Thirty five years ago, just before Dr. Donna Housman founded Beginnings School and Child Development Center, the government produced a bleak report called “A Nation at Risk” on the future of U.S. Education. Last month, one of the country’s leading think tanks, The Aspen Institute, published “From A Nation at Risk to A Nation at Hope”, a report that is far more hopeful, stating that we are at a turning point in our understanding of how people learn and what they need to thrive.
On Saturday, April 21, Beginnings School and Housman Institute Founder Dr. Donna Housman spoke on the importance of emotional, cognitive and social early learning for children’s lifelong well-being and success at the 2018 China Education Symposium at Harvard Graduate School of Education, entitled “Where We Started, Where We Are Heading.”
In this year’s conference, more than 30 top scholars, practitioners, and policymakers from all over the world gathered at Harvard Graduate School of Education to share their knowledge and expertise with more than 400 attendees including scholars and students from Harvard, MIT, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, and other top US universities and research institutions. Guests and participants also included researchers, scholars, and practitioners from different education sectors all over the Greater China region.
"I was really struck by the international interest in our emotional, cognitive and social early approach for young children. I think fueling that interest is the growing global recognition of the importance of developing core competencies like emotional competence, empathy and self-regulation and how important it is to work on building that foundation from birth," said Dr. Housman.
In addition to her morning speech, Dr. Housman led an afternoon seminar on early childhood education that was attended by numerous attendees. Other panels addressed International Education, STEAM Education, Higher Education, Rural Education, and Ed Tech and Big Data. In addition to panel discussions, there was also a variety of interactive workshops and activities, such as Education Career Fair, MakerSpace, CES EdStory Talk, Documentary Filming and School Visit.
"Dr. Housman's presentation was a great success," commented Early Childhood Education Panel Manager Jingyi Ke. "Of particular interest seemed to be Dr. Housman's ability to connect the importance of cognitive with social-emotional learning in early childhood education. In China, in particular, social and emotional learning is garnering increasing interest and the popularity of Dr. Housman's presentation was a clear reflection of that."
The annual symposium was the eighth to take place at Harvard Graduate School of Education and was broadcast live to China.
Beginnings School and Child Development Center is steeped in the knowledge that emotional intelligence matters. A large body of research has shown that developing the skills associated with emotional intelligence can have a profound impact on academic, career and overall life success. Moreover, researchers in the field of child development and neuroscience have shown that a critical period of learning occurs during a child’s first three years and that those early years build the foundation for emotional intelligence—namely the ability to recognize, understand, constructively express, and regulate emotion.
Based on my decades’ long experience as a psychologist, educator, and parent, I developed the emotional, cognitive and social early learning approach, begin to…ECSEL that we teach here at Beginnings. This approach is informed by a significant body of neuroscientific research that shows that a child’s brain development is heavily dependent on a child’s early experiences. Given that the social-emotional and cognitive neurocircuitry is interrelated, the more we strengthen a young child’s social-emotional skills, the more we strengthen cognition and learning.
The begin to…ECSEL approach is predicated on the knowledge that a child develops in the context of a relationship. In the child’s early years, the primary caregivers (the parent and other significant adults in a young’s child’s life) are key to strengthening a child’s emotional, cognitive and social skills. Sensitive, attuned, and empathic caregivers can help children learn to identify, understand, constructively express, and regulate emotion, and through this process they can begin to help children develop associated competencies such as self-regulation and executive function skills so critical to children’s long-term success.
Begin to…ECSEL's uniqueness is in laying the foundation for this fundamental growth from birth. Our soon-to-be-published study evidences that after only one year in our program, children showed significant improvement in empathy, self-regulation, and the social and emotional skills that undergird emotional intelligence. The students also dramatically outperformed national norms on these key constructs.
At Beginnings, you can see our approach in practice. You also can learn more about the theoretical underpinnings of our approach in the article I wrote for The International Journal of Childcare and Education Policy.
Reading to children at night, responding to their smiles with a smile, returning their vocalizations with one of your own, touching them, holding them - all of these further a child's brain development and future potential, even in the earliest months. – Dr. T. Berry Brazelton
March marks the passing of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a world-renowned pediatrician who according to a tribute by Boston Children’s Hospital Chief Executive Sandra Fenwick “redefined how generations of pediatricians and parents view the physical and emotional well-being of children, worldwide.”
Dr. Brazelton was an acclaimed child development expert who revolutionized child-rearing. Noted an obituary in The Washington Post: “He bucked prevailing notions of his time by arguing that babies are not ‘lumps of clay’ but rather expressive beings whose behavior conveys their needs. Rather than instructing parents on child-rearing, he sought to help them read their babies’ cues.”
In addition to his work as a pediatrician, Dr. Brazelton was Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and widely considered one of the most influential scientists, clinicians, and advocates in pediatrics and child development of the twentieth century. According to Brazelton Touchpoints Center, the institute he founded, he was a prolific writer with over 200 scholarly papers and 30 books on pediatrics, child development and parenting. In addition, he developed the now widely used Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale that also bears his name. Recognizing that a baby is already highly developed, the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale evaluates a newborn’s strengths, adaptive responses and possible vulnerabilities.
Touchpoints points out in their tribute to him: “Dr. Brazelton was able to take his scientific findings, and those of his colleagues, and help parlay them into dramatic, nationwide changes in practice, service delivery, and policy.”
Beginnings School and Child Development Center Founder Dr. Donna Housman remarks that Dr. Brazelton's work has deeply influenced the caregiving approach used at Beginnings.
“Dr. Brazelton’s work has been instrumental in informing the development of begin to...ECSEL,” she says. “Our approach is predicated on the knowledge that the early years are critical in a child’s emotional, cognitive and social development and that a responsive, attuned, and sensitive caregiver can foster that growth from birth.”
Dr. Housman adds: “The importance that Dr. Brazelton placed on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young children from birth and his recognition of the foundational and reciprocal role that caregivers play in that development was groundbreaking.”
With Dr. Brazelton's death, pediatrics has lost a great clinician, public educator, and ambassador in this important field. His legacy will live on at Beginnings School and Child Development Center and throughout the world.
We all want what is best for our children. We also know that the first years of a child’s life provide a critical foundation for a child’s long-term success and well-being. Not only is brain development most rapid and significant in the early years with an estimated 90% of growth achieved by age three, but the caregiver plays a pivotal role in fostering that development. Creating a nurturing environment that supports that growth is key.
If you’re considering a childcare facility, understanding the distinction between a day care center and a child development center is essential. The main goal of a day care is to keep a child safe and to meet the child’s basic needs. A high-quality child development center should go well beyond keeping your child safe and meeting basic needs. A high-quality center should provide a strong and developmentally appropriate early childhood education program implemented by well-trained and educated caregivers. These caregivers need to be well versed in how best to promote your child’s emotional, cognitive and social learning in a sensitive, attuned, understanding and responsive way with the support of a well-defined program informed by a demonstrated understanding of child development, early childhood education, and early brain development.
The importance of emotional, cognitive and social early learning
Any quality early childhood program must recognize how to effectively promote emotional, cognitive and social early learning. Children with poor social-emotional competence not only appear to have more difficulty transitioning to school, but they also are at increased risk for low academic achievement, emotional and behavioral problems, peer rejection, and school dropout. Moreover, children who learn social-emotional skills early in life tend to be more self-confident, trusting, empathic, intellectually inquisitive, competent in using language to communicate, and better capable of relating well with others. An effective early childhood education program should therefore not only promote your child’s overall development but also promote the development of foundational social, emotional and cognitive skills – such as the ability to self-regulate, persevere, positively respond in the face of frustration, constructively express and manage emotion, be empathic, relate to others, problem-solve, maintain strong and secure relationships, have perspective—all critical determinants of life-long success.
Why trained caregivers matter
Studies show that a sensitive, attuned and responsive caregiver is essential in a child’s early years, with neurosciences now clearly indicating that nurturing relationships in early childhood are essential for the development of brain pathways and neuroendocrine systems that are prerequisites for learning, effective brain development, social-emotional functioning and overall health. Also essential to the developing brain’s architecture is the quality, repetition, and consistency of the young child’s daily learning experiences in the context of emotional and social security provided by caregivers. Those learning experiences are best fostered by a caregiver who is knowledgeable and trained and by a curriculum and program informed by child development, early childhood education, and early brain development.
How to assess a child development center
Assessing whether the center you’re considering is simply a day care center or a high-quality child development center that will promote your child’s optimum growth requires that the school center does more than tick boxes to yes or no questions. Of course, low student-teacher ratios; an appropriate and stimulating environment and physical space; proper accreditation and licensing; and adherence to health, nutrition, and safety standards are all important for any childcare facility. But to find out whether the childcare center you’re visiting truly can support your child’s emotional, cognitive and social early learning, you need to go deeper. Tour the school. Ask questions. Don’t be satisfied with yes and no answers. Be sure the school can truly speak to the strengths of its program and its underpinnings and make sure it practices what it preaches. Below are some questions and observations to help you get to the root of whether the childcare center you’re considering truly offers a high-quality child development program:
- What early childhood education, qualifications, and ongoing training do the childcare givers/teachers have and receive? How specifically are they trained in emotional, cognitive and social early learning, teaching and children’s development?
- How do the childcare givers/teachers interact with the children? Observe whether the childcare givers interact with sensitivity, attunement, responsiveness, understanding and an ability to read the children’s emotional and behavioral cues?
- Assess the classrooms to ascertain whether there are a variety of developmentally-appropriate activities, toys, books and materials that are accessible and interwoven throughout the classroom and curriculum. Ask the tour to speak to those materials and the curriculum.
- Ascertain whether the classrooms are clean, well-organized and well-structured.
- Assess whether each classroom has designed with a range of developmentally appropriate and accessible child-focused areas based on age and needs. Ask the tour guide to speak to the classroom layout.
- Ask the tour guide to speak to how the program promotes children’s social, emotional and cognitive growth.
- Find out how play—including dramatic play, blocks, active outdoor play—is integrated into topics of study.
- Ask if there is a well-developed educational approach. Does that approach seem to be supported by a demonstrated understanding of child development, early childhood education, and early brain development?
- Do you see a detailed curriculum not only on display but also being practiced in the classroom?
- Look to see if children are encouraged to work alone as well as in small groups. Does there appear to be a clear focus on helping children to develop critical social-emotional skills, as well as cognitive ones?
- Can you see a daily schedule that provides a consistent routine for the children?
- Does the schedule allow for both active and quiet play?
- Determine if the schedule and center provide and encourage gross motor play, inside and outside.
- Ascertain if the center sets goals for children, as well as monitors and supports their individual needs and progress. How does the center do that?
- Determine if there is regular communication with families and if family involvement is actively encouraged and supported.
- Try to get a sense of whether the children in the classroom seem engaged, happy, and interested in what they are doing. Do you leave the center with a positive feeling?
No child care center will look or feel exactly the same. All high-quality programs, however, should be able to address these questions to your satisfaction. We all want what is best for our children. A child development center with a high-quality education program needs to be able to deliver on that promise.
We were very much struck by this recent article in Forbes Magazine that addressed how people with emotional intelligence respond in times of high stress. What struck us is that the recommended success skills are exactly those we foster in young children at Beginnings School and Child Development Center as they develop the building blocks of Emotional Intelligence.
The article was written by top business and career coaches from Forbes Coaches Council who offered their views on how an emotionally intelligent person reins in their emotions and “maintains their cool in times of stress.”
First among their observations: Come up with a cognitive and behavioral way to refocus energy when triggered.
Our children at Beginnings learn to do exactly that. They learn to recognize, identify, and understand how they’re feeling and then to regulate their emotions. We support them in the growth of these important skills through our evidence-based approach, begin to…ECSEL. Through it, we help children know how they feel and why, and then assist them in learning how to manage their emotions and those of others. We support the growth of these and many other foundational emotional, cognitive and social skills, such as conflict resolution and problem-solving. Some of these skills, it turns out, fall under what the Forbes Council collectively refers to as Workplace Intelligence which “represents our ability to collectively achieve results even in the most challenging time.”
Out of our approach also comes increased confidence. Children become empowered, knowing they can manage their emotions and work effectively with others. Parents whose children have been through our program tell us again and again that their children enter kindergarten well above their peers developmentally. “The Mayor of Kindergarten” was one way that a parent described his child based on his son’s ability to help, mediate, negotiate, and resolve conflict.
As one parent wrote to us several weeks ago: “Our son is thriving at his new school. His teachers love him and consistently express how impressed they are with his maturity, his ability to read and adapt to the needs and emotions of his classmates, his patience, and his ability to get along with everyone.”
We invite you to come into our school yourself and see just what makes our program so special and why our children, like those high EQ workers mentioned in the Forbes article, develop “the ability to communicate well, manage disputes, build and nurture relationships, and exhibit strong interpersonal skills.”
Email us at email@example.com to schedule a tour.
And, it was a nice reminder of feedback I have been meaning to share with you. Simply, our son is thriving at his new school. His teachers love him and consistently express how impressed they are with his maturity, his ability to read and adapt to the needs and emotions of his classmates, his patience, and his ability to get along with everyone. In all honesty, because he is a September birthday, I discounted some of this to the fact that he might be older than most of his peers. However, I recently learned that more than 50% of the class is already 5 (some before school started) and therefore, it is truly a testament to his growth.
Our son has always been in tune with emotions and empathy and that is one of the reasons the Beginnings approach and philosophy resonated with us. Now, seeing where he is in relation to his peers as well as how seamlessly he made the transition, only reinforces the importance of this work with children. It is HUGE and I wanted to thank you and his amazing teachers for all of the great work here.
Mom of Beginnings Alumnus
Families from Beginnings School and Child Development Center participated in the annual “Christmas in the City” holiday gift drive.
Each year, Christmas in the City organizes a holiday celebration for thousands of Boston-area kids and their families who are experiencing homelessness and the stress of poverty. Beginnings families identified items on the non-profit’s and children’s individual wish lists to donate through the Beginnings family collection.
Fifty-three gifts were collected.
“It was a great success,” says Linda Lee, Assistant Director of Education at Beginnings School and Child Development Center. “Families from so many of the classrooms participated.”
Christmas in the City shared the donations at their Winter Wonderland Extravaganza during which each participating child received an item from their personal wish list.
The event, which took place on December 16th at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, featured a banquet, games, rides, a petting zoo, and a visit with Santa. The event also offered health and dental screenings, flu shots, and haircuts.
“We are so grateful for all the fantastic contributions from Beginnings children and their families. Our boxes of donations were overflowing. Thank you, Beginnings families, for embracing this initiative and for being such wonderful members of our community. Happy holidays!”