What Is the Leuven Scale and How to Use It


Children engaging in the leuven scale

The Leuven scale is a 5 point scale that allows child care experts, nursery practitioners and teachers to measure a child’s emotional well-being and involvement. The idea of emotional well-being and involvement is particularly important in early years because it safeguards a child’s emotional development whilst encouraging engagement for the learning development.

A Learning Journals account comes with the option to incorporate and include the Leuven Scale when observing children in the nursery or school.

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The Leuven Scale for Emotional Well-Being

Emotional well-being is particularly important for children. If children feel confident in their surroundings they are more likely to learn productively and develop in a healthy way. Promoting an environment where children feel happy, safe, and supported is key to this.

Applying this to early years learning and nursery practices, this means that happy, emotionally healthy, confident children tend to learn better, and develop more quickly because they are given the emotional support to do so.

There are 5 points to the Leuven scale for emotional well-being, with the first being used for an extremely low state of emotional well-being, and point five being used as the optimum emotional well-being a child can experience. The scale includes some characteristics to help identify which section of the scale a child may be at, and the scale runs as follows:

1. Extremely low

In an extremely low state of emotional well-being, a child is in obvious distress. This is typically exhibited by tantrums, crying, wailing, anger, tiredness or other stereotypical child behaviours that are observed when a child is unhappy or otherwise discomforted emotionally.

2. Low

In a low state of emotional well-being, a child appears uncomfortable in their atmosphere, and a little bit unhappy. This is often exhibited via extreme shyness, and unwillingness to engage, some small emotional outbursts but in a more controlled manner, or an unwillingness to try new things.

Physically, this can also manifest in comfort seeking behaviours such as thumb sucking, fidgeting, twisting hands or even running away.

3. Moderate

As you might expect from the moderate stage of the Leuven scale, this stage is a fairly neutral stage.

In this stage children appear neither happy nor sad, and are just engaging mentally, emotionally, and physically in the task at hand in a fairly uninspired and performative level.

This can be the most easily overlooked level as children on this level often appear to be ‘getting on fine’. This is also the level with the best opportunity, as if a child with moderate levels of emotional well-being can be identified early on and emotionally supported into the more optimal stages of emotional well-being, the rewards from a developmental point of view can be tremendous.

4. High

Children who rank highly on the Leuven scale are observably happy children.

Children are content with what they are doing, and their mood is noticeably happy.

Some signifiers of this level of emotional well-being are smiling, laughing, engaging in a deeper or more meaningful way with the task at hand, and openly indulging their curiosity through exploring their surroundings.

Children at this stage in the Leuven scale need less proactive emotional support and more proactive monitoring to ensure their mood is maintained.

5. Extremely high

In the fifth and final stage of the emotional well-being scale, a child is totally at ease and completely comfortable in their surroundings. They are fully engaged in whatever they are doing, and may even happily talk to themselves as they go about their tasks.

In their fifth stage there is a great sense of contentment with the task at hand. Movement and actions should be spontaneous and expressive, but not erratic or overly hyperactive.

There is a stability to the fifth stage which, when observed, is significantly different from the false and unsustainable emotional high of excitement or manic engagement.

It is perfectly normal for a child to move through all of the stages over the course of a day or even an individual activity, and naturally the scale is relatively subjective and has its limitations.

For true reflections on how a child is progressing, and general updates on your child’s progress, Learning Journals offers unparalleled online journal space for all of the major milestones in your child’s life- from day to day updates to multimedia memories- that gives a true picture of your child’s developmental journey.

Rather than take the Leuven scale as a Bible on how you engage with children, it is better suited to being utilised as a tool for gauging how well a child is engaging in their own development.

child sitting laughing

How to Use the Leuven Scale Practically

The Leuven scale of emotional well-being is a great practical tool because it puts a child’s emotional well-being first and foremost.

By keeping the emotional well-being first and foremost, and keeping you conscious of a child’s emotional well-being, the Leuven scale gives you a way to consciously identify how best to support an individual child.

Another major bonus of understanding and utilising the Leuven scale is that it gives a standardised and easily applicable way to support your observations and share them with the child’s parent.

Learning Journals also offer an easy way to share observations with parents and colleagues. Our online journals offer a space to share multimedia observations and notes, completely customisable to what you want to use it for.

Using the Leuven scale in tandem with Learning Journals is a great way of measuring a child’s progress and a lovely way of numerically representing how a child is settling into a new class or nursery.

These observations can be shared with a child parent, and as long as the parent in question has had the Leuven scale explained to them, this can be a really helpful tool.

Leuven Scale Levels of Involvement

The Leuven scale levels of involvement aims to measure a child’s engagement in a particular task. Although it tends to run hand-in-hand with their emotional well-being, as a more engaged child tends to be a happier child and vice versa, the two scales can be used independently of one another.

The Leuven scale’s levels of involvement also runs from 1 to 5, and follows the same pattern as the emotional well-being scale.

1. Extremely low

If a child’s engagement is extremely low, they can be observed to be bored, absent minded, lacking energy, or aimless when trying to engage in tasks. Often, this is due to a lack of understanding, or an unwillingness to attempt new things.

This strongly correlated with the living emotional well-being scale.

2. Low

When a child’s engagement is low, they exhibit behaviours such as restlessness, boredom, or being easily distracted. In slightly older children, this can be exhibited as feigning focus, or only focussing on tasks when being observed.

Whilst this stage can be hard to identify because of that, consistent quality observation will soon show a pattern of low engagement.

3. Moderate

If a child shows patterns of behaviour that would suggest a moderate level of engagement, this typically means they are completing tasks and engaging superficially, but not enthralled or engrossed by these tasks.

Similar to the moderate stage on the emotional well-being scale, this can be a key point for engagement and involvement.

If identified early enough, changes can be implemented to increase engagement and involvement. If not recognised or not dealt with, this stage can easily backslide into complete disengagement and boredom.

4. High

If a child is highly engaged and involved in the task at hand, they will appear engrossed and not very easily distracted.

Some children can become irritable at this stage if they are interrupted, and separating a child from a task or event that they are finding highly involving and engaging can cause dissonance in their emotional well-being.

5. Very High

Very highly engaged children are continuously and intensely engaged. They are creative, lively and persistent, and often their enthusiasm for the subject or task at hand can become almost contagious, as others are drawn in by their passion.

This high level of engagement is perfect for learning new skills and developing socially, cognitively, and even physically, fine tuning fine motor skills.

children playing with car toys

How to Use the Leuven Scale Practically

To use the Leuven scale’s level of engagement practically, it is useful to note down what particular tasks or activities a child is engaging with most.

This will help identify a child’s area of interest or areas of interest, and help identify the best resources (for example, the most engaging toys, worksheets, textures, or environments) for that particular child.

When a child is fully engaged in an activity it is a great opportunity to introduce new or non-traditional materials and resources, as they will be more receptive to trying and learning new things as long as they are related to their activity.

When a child is engaged to a high level they tend to also experience high levels of emotional well-being, as they are being challenged but are still comfortable enough to feel fully engaged.

Advantages and Disadvantages of The Leuven Scale

As with every pedagogical tool and scientific approach to learning, the Leuven scale comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. No approach or scale can be considered a ‘catch-all’ approach, and the Leuven scale doesn’t aim to box for every nuance of a child’s learning experience.

One of the major advantages of The Leuven Scale is that it is observation based, and puts the child at the centre of their own learning. Observation and observation based teaching have been shown time and time again to be the most effective method of early years development teaching. By focussing on the child, and their mental, social and emotional wellbeing, the Leuven Scale ensures that the approach doesn’t fall into the trap of being a ‘one size fits all’ pedagogical method that can be blanket applied to every child. It forces practitioners to be adaptive and reactive to a child’s needs.

One of the major criticisms of the Leuven scale is that it doesn’t account very well for child with special educational needs or disabilities. The behaviours described in the scale are often not present or as obvious in SEND children, especially non-verbal children.

Although the practical applications of observational teaching still applies to SEND children, the prescriptive and reductive nature of the observations can be somewhat limiting, or entirely inaccurate, when applied across the board.

This criticism can also be applied when considering cultural differences in children’s behaviour and falls to many of the same criticisms as John Bowlby’s theory of attachment– that is, children present different behaviours across different cultures.

The biggest, and arguably most important, advantage to the Leuven Scale is that it provides a uniform, practical, and applicable way for childcare professionals and parents to quantify engagement and learning.

Although not perfect, the fact that the Leuven Scale provides a teaching and learning tool that is steeped in science, yet so readily and practically useable, makes it one of the most valuable ways to quantify and measure children’s learning and engagement.

How Learning Journals Can Help

Learning Journals support all types of learning environment observations, and gives teachers, nursery practitioners, nursery owners, and parents a way to communicate observations and information about those in their care with ease and efficiency.

For more information about how Learning Journals could help you, your nursery practice, your home learning environment and, most importantly, your children, get in touch today or read our blog on how Learning Journals helps and supports child development across the board.

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