Transitioning from one stage of school to another: how to help your child settle in smoothly

Moving from preschool to primary, or primary to secondary school, can be an anxiety-ridden time for both children and parents. We speak to the experts from selected Singapore schools to get their advice on how you can make the process as stress-free as possible.

For your child, undertaking a school transition from one level of learning to the next is a major milestone. There could be a brand new school to get used to, new friends to make, different teachers to get to know and heavier workloads. It’s no wonder our young ‘uns can feel stressed at this turning point in their lives! So what can you do as their parent do to help them transition from one stage of school to another as smoothly as possible? We chatted to the experts from a selection of top Singapore international schools to get their advice.

Ryan Bruce, Dean of Student Life for Middle School at Singapore American School (SAS)

Hi Ryan! Tell us about some common transitioning issues to be aware of.  
The most common difficulties students have is adopting the practices around managing their workflow and adjusting to the expectations of new teachers. A common issue is adapting and finding the time to complete schoolwork while maintaining a healthy balance with free time. As students reach milestone years, they often feel like they should have more independence than is appropriate and then struggle academically and socially when they are afforded greater independence.

What measures do you have in place to ease the process for students?
To support the transition from elementary school to middle school, we have transition days, an Advisory program that makes a large school feel small, laptop training to ensure students have the tools to make effective use of our 1:1 laptop program and  Classroom Without Walls to build relationships with peers and faculty. We also have transition meetings with the support teams from fifth and sixth grades in the spring and weekly teacher meetings to discuss how students are doing academically and socially once the new year has begun.

Do you have any tips for parents to put into effect at home? 
Listen to your child and ensure they feel heard when they’re expressing their concerns. Let them know it’s difficult to adjust to a new environment, and share stories about times when you faced challenges transitioning and how you succeeded in spite of them. Supporting your child in being involved in the school community through co-curricular activities and helping them learn to manage their time are also good ways to help.

How can parents spot issues if their child isn’t coping?
If there is a significant change in your child’s attitude or if they are withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, reach out  to the school. In order to help them adjust it is good to get them involved in the school community. Participating in co-curricular activities and attending events help to relieve stress and to build a social network. Most schools have a vast list of activities to get involved in and community activities you can attend as a family.

With older children, the move to secondary school can be very stressful. What can you suggest that might help the process?
This can be a good time to revisit and negotiate some of the rules at home. While they still require eight to 10 hours of sleep and parental oversight of their social media usage, they may have earned more independence in choices of activities in which they participate. At this stage, it is important to be mindful of balancing their increased sense of independence and their need for your support.

Find out more about Singapore American School (SAS)

Peter Hart, Head of Secondary, Nexus International School (Singapore)

Hi Peter! What do you think are the common issues when starting primary school or moving up to secondary school?
For children, it’s a big step in their lives, especially the jump into high school. A new environment, new friends and teachers can feel daunting. We want children to settle in quickly and start enjoying their learning.

What measures does Nexus have in place to ease the process?
We hold an orientation for all new families to help them settle into the school – and often into Singapore. At school, we have buddy systems and teachers will do follow-ups every two weeks to ensure that the settling-in period is going well. For children moving from Primary to Secondary, we hold a week-long induction between our Y6 (Primary) and Year 7 (Secondary) learners. This helps children prepare for Secondary and get to know some familiar faces. Nexus also has a lot of events for the whole school, which is a great way to keep our school feeling like a family.

How can parents help their children at home?
Engage in as many discussions as possible, and ask about specifics, such as, “What did you learn in maths?” as opposed to “How was school?” It helps children open up and talk about their experiences. Also, help children with their organisation. There’s a lot to remember at a new school, so keeping a diary of events, projects, home learning and extra-curricular activities will help put children at ease. Be patient and give your child time to adjust. If they need more support, draw on all the resources available to you, including counselling services at school, for your child and as a family.

With older children, the move to secondary school can be very stressful. Do you have any tips for this age group?
Making new friends as a teenager often feels a lot more difficult. Help your child get involved with any extra-curricular activities as it will lead to firm friendships. Nexus has a counsellor and a peer-to-peer support group to help children settle in. New children will also be set up with a buddy or two to help them make friends. Teachers will set up a bi-weekly meetings during the settling in period to help both learners and parents settle into school life.

Find out more about Nexus International School (Singapore)

Sarah Thomas, Head of Primary School, GESS

Hi Sarah! Tell us about the common issues when transitioning to a new stage of school.
Change from the known to the unknown can be unsettling for children. There’s usually an increase in structured routines, more distinct subjects and academic expectations. Pre-School students in particular are closely supervised at all times, and the jump to Primary is often accompanied by a higher degree of expected independence. When going from Primary to Secondary school, there is a move away from having a homeroom teacher, and students have to get used to having a different teacher for each subject, plus more textbooks and tests.

What measures do you have in place to ease the process and how do they benefit the pupil?
We have numerous measures in place. Teachers will have several meetings to hand over information, plus pay visits to classes to  introduce themselves. Students will join special events to get used to being around older students, and we also set up a ‘buddy’ relationship. There’s also a transition day for pupils, plus thorough information sessions for parents. For Grade 5 students, we run a Q&A session with older children from Grades 6 through 8 to help them figure out the nitty-gritty of life in Secondary. We also look into allocating “shadow” support teachers where needed, while rites of passages, such as PYP Exhibition and a three-night residential trip to Malaysia, help reassure students about their independence.

What can parents do at home?
Talk to your children and encourage them to share their feelings – and accept them. Neither is it advisable to try to “fix” everything, especially with adolescents, for whom independence is especially important. Just help your children to “name it”, talk it through, perhaps develop a strategy and then, just do it! Once the new school year begins, focus on the practical: organising books, materials or homework, plus stay in touch with teachers and let your children know that you form a team together – parents, teachers and students. Most importantly, love, trust and believe in your child. You are their first teacher, coach and most important advocate through these tumultuous growing years.

How can parents spot issues if the child isn’t coping?
We are all different – respect your child’s way of adapting. If your child dreads school, cries every night and morning, suffers from chronic headaches or stomachaches, or otherwise shows a level of stress you have never seen before within six weeks of school starting, then there is cause for concern. Consult the school’s teachers and counsellors (if they haven’t already reached out to you) to talk about options.

Find out more about GESS

Parameshwari Sathiyamoorthy, Academic Coordinator, Lower Primary, GIIS SMART Campus, Global Indian International School (GIIS)

Hi Parameshwari! Starting primary school or moving up to secondary school can be an anxious time for students. What are the common transitional problems?
From Kindergarten to Primary 1 and from Grade 2 to 3, the students undergo a major transition. The academic move is accompanied by change in their schedules, timetables, number of hours they spend in school and social and emotional involvement. To accommodate these changes, GIIS has homeroom teachers for Grades 1 and 2 and subject teachers for Grade 3 onwards. Teachers assist the students in taking care of their belongings, independently packing and unpacking their bags as well as visiting activity rooms and the canteen.

How does GIIS make the process as easy as possible?
We have buddy systems in place for all new joiners. Orientation is conducted before the beginning of the academic year to help parents prepare their child for school and to ensure their seamless transition. Student counsellor’s session with students and parents are also held if there is a requirement. 

Do you have any top tips for parents to do at home with their children?
Parents can start encouraging children at the end of Kindergarten to independently pack their bags, be responsible for their own belongings, seek the teacher’s help if required and so on. In order to help the students cope with growing academic pressure, parents can prepare their child at home by creating a study timetable for every day, encouraging them to be interactive and responsive in class and re-iterating the concepts taught in the class at home.

What should parents look out for if a child isn’t coping with the transition?
A strong partnership between the teacher and the parent is essential to ensure the child adjusts well in the school and their class. An effective communication with the class teacher will help parents spot issues. If your child is facing teething issues while settling in school, parents will notice they are withdrawn and not excited about going to school. However, these signs can occur in most students during the first few days. But, if the signs are persisting after a month, then parents should speak to the teacher. Counselling  the child about adapting to change and positive reiteration about class and friends will further help if the child takes longer to adjust.

Find out more about Global Indian International School (GIIS) 

Celeste Krochak, Vice Principal – Primary Grades 3-6, Lakeside Campus, Canadian International School (CIS)

Hi Celeste! Let’s talk transitioning. What are the common issues?
When students change classes within or between schools, they must adjust to new environments and get to know new teachers and peers, learn new ways of working and make sense of the rules and routines that operate in their classes. While students are navigating the school environment, they are also working to cope with the social changes that happen when changing schools and classes.

What measures are in place to ease the process?
We have carefully considered pathways at each new stage. For Kindergarten we have staggered entry dates that support children getting acquainted with their class and teacher. At the end of Kindergarten, we have a transition to Grade One program to ensure pupils are confident to start primary school. For Grade 6 students transitioning to Grade 7, we have a visiting and a shadowing day.

What can parents do at home with their children to ease the transition?
Encourage them to discuss the transition by asking questions such as “Have you been thinking about your new class or school?” Ensure they go to orientation sessions and know it’s natural to feel apprehensive, plus get involved by engaging with the school’s calendar, handbook, joining the PTA and meeting other parents. Above all, be positive and work with the school as your partner. They also want your child to transition well.

If a child isn’t coping, what should parents do?
Invite your child to express their emotions. Try to put yourself in their place and understand the feelings expressed. Listen carefully and, even when a concern seems minor to you, be respectful and know that it can be a major crisis to your child. If after a period of adjustment, your child is reluctant to go to school or seems truly unhappy, seek help. Identify your concerns and meet with your child’s teacher. Together, perhaps with the child being present, we can help you work out a plan of action.

Find out more about Canadian International School (CIS)

Like this story? Here’s more we think you’ll enjoy:

Picking the right school: your ultimate guide
What it really costs to send your kids to an international school
Bullying in school: top tips to help kids AND parents
The international schools offering sibling discounts

Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and follow us for fun moments on HoneyKids Instagram!