Administration of the Early Movement Indicator (ESI) generally involves conducting a 6-minute play session involving the child, a same-sex peer, and a familiar adult as play partner with play centered around two selected toys: Pop-up Enclosures with Balls and Tub of Toys (TT). The session should take place in a relatively sheltered, but convenient setting with few distractions present.

Two options for administering the ESI
  • Option 1: Two adults in the role of familiar play partner (usually the assessor) and a live recorder of the child’s social behaviors.
  • Option 2: One adult in the role of familiar play partner who additionally sets up and videotapes the session for the purpose of later recording the child’s social behaviors from the tape.
Using either option, the assessor times the session for exactly 6 minutes. A timer capable of recording minutes and seconds is required. During the session the play partner follows the children’s lead during play and comments on their actions and words to encourage social interaction and play. Assessors do not take the lead, rather they support with encouragement. Re-direct children only if he or she ceases to move by sitting and seemingly ignoring play and interaction. Download the assessment forms, checklists, and assessor training materials from the ESI Forms  section of this website.

Play Toys/Materials Needed

Toys were screened and selected based on their ability to engage children’s interest and evoke their interaction skills with peers and adults. Additionally important criteria for selecting these toys included safety, common availability in child care settings, and suitability for use by the entire age range (birth to 3 years). We rejected toys any toys that met these criteria, but too often evoked sitting and exploration rather than play and interaction. “Pop-up” enclosures w/Balls and Tub of Toys are “standard” play toys for the ESI, having been screened, selected, and used in its initial development. The normative data used for decision making represent children’s movement in these two toy play contexts. Refer to the ESI Toys link for details about these toys and where to purchase them online.

General Set Up for an ESI Assessment

The familiar adult and child sit in an area that is comfortable where they can play during the six-minute session. Rotate between toys one session to the next to maintain the child’s interest. Refer to the prior session’s record to see which toy form was used previously and use the other form for the current session. Set up the toy to be used prior to bringing child into assessment so that the child can see the toys set out on entry to the assessment situation. Place either the Pop-up Enclosure (with at least 2 balls) or the Tub of Toys so that the toys are within reach of the child. The play partner should locate comfortably close by – also able to reach the toys, and to have excellent eye contact with the child. Becoming a Familiar Play Partner (Warm Up Sessions) If you or the peer are unfamiliar to the children, you will need to spend time with both in their classroom/home settings wherever you plan to conduct assessments. To break the ice, look to join in the child’s play with an already familiar caregiver (the mom). When the child is willing join you in play together, you are ready. Let the child know that you are going to play with some special toys as you start your first assessment with him or her.

Video Camera Set Up

If you decide to video record the session, several points apply. Set the camera up on a tripod and aim it appropriately using the view finder. Zoom in the view so that the child and the play partner are in full view as is the play situation. Using the tripod and setting the zoom/focus insures a steady view later when recording. Check these settings for best positioning for later viewing and sound quality. Remember – camera view, sound quality, and loudness dramatically affect later recording accuracy. If you have a camera operator, once underway the operator must stay still, interacting little if at all with you or the child. A camera person should be nonintrusive with respect to the assessment. The camera operator also may time the six-minute session for you. If you are video taping on your own, set up the camera, start recording, join the child, and state “Start” to record a voice marker for the beginning of the timing and state “Stop” to mark the ending on the recorded tape. If the child moves out of camera view for some reason, Say “Pause” to voice mark on the tape, then redirect the child back to location and/or update the camera view using its view finder as needed. Then state “Resume” so that later, when you are recording of the child’s communicative behavior from the tape, you can start, stop, and resume as needed to account for the interruption.

Summary Steps for Adult Play Partners in the ESI

The adult plays with the children in a manner that encourages interaction with the toy, peer, and the adult, but does not direct it.
  • Follow children’s communicative lead.
  • Comment about what the children are doing, or describe what they are doing.
  • It is okay to ask some questions, however, questioning should not be the primary manner of interaction.
Using Uncertified Parents or Caregivers as Adult Play Partners Sometimes it may be necessary for a child’s parent to act as the play partner during an assessment. This might be because the child is not comfortable playing with you (a developmentally appropriate response if you have not spent much time with the child), or you do not have an extra person who can code the assessment while you’re the play partner, and you do not have a video camera to record the session. In order to ensure a valid assessment, parents as play partners need to understand and follow a few brief rules, just as you do when you are the play partner. Before the parent acts as a play partner:
  1. Review the play partner checklist with them
  2. Model appropriate play partner interactions
  3. Have them practice with their child while you provide feedback (does not have to be a full 6-minutes, but at least 2-3 minutes)
Parent as Play Partner Checklist
  1. Parent and child are positioned so they can have eye contact
  2. Parent and child can see and reach toys
  3. Parent follows children’s lead (is not too directive)
  4. Parent comments about what the children are doing
  5. Parent interacts in a non-directive, friendly manner
  6. Parent uses questions sparingly
  7. At the end of the session, parent lets the children know that the session is over
  8. At the end of the session, parent thanks the children for playing

Ending the Assessment

When six minutes has elapsed, let the children know that it is time to stop playing and stop recording immediately. It is helpful to have an alternate activity to transition to and as a reminder for the children to stop the activity. Thank the children for playing, and make sure to clean all toys as needed with disposable antibacterial towelettes in preparation for next use.

Accommodations for Children with Physical and/or Sensory Impairments

  • Move toys closer to child
  • Introduce toys to the child allowing him/her to touch and manipulate
  • Position child in manner that allows best access
  • Adult provides physical guidance as needed for child to contact the toys
  • Orient (re-orient) child toward toys as needed
  • Provide verbal comments on what is happening as needed
  • Tell and show the child where you have placed toys