whatsapp group chats and while I’m generally OK with this, you might like to check if you’re not comfortable with photos of your children being shared so widely.
Don’t misunderstand me, however. All places I looked at were clean, with decent levels of hygiene. It’s worth checking that staff do go to the toilet with kids to check they’re properly clean – some seemed to let the kids fend for themselves. Eurgh.
One thing which I know is common in Spain too, which I find really odd is the use of perfume on kids. They call it cologne and generally spray it in their hair. My eldest child loves it and I’m not complaining. It’s just so damn weird.
On the whole, it’s refreshing to just see kids play without restriction, but it does freak me out at times.
In the UK, you drop your kids off, pay your bills and pick up your kids with a receipt of what they’ve done in the day.
Here in Chile it’s the other way round – you do the ‘work’ with your kids and show it off to the nursery staff. In fact it’s common for kids as young as one to be given homework activities, to display on the nursery walls.
I find this so odd. We are always doing fun stuff with our kids, especially on weekends, and it felt like a cop out on the nursery’s front.
However, I’ve since been told that many parents here don’t get as involved with their kids and it’s a way of ensuring that they actually spend time with their youngsters. Sad, but true?
These requests are typically very last minute. Having just moved into our new apartment and suffering some serious health issues, we got a note in our first week that we needed to come with a national dish a couple of days later. I was in and out of hospital so my husband took our kids that week – apparently our lack of effort didn’t go down well. Ooops.
In the UK, kids might be made a little more of a fuss over on their birthdays, but nothing compares to the parties in Chile.
Here in Chile, it’s common for parents to organise parties at the nursery itself. These can be big or small, with everything from a little cake and face painting to entertainers, DJs and bouncy castles. One thing always seems to dominate any party however – sugar.
I’ve now politely asked for staff to give me my kids’ party bags instead of stuffing them in their rucksacks. A five minute ride home with kids fighting over sweets, and my dairy intolerant youngest always going for the milk chocolate seems like an eternity.
As parents, you’ll be expected to bring treats for the parties too, as well as a gift. But don’t freak out, gift giving is a much smaller affair than in the UK. Most parents I know spend around $5-7,000 CLP (£5.5-8 GBP / $7.5-10.5 USD) per gift. We’ve now loaded the freezer with dairy free cake and stuffed our drawers with dozens of gift wrapped presents for these last minute parties.
Rules are out, love is in
One huge plus of reduced health and safety restrictions and a major benefit of the culture here is the staff attitude. Our nursery staff are all, without exception, lovely with kids. Hugging, kissing, love and affection are a big thing.
Yes, it’s true that there’s a lot I miss about our UK nursery, but in truth they’re all trifles compared to the bigger picture.
Anyone who loves and cares for my kids like our nursery staff do can’t really go that wrong. When I drop my kids off I don’t stress about the sugar, the salt, or the accident forms, but I leave safe in the knowledge that I’m leaving them in very, very loving hands.
Are you looking for a nursery here in Santiago? Do you already have kids at a jardin here? If you’ve any advice or queries, drop me a comment in the reply box below…