Student spotlight: Exploring self-regulation

Abigail Horn
Friday, May 13, 2022

Debra Laxton an EYITT coordinator introduces one of her Early Years Teacher Status students Abi Horn, who reflects on her experiences focusing on self-regulation in her role as an atelierista (teaching artist) in a setting.

Abigail Horn
atelierista, early years teacher and designer/maker for young audiences


Introduction by Debra

Last year as a trainee undertaking Early Years Teacher Status, Abi, who is now an early years teacher, led a self-chosen project to enable practice change in an area for development. Below she shares her journey.


Abi's experience

I wanted my project to have a calming impact for both children and staff in the toddler room at the Reggio-inspired (Reggio Children/Project Zero, 2001) setting where I worked as an atelierista (teaching artist). Our busier days were hectic at times. I chose self-regulation (Asquith, 2020) as my subject because this seemed to be an area that could have a significant all-round impact. I read around the topic and wrote a vision statement and action plan:


Children are comfortable and relaxed in their space. They feel safe, both physically and emotionally and are able to focus on their play and learning. Staff treat children with empathy and respect and are engaged with learning as well as with behaviour.



  • To enable the children to express difficult feelings and find appropriate solutions through a simple version of the Zones Tool (Kuypers, 2011), a visual resource to promote emotional literacy and self-regulation in children.
  • To update staff knowledge on ‘Self-Reg’ (Shanker, 2016) and share effective approaches to conflict resolution.
  • To reduce sensory stressors (Shanker, 2016) in the environment to make children more comfortable.


I started to work practically, sharing my ideas with my team, and putting resources in place in the busy toddler room where I was based. I was immediately struck by the parallels between what I was doing and the Reggio Emilia Approach:

  • The approach encouraged practitioners to create a culture where children and adults are co-researchers, building knowledge together through investigation. This is a successful pedagogy that builds rich relationships, but in a busy toddler room this can be difficult to maintain. Sharing research-informed approaches, such as Shanker's Self-Reg and the High Scope Steps to Conflict Resolution (Evans, 2016) with colleagues promoted respectful and empathetic interactions. Staff found these new ways of responding to children to be very effective and this afforded more time and energy for high-quality interactions with the children.
  • The image of the child as a powerful learner lies at the heart of the Reggio Approach; the belief that children are competent and active learners who need scaffolding rather than directing. Providing the toddlers with the Zones tool empowered young learners to initiate conversations about tricky feelings, to choose solutions that suited them and to reflect on these afterwards. Over time, the children became more able to talk about their feelings without needing visual prompts, often coming to find a responsive adult for help when stressed. This promoted self-regulation and the ability to focus and engage with provocations more effectively.
  • Another key Reggio principle is the idea of the environment as the third teacher. It is important that the learning spaces are accessible, beautiful and include intelligent materials. I turned half of the long, brightly lit toddler room into a calming space, softening the lighting and installing a projector. I used fabric and paper to create den-like spaces and grouped cushions and rugs around books to make a quiet, cosy reading area. These changes provided the children with opportunities to self-regulate and explore provocations. Even the most active toddlers could be found sitting quietly with a book, exploring the properties of paper or watching a video of clouds drifting through the sky and chatting about their experiences with an educator.


The EYITT programme allowed me the time and space to explore the EYFS and its supporting pedagogies, and to connect theory and practice in my Reggio-inspired setting. As an atelierista with EYITT training, I now work in a much more coherent and reflective way. The project deepened my understanding of the idea that the foundation of learning is wellbeing (Ephgrave, 2018). Undertaking the project supported our staff team to deliver a more effective Reggio-inspired approach by ensuring the children we care for are comfortable and ready to learn, able to be playful and highly focused in their learning.


Asquith, S., 2020. Self regulation skills in young children, London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Conkbayir, M., 2017. Early childhood and neuroscience: Theory, research and implications for practice, London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.

Department for Education, 2021. Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 19th April 2021].

Ephgrave, A., 2018. Planning in the moment with young children, Abingdon: Routledge.

Evans, B., 2016. You can't come to my birthday party, Belfast, Ireland: High Scope.

Gandini, L., 2005. In the spirit of the studio: learning from the atelier of Reggio Emilia. 1st ed. New York, USA: Teacher's College Press.

Kuypers, L., 2011. The Zones of Regulation, San Jose, USA: Social Thinking Publishing.

Laevers, F., 2005. Well-being and involvement in care settings. A process-oriented self-evaluation instrument, Leuven, Belgium: Kind & Gezin and Research Centre for Experientel Education.

Melhuish, E. &. G. J., 2018. Studyb of Early Education and Development (SEED): Study of Quality Early Years Provision in England (Revised). Reserch Report. [0nline]. [Online]
Available at:

OCED, 2018. Engaging young children: Lessons from research about quality in early childhood education and care.. Paris: OCED.

Reggio Children/Project Zero, 2001. Making learning visible:children as individual and group learners. 1st Edition ed. Cambridge, MA: Reggio Children.

Shanker, S., 2016. Self-Reg: How to Help Your child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life. , London: Yellow Kite Books.

Shanker, S., 2021. Self-Reg 101. [Online]
Available at:

Siraj, I. E. A., 2018. Measuring interactional quality in pre-schoolsettings: introduction and validation of the Sustained Shared Thinking and Emotional Wellbeing (SSTEW) scale. Early Child Development and Care, 3(190), pp. 1-14.

Sylvia K., M. E. S. P. S. I. a. T. B. (., 2004. The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Technical Paper 12 - The Final Report: Effective Pre-School Education., London: DfES/IOE, University of London.

Keep up to date with Early Years!

Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with Early Years education, process and events! We promise we won't spam you!