As a mother of three young girls all in transitional years at school the last few weeks have been both challenging and thought provoking. My youngest started reception this September and we found ourselves up regularly during the night with her, a regression of sorts: as she had been sleeping through the night. In discussion at the school gates we were not alone, but what was going on for our little ones who had all been at nursery in the same building the year before? Why were they struggling so much with the transition and what can parents and schools do to support our young people through transitions?

Transitions are the hallmark of progression at school. These shifts can be pivotal moments for students, impacting their overall learning experience. In this blog post, I’ll delve into the realm of transitions, focusing on the role of executive functioning and drawing insights from recent research.

Understanding Transitions

Transitions encompass a wide array of experiences in a student’s academic journey. From switching classes to moving from one year to another not to mention starting at a new school, each transition represents a unique challenge. It’s important to recognise a child’s resilience to change will be impacted by the development of their executive function skills.

The Role of Executive Functioning

Executive functioning, often referred to as the “CEO of the brain,” plays a crucial role in navigating transitions. These cognitive processes govern a range of skills including, cognitive flexibility, task initiation, organisation, self-regulation, and impulse control. A smooth transition relies heavily on a student’s proficiency in these areas.

Recent Research Insights

Recent studies have shed light on the correlation between executive functioning and successful transitions at school. Research by Jacobson et al. (2011) underscores the importance of targeted interventions to bolster executive functioning skills, thus facilitating smoother transitions. Additionally, research by Helm et al. (2019) highlights the positive impact of structured routines and visual aids in supporting students during these shifts.

5 Practical Strategies for Teachers and Parents

1. Establish Predictable Routines

Consistency is key. Establishing predictable routines helps create a stable environment, reducing anxiety and enhancing a student’s ability to transition smoothly.

2. Provide Clear Instructions

Clear, concise instructions can significantly alleviate the stress associated with transitions. Break down tasks, provide visual aids, and offer step-by-step guidance.

3. Encourage Self-Advocacy

Empower students to communicate their needs and preferences during transitions. Encourage them to ask for support when necessary, fostering independence and self-confidence.

4. Implement Visual Supports

Visual aids, such as schedules and checklists, serve as powerful tools for students with executive functioning challenges. They provide a tangible framework for managing transitions.

5. Offer Transition Time

Allow for adequate transition time between activities or classes. This buffer period gives students the opportunity to mentally prepare for the upcoming task.


In conclusion, understanding the intricacies of transitions and their impact on executive functioning is crucial for creating a conducive learning environment. By incorporating these strategies and drawing on recent research findings, we can empower students to navigate transitions with confidence and success.

A note from the author:

“I am a teacher and mother of a neurodivergent family.  Some days it all feels too much, but time and again I remind myself to turn to our proven strategies and it makes everything more doable.


I have dedicated my life to our world changing work. It’s such a privilege to have you on this journey with us.”


– Victoria Bagnall,

CiM Co-Founder & Managing Director

Don’t miss out on our upcoming CPD Accredited Transitions Webinar!

If you are interested in learning more about the role of executive functioning in transitions, please join me on the 9th of October at 4.30pm, U.K. time for a CPD accredited webinar:


Why are transitions so hard: executive function perspectives and solutions.

Limited space available. Click the button below to reserve your spot!




Friedman, D, Nessler, D, Johnson Jr, R, Ritter, W, Bersick, M. (2008) “Age-Related Changes in Executive Function: An Event-Related Potential (ERP) Investigation of Task-Switching”. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 15(1), 95-128. DOI: 10.1080/13825580701533769.


Helm, AF, McCormick, SA, Deater-Deckard, K, Smith, CL, Calkins, SD, Bell, MA. (2019). “Parenting and Children’s Executive Function Stability Across the Transition to School”. Infant Child Development, 29(1), e2171. Stable URL:


Jacobson, LA, Williford, AP, Pianta, RC. (2011) “The role of executive function in children’s competent adjustment to middle school”. Child Neuropsychology, 17(3), 255-280. DOI: 10.1080/09297049.2010.535654.


Vandenbroucke, L, Verschueren, K, Baeyens, D. (2017).

“The development of executive functioning across the transition to first grade and its predictive value for academic achievement”.

Learning and Instruction, 49, 103-112. Stable URL: