Participation & special needs

Tiina Kuutti et al. paper Participation, involvement and peer relationships in children with special educational needs in early childhood education was in the list of the Top 10 papers downloaded from EJSNE last year. The article can be retrieved at

Many congratulations!

One of the key findings is that children with special needs is a very versatile group of children with very varied skills, needs and practices for participation (click the Table for a larger picture).

Autistic children in Early Education

Research on the involvement of autistic children in daily activities in inclusive early childhood education is scarce. In Finland, all children, including autistic children, under the age of seven (before basic education) are entitled to participate in early childhood education and care. Children also attend compulsory, free-of-charge pre-primary education during the year before their basic education begins. Furthermore, attending early childhood education and care is not dependent whether a child requires day care because of their parents’ work. Autistic children attend early childhood education in inclusive day care centres. Thus, in this study, we examined the involvement of autistic children by focusing on the objects of their attention during daily activities in inclusive day care centres in Finland.

The data were collected between 2017 and 2020, during the research and development project Progressive Feedback, in which children were observed using systematic sampling. The study material consisted of observations of seven autistic children as part of a larger sample of children. The data were analysed using statistical methods.

The results indicated that, during their deepest involvement, autistic children expressed positive emotions regarding participation and collaborated with and directed their focus towards other children. Moreover, autistic children demonstrated the most intensive involvement during adult-supported play.

In our study, we also discovered that peer relationships seem to play a key role in promoting involvement and, thus, well-being and learning. Our findings demonstrated that autistic children were most involved in their activities when they were oriented towards several children or just one child at a time; indeed, they were even more involved in such activities than those in relation to adults, non-social objectives or the situation overall. This is an interesting finding, as previous studies have shown that autistic children (Chang et al. 2016), as well as those with SEN generally (Broomhead 2019), have fewer experiences of social interaction with neurotypical peers. Thus, this finding suggests, in alignment with earlier studies, that ECEC professionals must provide systematic support for the interaction and social skills of the individual child and the group as a whole (Broomhead 2019; Chang et al. 2016).

Syrjämäki, M., Reunamo, J., Pesonen, H., Pirttimaa, R. & Kontu, E. (in print). The involvement of children with autism in early childhood education. The involvement of children with autism in early childhood education. Read the article:

Children with special needs in the everyday interaction of early childhood education

An article based on the Progressive Feedback data has been published in the European Journal of Special Needs Education. In the research, the most common reason why children had a need for support in ECEC was difficulties related to self-regulation. Effective self-regulation is fundamental to an individual’s functioning and early childhood is an important period for the development of self-regulation. Professionals working in ECEC are responsible for supporting children in situations in which self-regulation skills are needed. Our results were in line with studies indicating that children with low self-regulation skills are at increased risk of being left outside joint play. This result is worrying because joint play supports the development of self-regulation skills while solitary play does not have that effect. This means that the very children who need to practice their self-regulation skills are missing a potential opportunity to do that. Children prefer prosocial peers and neglect antisocial peers, which makes establishing friendships even more difficult if the child already has difficulties in forming peer relationships and does not have the skills to act in situations that require social skills. Being left outside causes negative feelings towards peers and negative feelings may cause antisocial behaviour or vice versa. This may cause a vicious circle that is difficult to break. Therefore, early intervention is essential. Click the link to read the article:

Kuutti, T., Sajaniemi, N., Björn, P., Heiskanen, N. & Reunamo, J. (2021). Participation, involvement and peer relationships in children with special educational needs in early childhood education. European Journal of Special Needs Education. Available at

Dissertation on Culturally and linguistically diverse children’s participation and learning

The Faculty of Education of the University of Turku has granted Outi Arvola a dissertation permit to defend her dissertation “Can you play with me? Culturally and linguistically diverse children’s participation and learning in the context of Finnish Early Childhood Education” in a public dissertation. Congratulations!

The material of the dissertation is the Progressive Feedback data. It highlights in a unique way how broad structural factors are clearly reflected in the close interaction of early childhood education as mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion. The future of the inclusion of children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds is being built right now in early childhood education.

Sharing rules and creating rules with multicultural children

Children with non-Finnish cultural or linguistic background face challenges
to interact socially in the early childhood education context in
Finland. The new article with Progressive Feedback data clarifies what kind of social roles children typically have in ECE, and what sort of activities and play are
typical to children with Finnish and non-Finnish cultural or linguistic
background. The research data was systematically sampled large-scale
observation data (1147 children, 22,149 observations) of 5–6-year-old
children. According to our findings, non-social roles and less
participative actions were found to be more common among diverse
background children than with Finnish background children. Children
with diverse background were found to be more engaged especially in
rule play but they played less role play. The results suggest
that ECE educators could pay specific attention to play-based
interventions and to the shared cultural creation. In rule play the common context has the same rules for everybody, thus helping multicultural children to find a common ground more easily. However, in role play children create the play rules as the play progresses. In role play children create the play culture in a shared creation of the play world. In the Table, the observed roles of children with multicultural and Finnish background are presented.

Outi Arvola, Kaisa Pankakoski, Jyrki Reunamo & Minna Kyttälä (2020):
Culturally and linguistically diverse children’s participation and social roles in the Finnish Early Childhood Education – is play the common key?, Early Child Development and Care, DOI:10.1080/03004430.2020.1716744
To link to this articl e:

How to measure physical activity?

Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health (LIKES) conducts and develops multidisciplinary and applied research on physical activity. Likes is leading the PIILO-project on monitoring joy, physical activity and motor skills in young children. The specific purpose is to improve monitoring physical activity at national level and its use in promoting early childhood education. The project compares different methods of measuring physical activity and motor skills. The project started in spring 2019. Progressive Feedback participates in the project.

`Measuring movement is not a simple matter. In 2019, we compared physical activity indicators in kindergarten. The aim has been to compare the results of accelerometer and observation. The metrics were compared during normal day care days. The pilot was carried out in the vicinity of Jyväskylä in the fall of 2019. The physical activity of the child was measured with accelerometers placed on three different points of the body and a heart rate monitor. In addition to the accelerometer measurements, the physical activity of the child and his or her environment in the kindergarten were observed by three different methods, one of which was Progressive Feedback. Observers have been methodologically trained surveyors.

In 2020, in the second phase of the project, measurements will be carried out in ECEC units. At the end of the project, a report will be completed in 2020, which concludes with a justification of the plan to carry out population monitoring of the movement of young children. More information about the project can be found (in Finnish) at

From the point of Progressive Feedback, the project is an excellent way to learn more about the reliability of the observation and the validity of the criteria (the relation of observation to other indicators).

Fear & Anxiety in Early Education

Fear and anxiety are species-specific adaptation reactions. We have been observing these feelings as part of other emotions since 2015. Through random sampling, we are able to provide a reliable picture of the observed amounts of anxiety and fear and their relationship to children’s tendencies, learning environment, and leadership. Anxiety and fear occurred for an average of 43 seconds per day per child. Most fears occur in the morning. As a result, fears are over-represented in outdoor activities, the child is usually out of focus, often interrupted, and attention is concentrated on a variety of subjects. In situations of fear, the child is often withdrawn or bound to his or her own perspective. 1-3 year olds have most of fearful emotions, even though these emotions are only 0.26% of all observations. Girls have somewhat more fears than boys. However, the emotions of fear in early childhood education are not the experiences of characteristically helpless children, but those of sensitive and skillful children. Fear in early childhood education does not only appear to be negative, but it expresses the courage to experience emotions and the ability to engage with things that are important despite the fear. Only a child who feels secure enough does not prevent him from acting and facing his/her fears. (The figure shows the relationship between fear and anxiety experiences and the child’s assessed social skills in the child group. Observation and assessment are completely independent, so the connection reflects a real phenomenon.)

Below are some examples of children’s descriptions of their fears:

It’s when the adults are loud and when the adult says it
If you play ghost games – in the morning I feel anxious
if it’s dark and someone is scared
That I will be alone somewhere, and the others will leave
I’m afraid I won’t be chosen.
Loud noise. When it’s dark.
Jumping scares, climbing poles.
One boy always hits and is naughty because he hasn’t learned things yet.
If I had to do something and I don’t know if I could do it.
I’m afraid the teacher will get angry if I make an accident.
At daybreak I had dreams of wolves and they ran over me.
When the kindergarten is big.
Well, every time someone made me stupid games and laughed. I don’t like it when I am laughed at.
All boys
If the electricity goes out

Is child-centered pedagogy really good for children’s learning?

Professor James Ko from the Education University of Hong Kong is visiting Finland.  We will test children’s self-management and pre-academic skills both in Finland and Hong Kong. Then we will observe children’s activities and teachers’ activities. in the follow-up study we will test the children again, seeking to find out what kind of learning environment and teaching style is best for children’s learning. This will help teachers, policymakers and parents understand how effective teaching in two contrastive contexts longitudinally affects children’s learning and their influences at multiple levels of surrounding contexts (classroom, school, education system). We will:
1. Examine the relationships between effective teaching and childhood development:
a) Whether children can learn more from teachers who show more positive teacher-student interactions;
b) Whether child-led, play-based teaching and teacher-led, academically-focused teaching approach have different impacts;
c) Whether a dominant type of teaching approach results in different learning outcomes;
2. To examine a) whether the above relationships change or strengthen over time (following up across three school years) and b) whether there are individual differences.

In the picture, you can see James presenting the pre-academic test. In our project we have already found several key indicators for a deep zone of proximal development. This is the first time we study the longitudinal effect of that zone!

Children dealing with frustration in early education

Jouni Veijalainen has been studying children’s emotional expressions in a stressful situation. The children were asked: Think that you fail, what do you do? Jouni studied how children’s descriptions were related to teachers’ evaluations of children’s self-regulation skills. Self-regulation skills have an important role in guiding children with their use and narration of suitable coping strategies on overcoming the frustration effectively. The concrete strategies allow teachers to work concretely with children in enhancing their SR skills and coping strategies further. In the table you see the relation between children’s descriptions and teachers evaluations. These two measures were independent, which increase the criterion validity of the results. The study has been accepted for publication: Veijalainen, J., Reunamo, J., Sajaniemi, N. & Suhonen, E. (In print.) Children’s self-regulation and coping strategies in a frustrated context in early education. South African Journal of Childhood Education.