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The blank stare. Indifference. Slumped shoulders. When you are looking after little people with widely varying personalities, it is easy to dismiss many of these behavioural nuances as temporary phases they are likely to grow out of soon.  But when you see them emerging into a continuous behaviour pattern, you know there are underlying precursors that need to be addressed promptly.

But, how do you go about monitoring these indicators effectively so that you can come up with a practical intervention plan?

This is where the Leuven Scale can become a handy aid for early years practitioners (and educators in general).

What is the Leuven Scale all about?

The Leuven Scale is a form of assessment developed by Ferre Leavers and his team at Leuven University in Belgium. It is a five-point scale that allows childcare practitioners to measure children's 'emotional well-being' and 'involvement’ – two vital components of learning, development and progress in children.

According to Leavers, children in a high state of 'well-being’ are like 'fish in water'. They are comfortable in their environment, confident and eager to experiment and explore. Whereas, children with low levels of well-being often appear frightened, anxious and dependent, making it hard for them to learn in a sustained way and explore their potential.

Similarly, high levels of 'involvement' - characterised by curiosity, fascination, deep satisfaction and a genuine interest in what they are doing - is an indicator of  'deeper-level', meaningful learning. These signs of a child's 'involvement’ are also directly linked to the characteristics of effective teaching and learning as laid out by the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage).

Here’s a look at the five levels of well-being and  involvement on the Leuven Scale:

The Leuven Scale for Emotional Well-Being

  1. Extremely low: The child shows clear signs of distress such as crying or screaming. They may seem withdrawn, frightened or aloof, and may behave aggressively, hurting themselves or others around them.
  1. Low: They may seem uneasy and display a slumped posture. However, the discomfort is not evident all the time and is not as strongly expressed as in Level 1.
  1. Moderate: The child has a neutral expression and demeanour. Their posture and expression neither show signs of sadness, pleasure, comfort or discomfort.
  1. High: The child looks happy, cheerful and satisfied. But, these signals are not always present with the same intensity.
  1. Extremely high: The child is lively, cheerful, confident and shows no signs of stress or tension. Their actions are spontaneous and expressive. They may talk to themselves, hum, sing and look entirely at ease with themselves.

The Leuven Scale for Levels of Involvement

  1. Extremely low: The child may seem absent-minded and displays a lack of energy.  They may go around staring aimlessly or looking around to see what others are doing. Their actions may seem passive and repetitive.
  1. Low: They are easily distracted. They might focus on a task while they are being observed, then lapse into phases of absent-mindedness – looking blankly at what is happening around them.
  1. Moderate: The child may seem involved in an activity but at a routine level. They might look like they are making progress with what they are doing but rarely show much energy or concentration.
  1. High: They are not easily distracted and seem entirely engrossed in what they do. 
  1. Extremely high: The child reveals continuous and intense activity indicating the complete involvement. They are focused, creative,  lively and persistent throughout nearly the entire period of observation.

Once you have made observations, it’s critical to translate the assessments into a practical action plan. Here are the ten action points developed by the Centre for Experiential Education, headed by Ferre Leavers.

10 Action Points for Improving Children’s Well Being and Involvement:

  1. Rearrange the activity areas in the classroom to more appealing corners or areas.
  2. Make an assessment of the content/toys/books in the activity centres and make them more challenging.
  3. Bring in new and non-traditional materials and activities that pique their curiosity.
  4. Identify the children’s interests and provide activities that engage their interest.
  5. Encourage them and provide stimulating inputs.
  6. Support them to develop positive relations amongst children and with the teachers.
  7. Encourage them to display initiative.
  8. Bring in activities that allow them to explore the world of feelings, emotions and values.
  9. Identify children with emotional problems and chart out a plan for sustaining interventions.
  10. Identify children with developmental needs and create interventions that encourage high levels of involvement.

The process-oriented strategy can be accessed by practitioners easily and can act as a highly useful screening tool to optimise the learning opportunities for each child. The technique is ideal to ensure you are providing the right 'physical' and 'emotional' environment for learning, at your setting. Check out pengreen.org for more details.

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