Have you asked a five-year-old what they thought of their experience in your school?
Have you asked a five-year-old what they thought of their experience in your school?
Have you asked a five-year-old what they thought of their experience in your school?
Cécile Doyen Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation


By Cécile Doyen, Head of Professional Learning & Development


Young children’s voices matter. By extension, the voice of those who work closely with young learners matters too. Their pedagogical insights are rich in considerations for what constitutes the foundation for lifelong learning.

That’s why, when we recently refreshed our early childhood guidance embedded in school evaluation resources at CIS, we turned to those who spend the best part of their days with young children and asked for their input.


Voices from the field

Our wider network of CIS educators and leaders is a goldmine of experience and expertise in the education of young children.


Six colleagues in six schools joined a working group to engage in three rounds of discussions.

Together, we focused our exchanges on which salient aspects of school improvement should benefit from being viewed specifically through an early learning lens.


A rallying principle & key considerations

A rallying principle centred our discussions:

The early years provide the foundation for lifelong learning.

Ensuring an optimal experience for young children in our schools is critical. Members who collaborated in these discussions shared some key considerations:

  • ‘Play’ as the most dominant way of learning for young children—The imperative for schools to emphatically deliver learning experiences for young students through play. (Yogman and all, 2018; Parker and Stjerne, 2019)
  • The important role of the learning environment—Its role in prompting and supporting learning. (OME, 2016)
  • The significance of student voice and choice—Young children's participation in the learning process. (Fullan and Langworthy, 2014; Fox, 2016)
  • The importance of relationships—Children with each other, children with the adults who care for them in school, and children’s relationships within their wider community. (NSCDC, 2004)

A running thread of the discussion also focused on foundational aspects of child development such as:

  • Physical development (gross and fine motor skills)
  • Self-regulation (executive function and cognitive control) (Whitebread and all, 2009)
  • Language, symbolic systems, and expression (language, literacy, and mathematical concepts) (Barratt-Pugh, C and Rohl, M. 2000; Blinkoff and all, 2020)
  • Social-emotional development


In their own words

Here’s why our colleagues like to get involved and share this kind of experience with CIS:

Adam Dodge, Primary Principal, Nanjing International School, China—'Early Childhood programs in the international school setting have often evolved on the margins of a school’s overall development plan. The Early Childhood Guidance from CIS helps promote the profile and impact an Early Childhood program can have for a school, starting with its early learners.'


Christianne Cowie, Pre-School Deputy Head and PYP Coordinator, Colegio Anglo-Colombiano, Colombia. Christianne has experience in educational leadership, early years education and curriculum development. Christiane is also a CIS peer evaluator chairing team evaluation visits—'I love education and I love learning alongside children and their talented educators from all over the world!'


Maggie Hewitt, Elementary School Vice Principal, International School of Tanganyika—'I am proud to be overseeing the wonderful early years programme as part of my role as the Vice Principal in the elementary school. The journey of developing a philosophy and learning environment that values play and all interactions has been one of the most rewarding of my career. I see my education in early childhood and the experiences that I have had in different cultures as part of my identity. The work which I have been privileged to be involved in with the review of the CIS Early Childhood Guidance, I see as invaluable, as it gives recognition to the uniqueness of early childhood environments and impacts the quality of care given to our youngest learners.'


Kirsten Loza, an experienced K-12 educator who has taught and participated in shaping up school-based curriculum across ages from early years to high school. Kirsten's interest is evidence-informed practice and learning and teaching that supports learners to be more agentic inquirers, doers, and keen advocates of social justice.—'How we work and think about the youngest learners in school communities gives us an insight into what we value and believe in. Inclusive practices begin in the early years classroom—it is a place of love and belonging where everyone learns to show respect and acceptance.'


John Holmes, International School of Lausanne in Switzerland. John has many years’ experience of working with the youngest learners, some of which has included being Early Childhood Coordinator and Assistant Principal.—'Children as being unique individuals who need nurturing in a supportive quality care environment through high expectations. I am an advocate for Early Childhood learning and those who work within the field. It has been a fantastic opportunity to work on this project with practitioners from around the world, to further support Early Childhood learning in different environments.'


Vanessa Keenan, PYP coordinator at Raha International School, Abu Dhabi. Vanessa is undertaking a doctoral programme in education at the University of Bath, UK.—'I have spent many years working in Early Years settings and highly value the voice and play of young learners. The collaborative experience, with educators from around the globe on developing guiding statements for Early Years, demonstrates the commitment CIS has to listening to voices from a variety of international contexts. This project is another example of a CIS initiative that afforded Early Years educators the opportunity to be contributors and learners. It was a great privilege to work with dynamic thinkers who are passionate about our youngest learners.´

Collaboration is the key

Our aim at CIS is to work collaboratively with our members to shape the future of international education. To do this as a network, we connect ideas, cultures, and educators from every corner of the world. That’s why we promote member learning by engaging leaders and educators directly in the process of designing and reviewing our services.

Taking every opportunity to learn from each other is vital.

Members bring experiences and perspectives from their own contexts. Their fresh new thoughts and diverse insights always enrich the learning experience of everyone involved in a CIS activity—learning is never one way.

We are grateful for these colleagues’ contributions, our work at CIS could not be achieved without the keen engagement of our members.

Our hope is that, in turn, people see the value of this kind of engagement for the collective learning and growth of all members.

Learn more

The output of this work can be found on the CIS Community portal for schools > International Accreditation > Resources and documents > Protocol and guidance



Barratt-Pugh, C and Rohl, M. (2000). Literacy Learning in the Early Years. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Blinkoff, E., Levine, D., Avelar, D., Golinkoff, R. M., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2020). Language development: overview. In J. B. Benson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Infant and Early Childhood Development, 2nd ed. (pp. 228-236). Elsevier.

Fox, K. (2016). Young voice, deep impact. NAESP.

Fullan, M., & Langworthy, M. (2014). A rich seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning. Pearson.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004). Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships. Working Paper 1 https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/wp1/

Ontario Ministry of Education (2016). The Kindergarten Programme: 1.3 The learning environment (pp. 29-35) Toronto: Author

Parker, R. and Stjerne Thomsen B. (2019). Learning through play at school. White paper https://cms.learningthroughplay.com/media/nihnouvc/learning-through-play-school.pdf

Whitebread, D., Coltman, P., Jameson, H. (2009). Play, cognition and self-regulation: What exactly are children learning when they learn through play? Educational and Child Psychology Vol. 26, number 2. (pp. 40-52).

Yogman, M, Garner, A, Hutchinson, J, Hirsh-Pasek, K, Golinkoff, RM, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, and Council on Communications and Media. (2018). The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics. Vol. 142, number 3. (pp. 1–18).

Have you asked a five-year-old what they thought of their experience in your school?
  • Intercultural learning & leadership
  • International accreditation
Have you asked a five-year-old what they thought of their experience in your school?