Engagement approaches for young children in the Early Years Foundation Stage – Dr. Carolyn Blackburn, Senior Research Fellow, School of Education and Social Work, Birmingham City University


The following case study of a young child attending a specialist early years setting highlights the engagement and inquiry-based approach to re-engaging children in learning through use of the CLDD tools alongside the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework (EYFS). Additional tools for observation and monitoring of young children’s learning and development are helpful for early years practitioners in supporting children with complex needs as they allow practitioners to record children’s progress in greater detail more closely matched to the small step progress often reported by practitioners for children with complex needs (Blackburn, 2014; Blackburn and Aubrey, 2016)

Simon was aged four-years and two-months-old, and has a developmental age of 12-18 months, according to teacher assessment against the development goals of the EYFS. He is diagnosed Fragile X Syndrome, and Global Developmental Delay. He needed particular support with communication, especially in relation to social interaction, expressive and receptive communication skills. He engaged in sensory seeking/calming behaviour (inattention, hyperactivity, vocal outbursts, hand twisting, flapping, twirling). He was attending a specialist resource centre alongside a mainstream early years setting.  The specialist resource centre were participants in the multi-site international trial for the CLDD engagement materials and this case study examples their approach to using the materials.

At the time of the project, his teacher’s main concern was regression in skills over a period of several months. For example, whereas previously he had shown some peer interaction, participating in circle time, joint attention sharing with adults, at the time of the setting’s involvement in the project, he was spending the majority of his time pacing the room while vocalising, mouthing a variety of objects and other solitary activities was of particular concern for his teacher: ‘I find it really hard, because I’ve never taught a child like this ever, not in mainstream settings, not here. We’ve tried everything. Nothing works consistently.’

She was concerned that the amount of time he spent in sensory seeking/calming behaviours limited his engagement with the environment and activities, not to mention the adults and peers available to him ¬ therefore, this limited his ability to learn and develop. She was eager to find a way to re-engage him in learning, play and interaction with others.

Simon’s engagement profile was completed during his participation in a painting session as he had shown sustained interest and high levels of engagement during previous painting sessions. During one painting session, his teacher observed that he demonstrated engagement in all seven of the indicators in the profile.  This profile, was shared with other practitioners, therapists and multi-disciplinary colleagues who supported Simon, other settings he attended and Simon’s family. It was used to provide a picture of Simon’s engagement behaviour, and therefore, what adults could look for when he was fully engaged in an activity of high interest as shown below in Figure 1.