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Young Families in the Costa Ballena: What it’s Like to Bring Your Kids to Costa Rica

We all know that it’s a complicated world to be raising kids in today and there is no sense in pretending that we are a parenting blog.  But if you are a parent of young children, imagine another way to live… One where you spend far more time with your family and get back to nature on a daily basis.

In Costa Rica, expat parents are finding a new way to work – either remotely online with their current business or employer, or starting a new business from their home or studio space. The may not be earning as much vacation money as before (or maybe some do) but their everyday lives have become more like an extended family holiday, surrounded by wildlife, beaches and tropical weather.  And their children find a way to cope with the change, too.  Honestly, it’s not that hard to enjoy a stunning natural setting and friendly, welcoming community when it’s all around you.  Every year, more parents of young kids are finding that it’s far easier to return to the simple life than they imagined!  Their kids still go to school in English but they get to learn another language and have the impactful experience of being immersed in another culture.

But where do parents with young children move to in the Costa Ballena? The easy answer is: anywhere, because you will find more and more young expat couples with small kids in nearly any community in the Southern Zone.  Instead, check out the information below about what the Costa Ballena has to offer kids (and parents, too!)

Schools

Most expat parents want their children to graduate with a US or International diploma. In order to do so, they need to begin attending a US accredited school in secondary school. Nevertheless, many parents will tell you that school here are not limiting, and children who have graduated from secondary schools locally have gone on to study in places around the world with success.

There are three English language private schools, where Spanish is taught as a second language, and of course there are a number of Costa Rican public schools.

Escuela Verde – Learning beyond classroom studies, students are exposed to experts from a variety of fields who teach them hands-on experience in topics like botany and permaculture.

Uvita Christian Academy – students graduate with a US diploma that is internationally accredited. UCA hires graduates of Greenhead College in the UK who take the classroom outdoors for fun and educational field trips.
*Both above schools are recommended for their good curriculums, avenues for social & lingual (with UCA also spiritual) development, and instructors who have a passion for teaching children.

Kabe International Academy – due to open in September of 2018, the school’s mission is to passionately educates for the future in order to contribute positively to our community and world.

Local schools – Uvita public school and Cortez schools are a lesser chosen but richly rewarding learning experience where expat students will learn to speak and write fluent spanish, and integrate well into the local community.

After-school Activities

A number of organized after-school activities and programs exist for kids in the Costa Ballena, teaching skills, engaging talents, and exploring the wonders of the region.  Here are a few options (not all are regular or ongoing; this list is more of an example of what types of organized activities are available and popular in the Costa Ballena).

Team sports – pick up games can be found on any beach or field, but playing on a competitive level is available, too, and a great way for kids to learn Spanish in a fun environment. Places like the Eden Community Center in Uvita have a calendar of events open to the public or to sign up for coaching.

Junior Lifeguard Program – Lifeguards Without Borders occassionally provide a Junior Lifeguard Program for the youth in the Costa Ballena region with the aim of teaching boys and girls how to respect the ocean and the dangerous currents and big waves. Kids also learn about treating common injuries, practice a bit of endurance training, swimming, and other exercises.

Yoga Drop Off Camp – Typically happening during school breaks, where parents sign up kids for a day camp to practice yoga, meditation, and a respect for nature.

Dance classes – Happy Feet Ballet Academy and Starlight Productions are two dance schools in the Costa Ballena that have world-renown instructors and producers putting on local productions of exemplary quality and skill.

Centro Educativo School Break Activities – Electronic Music and The Art of Printing are two courses offered this year to keep kids learning and entertained during this month’s school break and are catered to different age groups.

Entertainment

The thing about living in the Costa Ballena is that typical vacation-type activities can be an everyday norm! Here are a few that families can partake in without a huge financial investment: surfing, boogie boarding, playing in waterfalls, hiking/exploration, horseback riding, visiting National Parks and animal sanctuaries, snorkeling at nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, river cruising, ziplining, night animal tours, and quite a few more that are free or cheap.

Live Music – Because kids love dining out and live music, places like the Jolly Roger in Dominical and the Bamboo Room in Ojochal offer earlier live music (also popular with the retired expat, too) for the whole family to enjoy. Most restaurants have kid-friendly menus and the indoor-outdoor environments that are typical of Costa Rica mean that kids have room to play while waiting for food.

Museums – San Jose has a few options to offer, including the Children’s Museum, National Theatre, and Jade Museum. But a bit closer to here is Finca 6, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can learn about the mysterious Diquis Spheres.

Animal sanctuaries and nature reserves – there are many volunteer organized shelters, sanctuaries and reserves that have a number of programs that help educate kids and adults in the local community about protecting species and their environment; as well as community outreach and taking steps to help species under the care and guidance of experts.

Shared events –  Things like community movie nights are becoming more regularly scheduled events at the Escuela Verde, with doors opening at 5pm and a small entrance fee, with all are welcome to attend and lots of families with young kids as regulars.

Shopping and Services

Because many families move to Costa Rica to lead a more natural lifestyle complete with healthy, organic foods, there are a growing number of farmers’ markets in the Costa Ballena.  The Eco Farmers Market in Dominical is open on Fridays from 8am to 1pm at Patrons Restaurant for organic produce and hand-crafted goods. Mama Toucans in Dominical offers daily shopping over over 5000 items, all certified organic. Sur Organico is a daily vendor of organic produce in Uvita and there is a Wednesday mercado in the center of Bahia Uvita.

English-speaking pediatricians are available in the Costa Ballena. Dr. Maria Gustavo works out of her office in Uvita and at the Cortes Hospital, and she speaks English (2743-8743); and Dr. Jaime at the pharmacy provides cards and vaccinations.

Uvita Daycare charges $250 a month for 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, and can communicate in German, English, French and Spanish. Uvita also has the Centro Educativo, which is the Daycare/After-School care part of Escuela Verde.

In Ojochal, there is the Beit-El Guarderia that is said to have reasonable prices and the daycare director has a degree in education.

Community Support

For many years, there has been a youth program in Uvita called Forjando Alas. They have an after-school program that provides a safe place for at risk youth in the Costa Ballena community.  They rely on donations and volunteers from the community who share skills, activities, English, and self-confidence with kids.

Many expat-organized activities and program welcome all participation, regardless of financial circumstances (operating on sliding scales). There is a strong community desire for creating recreational and professional opportunities for children through sponsorship programs or teaching for free.

This region has been blessed with expats and locals who have seen needs and sought to fill them. One example is Juan Carlos, the owner of the Jucaloa supermercados in Ojochal, who organizes a Christmas party for all of the local children, where shoppers can donate presents beforehand to be distributed at the party. Another example are an expat couple who started a Christmas party for the children and parents of Boruca, buying toys and supplying lunch , soft drinks, and ice cream. The event has grown over 17 years and depends on donations from locals and the couple’s family and friends from the States.

Kids (and parents) also get involved in beach clean-ups, fundraisers, and events that are meant to bring anyone and everyone together from the community, to help create a safe and cooperative future for all to enjoy.

Parenting Networks

Dozens of groups exist for networking in our Costa Ballena region, and all it takes is a simple search to find them. But in real life, parents still throw parties and sleepovers for their little ones after connecting throughout their days and weeks over a variety of points shared on their family agendas. Whether your kids go to school together, take surf lessons together, share yoga classes, or just bump into each other at the feria, it’s easy to feel a sense of community in the Costa Ballena between young families of any background.

The Costa Ballena is full of opportunities for families of all ages and backgrounds to share in the enjoyment of the natural environment and close-knit communities that this great country makes possible. Come share in the creation of a better future for all in Costa Rica.