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Measurement of child engagement in early childhood education and care


Andrea Ritoša


Professor Mats Granlund, Jönköping University Professor Henrik Danielsson, Linköping Universitet Almqvist, Lena, Professor Mälardalens universitet.


Associate Professor Tuomo Virtanen, University of Jyväskylä.

Disputerat vid

Jönköping University



Abstract in English

Children’s engagement is a widely studied concept in the field of education, early interventions, and disability research. High engagement among children is consistently associated with desired academic, social, and emotional outcomes. However, the engagement of young children in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) settings has received less systematic attention. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the measurement of child engagement in ECEC and related conceptualizations of the construct. The thesis includes two empirical studies and two literature reviews on child engagement in ECEC.

The first empirical study validates the Engagement Versus Disaffection with Learning: Teacher Report questionnaire in a Swedish preschool class. The relationship between a questionnaire of school engagement and questionnaire of child engagement was also investigated. Second study is a scoping literature review exploring how child engagement is conceptualized and operationalized in ECEC settings. For the third study, a subset of the identified studies using two or more measures of child engagement was included in an in-depth review exploring how multimethod measurement of child engagement is implemented in ECEC settings and what are the associations between different measures of child engagement. Lastly, a profile analysis of observed momentary engagement and global engagement was performed among a sample of preschool children in Sweden to investigate typical and atypical engagement profiles.

Findings show that observations are the dominant method for measuring young children’s engagement in ECEC, while teacher questionnaires are mostly used for assessing academic engagement in kindergarten classes in US. Self-reports where young children can report about their own engagement are extremely rare. Child engagement can be rated as low and high in value, as a category that either is or is not present, or as a variable that can be qualitatively described and coded on mutually exclusive categories, even within a same study.

Although we discovered a strong correlation between child engagement and school engagement in the Swedish preschool class, suggesting that these constructs are highly similar, literature review indicates that the conceptualization and measurement of school engagement and engagement of young children in ECEC differ in several aspects. Child engagement is dominantly associated with behaviors and seen as contextual, whereas school engagement includes internal aspects and can be seen as a stable tendency or even a trait of the child. Results from empirical studies and the in-depth literature review show that teacher questionnaires of child engagement, even if they nominally assess different aspects of engagement, tend to correlate higher than questionnaires and observations of child engagement. This indicates that questionnaires and observations of child engagement tap into qualitatively different aspects of what is considered engagement. Low global engagement in children is rare and probably more indicative of problems in functioning than low observed engagement. On the other hand, high observed engagement can indicate child’s potential for high engagement within a certain context, partly independent of child’s global engagement. Observations of child engagement are more sensitive to changes induced by interventions, whereas teacher-rated global engagement serves as a stronger predictor of future outcome.

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