Are you thinking about moving to Italy, but you want to know more about Italian schools?
Or perhaps you’re traveling here with your kids and want to be able to explain what school is like in Italy.
Our family lives in central Italy, and my three boys were born here and have lived here their entire lives. My oldest son is only in elementary school (aka primary school), so I still have a lot to learn about getting an education in Italy, but I have learned that there are quite a few differences between the Italian education system and what I grew up with in the United States.
The information below is based on my experience and conversations with Italian and ex-pat parents and educators here in Italy.
Disclaimer: Some things on the list may not apply to every region, age group, or school in Italy. Think of this list as a starting point for learning more about Italian schools.
Here are 20 things that may surprise you about getting an education in Italy:
Cursive is Still Taught in Italian Schools
My 8-year-old still routinely practices his cursive handwriting. Kids here learn to write in uppercase letters first. Then, they learn how to write using lowercase letters, and how to write in cursive.
Any work with typing is done privately at home. My son loves learning how to type, but also really enjoys writing in cursive.
Italians Have an Extra Year of ‘High School’
Excited to graduate after your fourth year of high school? Not so fast if you’re in Italy! Italian ‘high schools’ have an extra year, so it’s like attending school through the 13th grade.
You Don’t Change Teachers Every Year
Hopefully, your 1st grader makes a good impression on his or her teachers! Your child’s 1st-grade teachers will remain with them from 2nd grade through 5th grade.
This also means that the students in the class stay the same from 1st through 5th grade.
It’s Very Tough to Get Straight As
If you’re imagining your little Einstein will get straight As in Italy, you may be disappointed in grades. When grades (on a 1-10 scale) come out, don’t expect all (or any) 10s. Italian teachers are notoriously tough graders. Passing is anything above a 6, and 8s are excellent.
Wait, I know what you’re thinking – how will my child ever get into a good college without straight ‘A’s?’ Colleges and universities know about the Italian system and take the tough grading into account when reviewing applications.
Italy Doesn’t Have Kindergarten
When children turn 5 in Italy, they don’t begin kindergarten. Instead, there’s a final year of preschool.
Italian children move straight from preschool to first grade at elementary school (at age 6).
Long School Days
I remember going to school until 2:00 or 2:30pm in elementary school, but my kids get out at 4:30pm.
You can also send your kids to scuola materna (preschool) until 4:30pm.
I know what you’re thinking – ‘What about sports or extra-curricular activities?’
For the most part, there aren’t extracurricular activities in public schools in Italy. If you want to play basketball or soccer, or participate in theater or learn a new language, you must pay for it with a private club or organization.
For example, my kids participate in soccer, cycling, and basketball. We pick them up from school, give them a quick snack, and take them to their sports. When they’re finished, we hurry home for dinner, showers, and bedtime.
You Can Choose Where You Want to Go to School
In Italy, your children don’t automatically attend the school closest to where you live. You can choose to send them to another school in your district (or even outside your district).
In the Italian school system, points are awarded based on many factors (whether one or both parents are working, if there’s a sibling in the school, if you live in the area, etc), and those with the most points are given priority for attending the school.
We’ve sent our kids to school outside of our areas in an effort to match up our kids’ learning styles and personalities with teachers (who will be with them for years). You can meet teachers at ‘open days,’ which take place annually at each school.
Focus on Writing and Memorization
From 1st grade, Italian schoolchildren do a lot of memorizing (times tables, poems, dates in history, etc) and writing (copying sentences, practicing print and cursive handwriting).
Notebooks Change Yearly
When it’s time to go shopping for school supplies, you can’t just head to Target to pick up a few notebooks. [Note: We don’t have Target, and I usually head to a minimum of three different stores plus Amazon.it to find everything my kids need.]
The notebooks kids use in school change each year – the width of the lines, whether or not there’s a border or margin, whether or not there are holes, the sizes of the squares for the grid notebooks, the dimensions of the notebook, etc.
In the local stationery shop I visit, there are at least 40 different notebook sections – no joke. And buying the required notebooks usually involves detailed photos and exchanges on the class WhatsApp group.
Hands-On Science Labs are Rare in Italy
Many schools don’t focus on hands-on science. Not that the subject is ignored – it’s just often taught via books or vocally versus conducting experiments.
Different Holidays are Celebrated in Italian Schools
Our kids celebrate different holidays at school in Italy than I did growing up in the United States (which is to be expected). I remember celebrating holidays like Valentine’s Day and Halloween, while here in Italy, the big holidays for my kids at school are:
- Carnevale (Carnival) – Kids dress up in costume, and throw coriandoli.
- Natale (Christmas) – School recitals, arts and crafts, Babbo Natale brings gifts. In Catholic Italy, Christmas is still part of the school program.
Religion Class in Italian Schools
Our kids, like many Italian schoolchildren, take a religion class once a week for an hour. It’s part of the curriculum, but parents can opt-out and have their kids do an alternate activity for that hour.
The Italian School System Uses Calendar Year Entry
In Italy, you enter school based on the calendar year (January 1st – December 31st), not the school year (typically September start). So, for example, any child born in 2014 is a 3rd grader for the 2022-2023 school year.
Italian parents don’t delay a child’s school start (for example, have a December-born child begin school the following year), but many kids begin school early (for example, have a January-born child begin school the year before he/she is supposed to).
Italian Schools Focus on Good Food
No flat, chewy, rectangular pizza in schools here!
Where we live, our kids are served organic (biologico) produce and meals, and it’s also typically kilometro zero (locally sourced).
Many schools also have personal chefs. My kids often come home and tell me about the delicious lunch their school cook made that day.
Schools here also work hard to teach kids where food comes from. So, at the elementary school and preschool level, kids often learn about gardening and grow their own flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
Italian School Playgrounds Are Simple
Italian kids learn to use their imaginations at recess (ricreazione), because most Italian schools don’t have elaborate play structures or toys. The play area is often a paved or dirt piazza.
Italian Summers are Long
I recently read a thread online with parents chiming in about the length of their kids’ summer break. Italy tops them all – our kids get out in early June and start back up in mid-September. That’s right folks – Italian summer break lasts over 3 months. And, when kids do finally go back to school, the first week to ten days are only half days.
Italian ‘High School’ Students Choose a Focus
Forget about being ‘undecided’ for your freshman year of university. Here in Italy, schoolchildren choose a focus for high school! You can choose (and apply) to attend a(n):
- Liceo classico – theoretical, with a focus on humanities
- Liceo artistico – theoretical, with a focus on art
- Liceo scientifico – theoretical, with a focus on science
- Istituto tecnico – practical, technical institute
- Istituto professionale – practical, professional institute
- Alberghiero – practical, professional tourism institute
Not All Italian Students Go to School on Saturday*
While most Italian high schools had classes on Saturday in the past, more and more are dropping the Saturday classes and now have class from Monday through Friday.
Younger children attend school from Monday – Friday.
*This is probably what I’m asked most about schools in Italy
High School Parking Lots Aren’t Full of Cars
In fact, there aren’t really parking lots. If you see any vehicles parked out front, they’re probably motorini (scooters). The reason behind this is that you can’t get your driver’s license (for a car) until you’re 18. So, most high school kids are driven to/from school by their parents, or they take public transport (usually the bus or subway). You can get a scooter license here when you turn 14.
The Italian School System – Types of Schools
|asilo nido||daycare||< 3 year||no||Public (free or partially paid, depending on income) or private (paid)|
|scuola materna||preschool||3 – 5 years||no||Public (free or partially paid, depending on income) or private (paid)||a.k.a. scuola dell’infanzia|
|scuola primaria||primary school / elementary school||6 – 10 years||yes||Public (free), or private (paid)||a.k.a. scuola elementare|
|scuola media||middle school / junior high / lower secondary school||11 – 13 years||yes||Public (free), or private (paid)||a.k.a. scuola secondario di primo grado|
|scuola superiore||high school / upper secondary school||14 – 18 years||yes, until age 16||Public (free), or private (paid)||a.k.a. scuola secondario di secondo grado|
Is school in Italy free?
Like other countries around the world, Italy has a public school system that is free to attend, and mandatory for children ages 6-16. There are also private schools that Italian children can attend for a fee.
Do schoolchildren in Italy wear uniforms?
Children who attend public schools in Italy do not wear uniforms. Sometimes, the teacher or director at the preschool (scuola maternal) and elementary school (scuola primaria) level require students to wear a grembiule, a sort of loose smock. Traditionally, boys have worn blue grembiule and girls have worn pink.
Private schools typically require students to wear the official school uniform, which can range from formal to casual.
Does Italy have kindergarten?
Italian children do not go to kindergarten. They graduate from preschool and go straight into elementary school at age 6.
In Italy, are all subjects taught in the Italian language?
Depending on the school, subjects may be taught in Italian on in a foreign language. The core subjects (math, writing, etc) are typically taught in Italian, but international schools and bilingual schools often teach some subjects in English or another language.