Bologna Inside - Second Edition

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Philippa Hoddell portrait photo

Philippa Hoddell, Lawyer
London, England


Italy is a very family friendly country, perhaps a reflection of how strong the concept of la famiglia is felt here. Babies are adored, mothers revered. Families often maintain close ties. It is not uncommon for grown children to visit their parents for lunch or dinner during the week, or make daily telephone calls. Family in Italy often includes not only the traditional nuclear family of genitori e figli, but also a vast network of extended family members, especially in the south, where larger families are more common. Sometimes even childhood friends can gain a quasi family status when they play important roles in weddings, funerals or are invited to become il padrino or la madrina for children at baptism or confirmation.

Historically, the support of the extended family also translated into child care and eldercare, though this is gradually changing. Nonetheless, grandparents, and especially la nonna, still play a central role in childrearing, so don’t be surprised if she suggests how you should make your baby’s pappa, remarks that your child is dressed too warmly or too lightly, or offers other parenting advice. Many new moms are pleasantly surprised at just how eager their Italian nonna is to help out with babysitting and they come to appreciate, even depend on this extra familial help. The role of grandparents is a deeply ingrained cultural expectation - so much so that even your local asilo nido is likely to consider their proximity as one of the factors determining your child’s eligibility.

la famiglia = family
i genitori= parents
i figli = children
il padrino/la madrina = godfather/godmother
la nonna = grandmother
la pappa = baby’s meal
l’asilo nido = day care


Italians love babies. At first you may be surprised at how complete strangers, even men, may openly admire and coo over your tiny bundle. Infants are showered with positive attention here.

In general, Italians are non-judgmental about bottle feeding versus nursing. Don’t be surprised if you’re told certain foods will cause a nursing strike (tartufo or truffle is a classic), or hear various opinions about what causes colic, gas, or other maladies. Like in any culture, it can be hard to separate fact from folklore when it comes to baby advice, so just see what works best for you.

Allattamento al seno (breastfeeding) is openly accepted as a natural, positive maternal responsibility and it is rare that one would be asked to cover up or not nurse in public,

though discretion is appreciated. In most baby stores and some pharmacies you can find breast pumps, called tiralatte. The breastfeeding support group La Leche League has materials in English and Italian at Many Italians don’t nurse their babies much past a year (when maternity leave is up) and nursing after that age is viewed as out of the ordinary.

When babies start on solid food, Italian women rely on an age-old recipe that is even given out by pediatricians. While there may be small variances, it usually consists of a little rice or grain cereal, mixed with the broth of one or more basic vegetables like carrots, zucchini and potatoes, mashed along with a teaspoon or two of grated parmesan cheese and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Later, meat, fowl, lamb and fish are introduced, often first in a powdered, freeze-dried form called liofilizzato and later by cooking a small amount of veal, chicken or fish a vapore (steamed) and then grinding or mincing it into the pappa. While pre-made baby food in jars is available in supermarkets and pharmacies, making the fresh pappa by hand is still common.


Check the yellow pages under ABBIGLIAMENTO BAMBINI E RAGAZZI for a complete list of stores selling baby clothes, furniture and accessories. Games and toys are listed under GIOCATTOLI E GIOCHI.

Prenatal has two stores in the center which carry maternity and baby clothes along with everything else you’d need for a newborn. Prices are medium to high, but the quality is excellent. Chicco is another chain for clothing and accessorizing your baby. Most pharmacies stock basic baby foods, creams, bottles, pacifiers, diapers and even a few toys. For baby furniture, the Bolognese household name is Orsini, located in Via Aldo Moro, 10 in San Lazzaro di Savena. Here you can special order your passeggino (stroller) of choice, but be sure to do so months before giving birth. For cloth diapers and other hard-to-find items, see


Sending your child to school in a foreign country constitutes a major step toward integration for the entire family. Schools are used to having pupils from other countries and it is unlikely that your child will be the only foreigner in his or her class. Many schools with a high number of foreign pupils organize special language lessons to help those students who don’t speak Italian.

A multicultural class, however, does not necessarily translate into a multicultural curriculum. It is up to the individual teachers to decide how and if they want to incorporate lessons about different cultures or religions into their curriculum. Attitudes about your child’s bilingual skills and the parents’ choice to speak a different language at home are also likely to differ depending on the individual teacher. When considering what school your child will attend, try to meet the teachers and if possible, bring your child with you. Once your child is enrolled in school, getting involved is the best way for you and your child to adapt to the new environment.


Italy has some of the oldest educational institutions in Europe. Here, education is statecontrolled and all schools, both public and private, must comply with the curricula and teaching methods set by the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (Ministry of Public Education). Schools are administered locally by the Provveditorato agli Studi. School is mandatory and free of charge for all children between the ages of 6 and 14 and is segmented into scuola elementare (elementary school) from ages 6 to 11 and scuola media (middle school) from ages 11 to 14. Many students choose to continue their education by completing a five-year scuola superiore (secondary school).

Bologna’s preschools have an outstanding reputation. Day care accept children from 3 months to 3 years of age. Children 3 to 6 years of age may attend scuola materna (preschool). Bologna is relatively unique in that the city itself governs many of the public day care and preschools, attesting to the city’s longstanding tradition of providing services for working people and their families. The cost of day care depends primarily on income; public preschools are free except for a monthly fee for the food service.

Most quartieri have a special ufficio scuola (school office) that is responsible for sending out information about day care and preschools, receiving school applications and sending out admission letters and packets. The staff is usually knowledgeable and is a good place to start if you have questions about your neighborhood’s schools. If your quartiere does not have a school office, the URP will be able to give you the information you need.

Provveditorato agli Studi

Via dè Castagnoli, 1
Tel. 051.6437711

Visit the following websites for information on the Italian school system: (Ministry of Public Education) (schools of the Emilia Romagna Region) (education portal for the Province of Bologna) (list of school-related sites) (types of schools and programs in Bologna)

Do not judge a school from the outside. This is something I discovered while living in Bologna. You can walk by something a hundred times and have no idea of what is behind the portone. Signage outside the school may be minimal and perhaps they only have one line in the yellow pages but this does not necessarily indicate an inferior school. At least in their marketing, private schools here seem less competitive with each other compared to other places I have lived.

Kim Brown

Although primarily directed toward teachers, Bologna’s center for intercultural education, CD/Lei, offers assistance to foreign families with school-age children.

CD/Lei - Centro Documentazione/Laboratorio per un’Educazione Interculturale (Documentation Center/Laboratory for Intercultural Education)

Via Ca’ Selvatica, 7
Tel. 051.6443345