Solid foundations in the early years promote positive transitions
Solid foundations in the early years promote positive transitions
Solid foundations in the early years promote positive transitions
Cecile Doyen, Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation
By Cécile Doyen

Life is made up of a tapestry of transitions, big and small, simple and complex. By developing ways to positively navigate transitions as early as possible in life we are in a far stronger position to deal with future significant ones as they occur.

At CIS, we have embarked on an ambitious mission to include the well-being of students as a driver of high-quality international education within our International Accreditation Protocol. One lens through which educators often look when considering the well-being of their students is the way they handle transitions.


As our membership is made up of institutions across both the K-12 and higher education sectors, it is logical that one of our community’s areas of focus is the key transition of students moving from high school into higher education. How does this period of transition impact student mental health and well-being, and what we can do to best support it. We are seeing that recent efforts to drive discussions and providing training and resources on this critical subject are gaining traction and resonating with our members (see the table further below for examples).

We can expand on this by engaging with CIS schools as they develop a continuum of learning experiences focused on foundational aspects of success and well-being linked to transitions from the very beginning of a student’s education.


50% of all adolescent mental health issues occur by age 14.


A positive transition into adulthood has a far greater chance of success when young people have foundational learning experiences that help them navigate the many transitions they’ll experience from early on in their lives.

Before students even reach high school, they will have experienced a multitude of transitions starting from a very young age:

  • The initial transition from home to school (some students in CIS schools explore this transition as young as three years old!)
  • The transition from pre-primary to primary
  • The transition from primary to secondary
  • Plus, consider the micro-transitions lived on a daily basis (experienced at a deep socio-emotional level for younger learners): e.g. going from home to school then back home every day. At our recent Student Well-Being Workshop, a speaker talked about the micro-transition from home to school in relation to movement from the home culture to the school culture. In the international school context, the challenge of this transition can be intensified where the school culture may present different aspects from the student’s experience of both their host country culture and the culture at home.



Transition refers to the process of change and encompasses the events and experiences that occur when a child moves from one setting to another. It also marks the time when children are separated from a familiar routine and environment and placed into an environment of uncertainty, changing roles and expectations. Transitions are important because children who experience continuity with earlier educational experiences show increased motivation, improved relationships with peers and adults, and higher achievement.

Harper, Laurie. (2015). Supporting Young Children’s Transitions to School. Early Childhood Education Journal. 10.1007/s10643-015-0752-z.


A CIS member school in Bangkok recently took a bold and innovative step to facilitate an important window of transition for young learners. June van den Bos, Primary Principal at KIS Bangkok shared the following developments, also highlighted through their annual CIS report (a stage of the ongoing accreditation cycle with CIS):

Following the renewed focus on the early years within the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) enhancements, our school has been identifying ways to ensure we continue to offer developmentally appropriate practices in support of young learners. 

The two most exciting developments for PYP schools include the promotion of play-based learning, with play as the vehicle for learning in the early years and the recognition of the early years addressing needs of children ages 3 to 6 (It used to be 3 to 5). We have embraced this new stance on the age range, which allows schools to extend the transition period between their pre-primary and primary sections by allowing an additional year for foundational development. 

KIS Bangkok has decided to extend its pre-primary offering to students age 6. It provides early learners with more transition time in an environment that encourages a continuum of play in education, promotes agency, nurtures individual interests, and supports social and emotional learning.



At Atlanta International School in Georgia, USA, the Early Learning Center Principal, Maria Voutos, told us about some of the strategies that she and her colleagues are using to support young students in a variety of transitions:

To provide support in the context of language immersion models where children might not speak the language of instruction:

The first week of class is made up of half days, where students have a succession of short school days and go home early. It helps them get to know their new environment without being overwhelmed by the amount of time they spend there. The following week they begin full-time and overall settle into the program rather quickly with this gentle approach.

To transition from a home environment to a school environment:

We encourage open entry in the morning where parents can stay in the playground and play before saying their good-byes. All classes meet on the playground during this drop-off period. It exponentially helps with separation and provides for a happy atmosphere in the mornings where kids are playing, and parents have a few minutes to socialize and play with the kids. The students get to see their parents interact with the teachers, and this helps create a bond between them.

To transition from grade to grade:

We have activities with mixed-age groups where the older students, who are more familiar with their class, help the younger friends feel confident.

Facilitating and supporting transitions for young children can look different from context to context. How do you facilitate the variety of transitions young learners go through as part of your school community? How do you help them build foundations for life in this area? Post your strategies, examples, ideas, thoughts and comments below or email.

Examples of CIS developments in supporting student transitions from school to higher education:

In our International Accreditation Protocol, we recently updated Domain E on well-being with Standard E5 : The school provides active support for students and families in transition in and out of the school, as well as between divisions within the school, through appropriate information, programmes, counselling, and advice, drawing upon local agencies and external expertise when needed.

At our second Summit for Universities and Schools, transitions linked to well-being was firmly on the agenda, identified as one of three educational challenges that we want to do something about.

Both university and school members joined our inaugural Student Well-being Workshop in Bilbao in November to learn about a wide variety of related topics, from university and school programmes targeting transition to higher education to destructive perfectionism at all ages. In feedback, participants told us they are already taking the following actions:

“I’ll be working to develop a survey with our director of orientation and transition programs and dean of students to ask students to self-disclose [mental health issues] after tuition deposit [in order for the institution to be able to support them appropriately].”

“I’ll focus on transition to KS5 (16 yrs) […] using the resources shared […] I will meet with the PSHE coordinator as they plan for KS3 (11 yrs) and 4 (12 yrs).”

“I’ll organize a pre-departure workshop for students and parents in collaboration with a university admission officer and will send a survey for our alumni on challenges they have gone through in their first year and suggestions for overcoming that.”

Our members and network of experts in the field are using our blog to share their most effective practices (watch out for more to come).

Look out for more research, resources and professional development opportunities in 2020.

Solid foundations in the early years promote positive transitions
  • International accreditation
  • Member stories
  • Student well-being
Solid foundations in the early years promote positive transitions