How to prepare your children for Croatian schools after relocation

International elementary eco school Bedekovčina, Croatia

PUBLISHED: 31.7.2023.

As a parent in a foreign country, you probably have some concerns about your child starting fresh in a new kindergarten or school – especially one that operates in a language they may not know.

How will they make friends? How will they learn if classes are taught in Croatian? What does the Croatian education system look like? These are only some of the parents’ worries.

The best way to kick off your stay in Croatia is to inform yourself about the educational system and learn how to help your child adapt to new surroundings and school. Here are some tips on how to do it.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

How to adapt your children to a learning environment in Croatia

How to help a child fit in Croatian school

First, talk to your child about moving to Croatia. Ask them what they think and how they feel. Paint a positive picture of the new environment. Don’t neglect their feelings for the place you’re leaving and their old friends. In fact, highlight them as justified.

The Croatian education system is specific, and school days are organized into shifts. One week, your child attends classes in the morning and the next in the afternoon. In the first grade of primary school, children don’t spend much time at school – usually only 4 classes per day. In other grades, it can be up to 6 or 7 classes per day.

[Read: School shifts in Croatian schools]

Security is the most important to children. You’ll give them a sense of security just by being calm with your decision and believing they will adapt to new surroundings. Your calmness and safeness will provide them with the same.

Tell them: “We’ll explore and learn together. I’m here for you! I’m looking forward to our adventure. What should we explore first?”

Play is your ticket to a child’s world. Turn everything into a game where you can participate together to give them the necessary security.

Learning about Croatia and passing them knowledge will also help them to fit in. Explore the Croatian education system, show them the Croatian culture, and discover which Croatian locations you’d like to visit after moving to Croatia. This way, children will have some prior knowledge and find new friends easier.

How to help your child socialize in Croatia

One of the great concerns of expat parents is the socialization of their children. However, children are spontaneous, honest, and open. They don’t have any secret motives; they just want to play and socialize.

Play Croatian games together

There is a popular Croatian board game called Čovječe, ne ljuti se, which you can buy in almost every supermarket. A whole family can play this fun game, which is great for developing concentration and attention.

Monopoly is another board game popular among kids learning about geography. There is a Croatian version too, called Cromopoly.

When playing outside, Croatian kids like to play Skrivača (Hide and seek) as well as Grupa traži grupu, where one group of kids hides, leaving clues for the other group to seek them.

You can also play Croatian card games together. The most popular games are Briškula, Trešeta, and Crni Petar for kids from age 9 and older.

[Read: 7 Croatian card games you can play right now]

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Tip for parents (local and expats)

Children should leave their phones at home!

Yes, language can be an obstacle in creating relationships but use play as a universal language with children. Always encourage first acquaintances than friendships. Don’t force it. Respect your child’s rhythm, and be by their side.

Finding new friends in Croatia

In Croatian cities, there are playgrounds in almost every neighborhood where younger kids play. This is also a great opportunity for parents to meet other parents.

If your child doesn’t attend kindergarten, you can enroll them in various activities. Sports and musical activities are trendy among Croatian kids. Sports clubs in larger and smaller cities bring children together and enable them to be more physically active and socialize. There is usually a membership fee.

[Read: How to enroll kids in kindergarten (vrtić) in Croatia]

Enrolling children in a Croatian school is always a great idea giving them the best opportunities to live, educate, and socialize in Croatia. They learn two foreign languages there (Croatian and English), so enrolling them in a foreign school is not a requirement.

Parents are responsible for their child’s education, but their no. 1 priority should be nurturing a relationship with their children. Talk to your children and be the support, comfort, and love they need.

What if a child has a hard time socializing?

If your child has a hard time socializing, be their support. Don’t insist and let them choose the time, place, and conditions.

Try to participate in group activities with your child and other kids, especially if they are younger than 5. Invite some friends to your home to play together. Your child may feel more free and relaxed in their personal space.

Why not try something new with your new friends? Prepare Croatian meals together or watch Croatian classic children’s movies: Vlak u snijegu, Čudnovate zgode šegrta Hlapića, Koko u Parizu, and Tajna starog tavana, filmed according to the books of the greatest Croatian children’s authors.

This phase may take some time, and your child should have you by their side to talk and get the necessary understanding, time, and patience.

[Read: Most significant children’s books by Croatian authors]

Having time for yourself

Adapting yourself and your family to a new environment (life, work, school) is stressful, so don’t forget about yourself. Sometimes being a parent can be exhausting. Many parents in Croatia drive children to school and extracurricular activities. They run around trying to take 2-3 kids to all possible activities. However, some cities and villages are pedestrian-friendly with the school at the heart of the neighborhood, which allows even young children to walk to and from school safely.

Take care of yourself and your relationships with people you care about. Don’t forget to have fun! This is probably one of the reasons why you are starting your new life in Croatia.

How to help children with learning in Croatian school

Language can be a barrier. Although children learn Croatian at school, you should consider hiring a teacher who will teach a child at home. There are Croatian language schools and freelance teachers who teach individually or in a group.

If you want to know if a teacher is good, stay with your child and observe:

  • How do they talk to your child – do they listen?
  • Is your child happy during the lessons? Children (and adults) can learn only from people they like.
  • Are lessons motivating and personalized?
  • Are lessons child-oriented – do they follow children’s needs and interests?
  • Is a teacher specialized in teaching children?

Ask a teacher about the curriculum and materials: workbooks, extra material, teaching methods, what they focus on, and do they spend time playing and exploring in nature. Talk openly with a teacher and tell them about your child.

If a child doesn’t speak Croatian at all, consider taking lessons with them and learning together. Parents are the best motivators for their children, they look up to them. Kids learn best by looking at their parents – what and how they do it.

[Read: Online courses for learning the Croatian language (both free and paid)]

When trying to help them learn,  contact the school and talk to your child’s teacher(s). Contact the school’s professional service if needed. They must answer all your questions about regulations and laws, language, learning, adapting, etc.

If your child needs help in organizing their learning time and space, decision-making, and problem-solving, make a plan. Show them how to organize their school bag, desk, and learning material. Optimize their computer for school through charts, sheets, calendars, or whatever works for them. Plan child and family activities together. Planning is crucial for children with learning problems.

In addition, focus on their good sides and talents and take baby steps. Focus on your child and not on class and other children. Add new activities step by step, and listen to your child – they will tell you what they need.

Breaks are as important as learning. Children should get out of the chair every 20-25 minutes and take a break – walk, have something to drink, and stretch.

Croatians insist their children attend extra curriculum activities such as sports, music, or learning foreign languages. Almost every child has at least 2 activities. However, this can’t be considered free time.

Children need non-structured play more than ever, but they have it the least. The more time they spend playing outside, with peers or you, the better. Sports, music, languages… Don’t they learn this at school already?

Communication with children: how to talk to them about living in Croatia

Communicating with children is one of the biggest issues in parenting. Here are some tips on how you can improve your communication skills about their new life in Croatia.

#1 Be honest

I like to tell parents: “Be honest with yourself and your child! This is the simplest and the most difficult thing in the world, but it always works.”

#2 Adapt to age

Learning about yourself and your child, understanding them, listening (for real), respecting them, and being the support and love they need are the basics of every parenting.

When speaking, always consider the child’s age so they can understand you and listen. Adults who are not ready to listen shouldn’t expect a child to listen to them.

#3 Be positive

Speak positively about the school. Tell them: “You will meet new friends, new teachers, learn exciting things about yourself and the world.”

Also, be realistic. Start preparing them for less exciting challenges like sitting in class and writing homework. Be honest, open, and ask them what they think.

#4 Reward

Starting a new school in a new country will be challenging. A good reward system for success or encouragement is to encourage your child toward their goals. Be their rock in times of need. Try not to criticize them too much. Instead, notice their good sides and listen to their side of the story, especially if they are teens.

Rights of children of foreign citizens in Croatian schools

According to the Law on education in primary and secondary schools of the Republic of Croatia called Zakon o odgoju i obrazovanju u osnovnoj i srednjoj školi, children of foreigners have equal rights as Croatian citizens when enrolling into Croatian schools.

[Read: How to enroll (or transfer) your child in a Croatian school]

They also have the right to primary and secondary education under the same conditions as Croatian citizens.

Children of foreigners attend additional classes to help them effectively master the Croatian language and compensate for insufficient knowledge in certain school subjects. They can attend 70 hours of the Croatian language in addition to regular classes in one school year.

Children also have the right to acquire knowledge of the mother tongue and culture of the country of their origin. They can learn about their mother tongue through programs focused on language (reading, writing, literature), culture, and history.

Mandatory and optional school subjects in Croatian schools

Children have mandatory subjects in school. There are only two optional subjects in the first grades of primary school: vjeronauk (religion) and informatika (computer science). They can pick one, both, or neither.

In 4th grade, they can choose another foreign language (usually German or Italian). From 5th grade to the end of primary school, informatika becomes mandatory.

In high school, children can choose between etika (ethics) and vjeronauk (religion). The chosen subject becomes mandatory for the entire school year, and they can enroll again in the next year, if they want. If you want your child to attend any optional subject, talk to the class teacher or school professional service.

Vjeronauk (religion) vs. ethics

Vjeronauk is a popular subject in Croatia among natives, but it is not mandatory. The purpose of this subject is to learn about the Catholic faith.

Religion is important to some Croatians, so their children attend this class. Others don’t pay too much attention to it, but their children attend the class like most other children. Only a small minority of children do not attend religion class, and they are usually not discriminated against.

In primary schools, vjeronauk is usually the first or last lesson of the day. Children who don’t attend it can come to school later or leave home earlier. If lessons are in the middle of the day, children can read at the school library, write, or play.

[Read: How to get a library card and borrow books in Croatia]

In secondary schools, children are allowed to choose between vjeronauk and etika. Ethics introduces ethics as a philosophical discipline explaining and examining moral views, decision-making, moral behavior, and actions.

Adapting to the Croatian education system, in conclusion

Insist on positive and open communication and collaboration with the school. Croatian school staff, teachers, and professors are extremely kind and open.

[Read: How to understand the Croatian culture: Part 2]

Be your child’s help, support, and love they need. Parents can’t and shouldn’t protect children from everything. It’s all part of growing up. Parents should show them how much they are worth, what they can do, and what to be proud of, but also share their own challenges of adapting to Croatia.

You should always emphasize to your children that you love them no matter what and are there for them. Find your own way to express that. Ask them how they feel and share your thoughts and feelings. Use their language – be honest and open, and they’ll understand you.

Enjoy Croatia with all that it has to offer, including the education system!

View our other educational articles

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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