Tag Archives: Spain

A Homeschooling month in Spain – Part 2

A homeschooling month in Spain

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-packed suitcases. It’s 4pm on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and outside the sky is darkening as the sun sets. In three days I will be climbing into our Ford Galaxy with my 11-year-old and my 10-year-old, and driving to the other side of Europe.

The next five weeks stretch ahead of me like a blank diary waiting to be written in. I feel giddy with a mixture of excitement and vertigo. By the time I’m back here in early March, unpacking these same suitcases, my head will be full of new memories.

What adventures do the next five weeks have in store for us?

Language school and knobbly cucumbers

Eight days and a road trip through Spain later, we sit in the bright, airy atrium of Spark Spanish, a family-run language school in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Andalucía.

A handsome young chico smiles and tells us he will be teaching Spanish to C(11) and J(10) every day for the next four weeks.  He introduces himself as Mario, which immediately endears him to my video-game-loving son.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
At the language school

Meanwhile I join four young women, all in their 20’s, in another room. One introduces herself as Marta, our Spanish teacher. An online test has placed me in Marta’s upper-intermediate class. She asks me – in Spanish – where I learned Spanish, and I tell her about my year living in Granada. I spoke the language fluently, but that was 22 years – half my lifetime – ago!

For the next two hours my brain whirs  and hums as long-neglected pathways start to wake up. My head aches a little by the time I peek, nervously, into the children’s classroom. Have they enjoyed their class? Has J(10), who hasn’t been in a formal classroom since he left school five years ago, managed to last the morning? Will C(11), who is eager to speak Spanish, be able to learn at the pace she wants, alongside her less enthusiastic brother?

Hurray – they’re both smiling! C(11) proudly recites a list of Spanish numbers. J(10) excitedly tells me how they taught Mario to play Sudoku and  created a huge puzzle together. I don’t think he even noticed the numbers were in Spanish.

Opposite Spark we see a tiny shop. We buy fragrant olives scooped from an enormous glass jar, a short, knobbly cucumber, and a golden brown barra still warm to the touch. Our tummies rumble as the scent of bread and garlic fills the car as we drive home.

After lunch we stroll for five minutes through the terracotta and sunshine yellow houses of our new neighbourhood to the beach.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
Off to the beach…
A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
‘Our’ beach

And so our days begin to acquire a new rhythm, and our us-schooling month in Spain unfolds …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
J(10) enjoying the space

Us-schooling in Spain

In the absence of her usual busy schedule of extra-curricular activities, C(11) finds time to paint …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… take photos …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

… and record a song, for which she films a video with her brother. The canine members of our family happily join in {video below} …


C(11) makes new friends by helping out with the English classes Spark run after school, and she and J(10) make a film at the language school {video below}.  Look out for J(10)’s creepy carnival mask, and for my cameo at around 3 minutes 50 seconds …

J(10), meanwhile, is more of a homebody than his wanderlust mother and sister. So I’m very appreciative of the way he makes the best of our month away.

He attends four weeks of Spanish classes without complaint. When he’s not in class or playing on the beach, he’s happily absorbed at his computer, ascending the levels of World of Warcraft.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain 6  Navigating By Joy

He listens to so many audiobooks that I almost forget what he looks like without headphones …

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Audiobook heaven

A taste of Spanish culture

My mum joins us for a week and we visit Cádiz, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Western Europe …

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Visiting Cádiz with my mum

… and we drive through red mountains to the delightful resort of Estepona, where we bask in the mild Mediterranean air …

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
C(11) and her Grandma in Estepona

… and C(11) and J(10) choreograph some play fighting on the beach {10 second video below} …


Ten-year-old bullfighters

C(11) and I go on a guided tour of El Puerto’s bullring – the third largest in Spain.

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The bullring at El Puerto de Santa María

We realise how deeply embedded bullfighting is in Spanish culture when we see children brandishing capes in the ring – learning to be a torero is apparently an after-school activity in Spain!


My husband James joins us for our final weekend in Spain, and we join the locals celebrating spring Carnivale.

Carnival time
Carnival time

Adios, España

On 28 February the sun blazes down on our Spanish friends flocking to the beach to celebrate Andalucía Day, but it’s time for us to  pack up cram into the car and say goodbye – for now – to El Puerto de Santa María.

A homeschooling month in Spain - Navigating By Joy
¡Hasta Luego, España!

There are still a few more treats to come, though. I knew nothing about the city of Mérida – I chose it because was convenient for our route. So I am thrilled when we turn a corner to see this enormous Roman aqueduct, through whose arches we watch the sun set on our penultimate day in Spain.

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Roman aquaduct at Mérida, Extremadura at sunset (top) and the next morning

Looking back

I sit on the floor, surrounded by half-unpacked suitcases. I think back to that January afternoon when I wondered, tingling with excitement and adrenaline, what the next five weeks held in store.

I look at the sun-kissed faces of my children and the hundreds of photos I’ve taken, and think of my journal, whose pages record the many tiny joys that together made up our Spanish life. I hear J(10) absent-mindedly say gracias to his sister, and I smile.

A Homeschooling Month in Spain - Navigating By Joy

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – part 1.


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

History & Geography Meme 162 at All Things Beautiful

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #27

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

A homeschooling month in Spain part 1 – Roadtrip to Andalucia

A homeschooling month in Spain

When you homeschool, you have the flexibility to learn what you want, when you want – and where you want. So if you want to take off on a big adventure in the middle of a school term, you can. That’s exactly what we did this winter.

I began planning our 5-week-trip to southern Europe a year ago.  I wanted to give C(11) and J(9) the opportunity to learn a second language and experience a culture different from our own. I chose Spain, because I’d enjoyed an adventure of my own there when I was twenty-two.

We (the children and I) left England in January and returned in March. (Who wouldn’t want to swap England’s wintery skies and bleak landscape for the golden sunshine and vibrant orange trees of southern Spain?)

A homeschooling month in Spain
Car ready to go with all the essentials, like 2 guitars and a giant Lego brick

Pet passports and a Spanish house

Planning the logistics of the trip kept us busy throughout January.

We had to arrange Spanish classes and find accommodation, have our dogs vaccinated against rabies in order to obtain passports for them, plan our route, and buy funny little stickers to stop the headlights of our right-hand-drive car blinding drivers in Spain.

The children enjoyed helping with the preparations, like being taught by the vet how to scan our dogs’ microchips.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Setting off from home

Planning our route

First we had to decide how to cross to mainland Europe. Initially I’d planned to take the car on the the Eurotunnel train from Dover to Calais (the shortest distance between Britain and France) and then drive through France to Spain.

But then I compared the 22 hours’ driving that would involve with the 9 hours if we took a ferry all the way to northern Spain. The ferry won – I like audiobooks, but not that much.

Plus the ferry had a cute little cinema where we watched Night At The Museum 3 in seats that gently swayed as the ship rolled down the Bay of Biscay. It was a bit like being in a  4D theatre at DisneyWorld (a little too much, in fact, when we watched Exodus on the return trip and the ship lurched alarmingly as the Red Sea came thundering down on the Egyptians).

A homeschooling month in Spain
On the ferry to Spain

After two nights on board ship, our first glimpse of Spain was the snow-capped mountains of Santander set against the beautiful pink-grey light of dawn.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Disembarking in Spain – Santander at dawn

We made two overnight stops on our journey south, at Salamanca and Cáceres.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our route to the other side of the continent

The weather in Salamanca wasn’t very different from the rain we’d left behind, but we knew we weren’t in England anymore when a fellow dog-walker commented on the ‘mal tiempo’. No one in England would bother commenting on damp, grey weather in January!

A homeschooling month in Spain
At the park in Salamanca
A homeschooling month in Spain
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor, which the children said reminded them of St Marks Square in Venice

Next day we drove over mountains and across plains to Cáceres, a beautiful city which still shows off its Roman roots.  We could tell we were further south by the milder air – I was gleefully shedding layers by the hour – and by the orange trees among which C(11), J(9) and the dogs played parkour, running off the energy they’d stored up sitting in the car.


{30 second video – free-running among the orange trees}

A homeschooling month in Spain
Exploring the old (Roman) quarter of Cáceres


As well as the gorgeous scenery, a couple of excellent audiobooks kept us entertained on our long drive.

One was a hilarious history of Britain which the kids listened to again repeatedly on their own devices for the next few weeks. It’s an adult book but if you’re interested in the title, let me know in a comment.

The second was Cosmic, an off-the-wall, laugh-out-loud family listen by Frank Cotterell-Boyce, who is probably our favourite author at the moment.

Are we there yet? Yes!

On Saturday evening – four days after we’d left England – we arrived in El Puerto de Santa María, and began to get acquainted with the house that was to be our home for the next month.

A homeschooling month in Spain
Our Spanish home. “Er, what are we doing now, then?”

The first thing we did was head straight to the beach to bask in the sunset.

A homeschooling month in Spain
El Puerto de Santa María at sunset

See also A Homeschooling Month in Spain – Part 2.

* * *

I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop 25

History & Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Planning a Spanish Adventure

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure


My rucksack was heavy on my back as I knocked tentatively on the door of the Cappucinas hostel in Granada, Spain. I’d spoken with the proprietress on the telephone a few days earlier but my Spanish – self-taught from a BBC book over the preceding few months – wasn’t strong enough for me to be sure whether I’d actually booked a room for the night.

An elderly Señora wearing a white cotton nightgown greeted me with mild surprise. She ushered me in, showed me to a bedroom, and disappeared back to bed. I never did find out whether or not she’d been expecting me.

I was 22 years old. I had £300 saved from my summer job, and a piece of paper certifying that I could teach English as a foreign language. In exactly one year I was due to start work in London as a commercial lawyer. I didn’t know a single person in Spain, and I had no job lined up.

How intrepid we were back in those pre-internet days!


Fast forward 22 years and I’m planning another Spanish adventure. I know from experience that the best way to learn a language is to spend time in a country where it’s spoken, so I’d always planned to take my kids abroad for a few months during their homeschooling years.

In my half-formed imaginings, my children would be teenagers and we’d be spending a long summer in rural France.

But over the last year, as friends have started to talk about their teens sitting exams, it’s dawned on me that instead of waiting, now might be the perfect time to go. And when C(10) expressed an interest in learning Spanish, I realised how much sense it made for her to learn a language I already speak.

We’ll start by going away for a month. My husband (who has to stay home for his work) is very supportive, but I don’t want to abandon him for an entire season. Four weeks is more like an extended holiday – enough time to immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to find out what we might do differently if we ever go for longer.

As for when to go… When you’re homeschooling in the northern hemisphere, what better time to head off for an adventure in sunnier climes than … February?

More on the practicalities of our forthcoming trip below. But first, here’s a glimpse of our first family trip to Spain, earlier this year.

A taste of Spain

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
We watched flamenco dancers stamp out passionate rhythms as we dined on tapas of manchego cheese, serrano ham, olives and almonds.

The children visited the Moorish palace, Granada’s Alhambra {the “h” is silent}, for the first time.

Planning a Spanish homeschool adventure
View of the Alhambra from Granada’s old town, the Albaicin

Back in 1992, entrance to the Alhambra was free on Sundays.  I spend many happy days within its intricately decorated walls and wandering through the lush gardens of the Generalife.

Alhambra collage jpg
Inside the Alhambra


View from the Alhambra
Views of Granada from the Alhambra

Granada also has a very modern side, as we discovered when we visited its science park.

Planning a Spanish Homeschool Adventure
Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias contains hundreds of indoor and outdoor hands-on exhibits. There’s even a tropical butterfly house.

Down on the Mediterranean coast, we enjoyed afternoon promenades along Nerja’s “balcony of Europe”.

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
El Balcón de Europa, Nerja

And visited the famous Caves of Nerja, which are home to the world’s largest stalagmite, a towering 32 metres high!

Planning a homeschool Spanish Adventure
Las Cuevas de Nerja


Planning a month-long trip overseas – Practicalities

1. Where to go

Back in 1992 I chose to spend my gap year in Granada because a fifth of its population were university students. Granada is a beautiful city, but for my long trip with the children I want to go somewhere smaller, ideally on the coast.

While I was in Granada, a uni friend was teaching English 200 miles away in the town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, near Cádiz on the south-west coast of Spain. Granada is situated high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains – which makes for chilly winters. When I visited my friend, I basked in the warmth of El Puerto’s mild December air on my skin, and was entranced by the orange trees lining the pretty streets.

I’m hoping that El Puerto de Santa Maria will be the perfect setting for our February adventure. We’re visiting in a couple of weeks to check it out and to meet the staff at the local language school, a very well-organised outfit I’ve been emailing over the last few months.

3. Spanish and social life

As there won’t be many other non-Spanish children around in February, the language school have agreed to provide private Spanish classes for C(10) and J(9). And while they’re learning, I’ll be brushing up my own Spanish in adult group lessons.

The language school run a full social program which we’ll be welcome to participate in. And as the school also teach English, they’ll arrange for C(10) and J(9) to get together for intercambio with Spanish kids wanting to practise their English.

C(10) has been learning Spanish with me for several months. J(9) hasn’t shown much interest so far, but he’s looking forward to our trip.  Perhaps this kids’  phrasebook will inspire him to learn a few words of Spanish before we go.

Spanish phrase book

4. Homeschooling

The children will be learning heaps simply by being immersed in another culture for five weeks. But with our computers, whiteboards and Ed Zaccaro maths books we should also be able to continue learning in Spain as we do at home.

What we may lack in science and art supplies, I’m sure we’ll make up for in other learning opportunities!

5. How to get there

I know that for many people driving long distances is no big deal, but when you live in a country that’s 847 miles by road from one end to another, 1500 miles it’s a big road trip!

Financially, it would probably work out the same to fly. But when I balanced the cost and hassle of flying us all (including dogs) plus hiring a car for the month, against the convenience of taking our own car (filled to the roof rack, no doubt, with essential stuff, despite my best minimalist intentions), the road trip won.

Google Maps says it’s a 21.5 hour journey, which we’ll spread over 4 days. Here’s our route:

Our route to Spain

We’ll make two overnight stops in France, and one in Spain. And we’ll listen to lots of audiobooks in between!


The year I spent in Spain was one of the best of my life. I become fluent in Spanish, learned to dance Sevillanas (badly) and made friends from over a dozen different countries.

But more than that, creating a whole new life miles away from everyone I knew and loved helped me to grow in ways I could never have anticipated.

I came back so confident that after a few weeks working two jobs, I squeezed in another month travelling around Europe on my own before I began my law career. Perhaps I’ll write about that here one day.


I’m so grateful to my younger self for having that adventure. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating taking my tweens off to Spain now.

I know a month with their mother isn’t quite the same as a year on one’s own, but I’m hoping that the experience will give C(10) and J(9) a taste for adventure in other cultures.

J(9) wants to go to Japan and learn Japanese. That’s just slightly beyond my comfort zone right now, but never say never…!


Have you ever made a long road trip with kids?

Any tips for overnight stops in France or Spain?

Got any audiobook recommendations?


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Finishing Strong #35 at Education Possible

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop at Marie’s Pastiche

History and Geography Meme at All Things Beautiful

A Day In Spain

Today we went to Spain! Well, virtually 🙂 With the help of You Tube, we tapped our feet to flamenco guitar, danced to the Gypsy Kings, and watched in awe as robed, hooded figures carried the Virgin Mary up Granada’s winding, hilly streets during a silent midnight Semana Santa parade.

We admired Spain’s flag: C took pleasure in colouring its intricate coat of arms beautifully.

J was surprised to find chain mail on the flag.  (We recently tried our strength lifting chain mail at a Medieval History Activity Day – we have new respect for medieval knights!)

We found Spain on our inflatable globe, coloured it on an outline map of Europe, and C and J noted with surprise the anomalous British rock, Gibraltar, off Spain’s southern-most coast (and enjoyed my stories of how I would treat myself to Heinz baked beans and Typhoo tea there when I lived in Spain!)

J and C learnt some essential Spanish phrases – hello, thank you, chocolate ice cream, etc.  And best of all, we lunched on patatas bravas, chorizo and tortilla at our local tapas restaurant, which really made us feel like we were ‘”de vacacionnes en España” 🙂

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