Christmas giving, News, School Happenings

Beginnings Families Share the Holiday Spirit of Giving

Elizabeth Wilcox

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!”

Conversations with Dr. Donna, Early Childhood Education, News

Emotion is our first language

Elizabeth Wilcox

Children communicate through expressions of emotion, which is our first language universally. Knowing one's own and others’ emotions, as well as regulating them, is what is known as emotional competence or, in common parlance, emotional intelligence. Caregivers and early childhood educators are crucial in promoting the growth of these skills.

So begins the latest blog by Beginnings School Founder Dr. Donna Housman on the SpringerOpen Blog, a blog about the best research and best practices with open access.

In the piece, Dr. Housman remarks on the need to provide quality early childhood intervention and prevention programs that specifically promote the development of emotional competence on the path from co-regulation toward self-regulation for children's long-term success, mental health and well-being.

As Dr. Housman points out, the opportunity for effective evidence-based early childhood education has never been more pronounced.

Read more of her piece on SpringerOpen Blog.

Beginnings in the News, News

Beginnings Children Giving Back

Elizabeth Wilcox

An article in the Weston Town Crier is celebrating Beginnings students giving back.

The November 30, 2017 printed version of the local town newspaper notes that Beginnings students have been donating pajamas to the Pajama Program, an organization founded on the belief that every child, no matter the circumstances, has the right to a good night.

The newspaper quotes Beginnings teacher Linda Lee: "We got to talking one day and the kids were saying how important it was that all kids should get to feel cozy and safe at night. I found the program, Pajama Program, and the kids were really excited to get involved."

Lee's classroom calls their school initiative "Pajamas and Pennies" and the newspaper reports that through it, children donate pajama sets and loose change from home for classroom purchases.

At the time of publication, the program had collected 57 pajamas. Lee says that the final number of pajamas was 69 and that the children were delighted to be a part of an initiative that helps other children enjoy a good night.

Pick up the November 30, 2017 version of the Weston Town Crier to learn more!

Beginnings in the News, News

Work of Beginnings Founder Dr. Housman Published in Acclaimed Peer-Review Journal

Elizabeth Wilcox

“Neuroscientific advances demonstrate that the age range from zero to five years old represents a critical window for both learning and teaching, which must involve the development of emotional competence and the growth of self-regulation as a foundation for long-term academic, personal, and social success, promoting mental health and well-being. Recent findings suggest that these capacities emerge from the co-regulation of empathic social and emotional interactions between a caregiver and young child.”

So begins the article “The importance of emotional competence and self-regulation from birth: a case for the evidence-based emotional cognitive social early learning approach” just published by the highly regarded International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy and written by Beginnings School and Child Development Center Founder, Dr. Donna Housman.

Dr. Housman, a clinical psychologist and CEO of the early childhood teacher training, advocacy, and research organization, Housman Institute, is a leader in the field of early childhood education and child psychology. She has over thirty years’ experience in the field, and her work at Beginnings School and Child Development Center has long focused on developing the building blocks of emotional intelligence by promoting self-regulation and emotional competence in children, aged 3 months and 6 years.

The peer-review journal, in which her article was published, disseminates research and analysis regarding major issues of child care and education policy relating to young children and their families to a broad international readership, including policymakers, researchers, and practitioners. Dr. Housman’s most recent article highlights the critical foundational role that emotional competence and self-regulation play in children’s development, mental health, well-being and success. The article also points to the growing international consensus on the importance of promoting these competencies in early childhood when social and emotional experiences play a critical role in the growth of the brain’s architecture.

Dr. Housman’s work comes at a time when the need for quality early childhood care is on the rise globally, as is the awareness of the value of that quality early childhood care brings, as documented by the pioneering work of noted economist and Nobel Memorial Prize winner James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and many others.

Beginnings School is delighted that quality early childhood education is getting the attention it deserves and that its founder and head of teacher training, Dr. Housman, is among those tirelessly advocating for evidence-based early childhood education that actively promotes the growth of emotional, cognitive and social competencies in young children.

Conversations with Dr. Donna, Early Childhood Education, News

Assessing Social and Emotional Learning

Can we measure the growth of our students’ social and emotional learning skills? Our country’s K-12 principals suggest a resounding yes.

According to a 2017 survey from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), over 80% of K-12 principals believe in the importance of social and emotional skills, and over 70% recognize that these competencies can be accurately measured. The question is how.

The CASEL results suggest that only a mere 17% of principals report that they are familiar with assessments that measure social and emotional learning—but they do exist.

At the Housman Institute lab school, Beginnings School and Child Development Center, the pioneering begin to…ECSEL approach works to actively promote social and emotional skills in young children. These competencies, foundational for lifelong success, mental health, and well-being, include emotional competence, self-regulation, and prosocial skills, such as empathy. The training and research institute integrates assessments that measure these competencies in order to accurately assess children’s skills and the effectiveness of the begin to…ECSEL approach.

Says Dr. Donna Housman, founder and CEO of the Housman Institute: “When we talk about social and emotional learning, we are really talking about promoting social and emotional competencies, such as self-regulation and empathy. Children need to be aware of, express appropriately, manage, and regulate the intensity of both their emotions and those of others. We need to be actively training our teachers in how best to support the growth of these competencies and, at the same time, evaluating how effective we are in meeting our teaching objectives.”

One tool that Beginnings utilizes to measure these competencies is the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA), which assesses self-regulation, attachment, and initiative. The school also employs other psychometric measures to gauge emotional competence, empathy, and other pro-social skills for children as young as two-and-a-half years old.

“Just as it is accepted that we need to be assessing literacy and numeracy skills during school years, we need to be addressing not only pre-literacy and pre-numeracy but also other social and emotional skills during preschool years,” stresses Dr. Housman. Pointing to the growing recognition of the important role these skills play in children’s development, Dr. Housman notes that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expanded their assessments this past May to include the Baby Pisa early learning assessment that measures academic, social and emotional competencies for five-year-olds including self-regulation and empathy.

The CASEL report further suggests that while 70% of principals expect their teachers to be social and emotionally competent, 60% reference a lack of teacher training for supporting students. Dr. Housman agrees, explaining that she conducts weekly teacher trainings to scaffold her staff in incorporating these competencies.

Concludes Dr. Housman: “Teacher training and assessment need to be fully incorporated into evidence-based early childhood programs to strengthen our ability not only as educators and caregivers but also as champions of our children and their future success.”

This blog was reproduced from

Op-Ed, Early Childhood Education, emotional competence, News, Social and Emotional Learning

A Toddler Teacher's Reflection: By Susan B. Hughes

Elizabeth Wilcox

From the moment you enter the classroom, to the end of the day when you turn out the lights, our begin to…ECSEL teaching approach guides our day. When I enter the classroom to set it up for the morning, I am mindful of making sure that our teaching tools for emotional, cognitive and social development are ready for the day. I have learned how hard the child's brain has to work to try to understand words when they are overwhelmed with an emotion. I have learned to integrate our program tools and techniques to help children overcome the challenges inherent to their development so that they can thrive now and in the long-term.

My aim every day is to get myself on the same page as each child to understand what the child is experiencing through observation, reading their cues, and engaging. All behavior has a reason behind it. If the behavior is inappropriate, I talk to the child using the techniques I’ve learned through our begin to…ECSEL approach around helping the child learn to identify and understand emotion. The aim is to channel the inappropriate behavior (action) into words. I let the child know when the expression of an emotion through behavior is not appropriate. If, for example, the child has hit another child, I guide the child to a more appropriate behavior like hitting a pillow. I help the child regulate and then help the child understand why the expressed behavior was inappropriate and how it made the other child feel. I have learned the importance of opening the door on an appropriate behavior after closing it on an inappropriate one. My goal is not to scold or ever shame a child. I recognize typical toddler behavior and I am here to guide the child. This approach I use throughout the day.

The approach that Dr. Housman has taught me over the past five years is so vital. The practice of accurately identifying, expressing, understanding and ultimately managing emotions teaches the child so much. I see, as the year progresses, children begin to use program tools and techniques on their own. I see children learn that emotions — anger, sadness, fear, and happiness — are natural for them and for others and that what we need to learn is how to manage and express those emotions in appropriate ways. I see these young children become more attuned to their emotions and those of others every day. It amazes me that children so young can accomplish what we adults often struggle to do. I see why this process is so critical for lifelong emotional, cognitive and social success and how vital it is to be practiced each day. And I am grateful for it.

Author and veteran teacher, Susan B. Hughes, works with children aged one and two years at Beginnings School and Child Development Center.

Conversations with Dr. Donna, News

7 Steps to Successful Potty Training

Elizabeth Wilcox

You’ve determined your child is ready for potty-training, what do you do next?

As a parent, you can help your child master this important milestone while making the process empowering for you both.

“Children learn through observation, modeling, guidance,” says Beginnings Founder and clinical psychologist, Dr. Donna Housman. “How we respond is very important,” she says.

To ensure success, Dr. Housman recommends the following steps after you've determined your child is ready for potty-training.

1) Initiate Potty Training at the Right Time

Make certain children are ready physically, that they can communicate to you when they want or need to go, and that they understand and can follow directions. Best not to introduce potty training during times of change, such as birth of a sibling, moves, divorce or holidays.

2) Help Children Understand Why

Explain to children that we go to the potty or toilet to get rid of what is no longer needed in our body and to help make us healthy and strong. Giving children reason also clears up confusion and reduces fear.

3) Get Out Equipment

Learning and comfort involve practice. Ensure the potty is in a place where children can access it easily and get on and off the potty independently. If you use a toilet, ensure the seat is small enough and you've put a stool below it for children's feet to be firmly grounded. Start with urinating then bowel movements. Move to standing for boys when bowel training is complete.

4) Establish Routines

Schedule times after meals or when children show the need through holding self, fidgeting, hiding or other telltale cues you’ve learned to read. Introduce children to the potty briefly at first and then lengthen time, providing a book if convenient. Encourage children to sit regularly, trying every few hours even if they don't need to go.

5) Incentivize through Encouragement and Praise

Use your words. Words of encouragement and praise are far more motivating than candy or toys. Tell children you are proud of them, even if for trying.

6) Celebrate the Transition from Diapers to Underpants

After several weeks of success, move to underpants. This transition is a time to celebrate. Have children participate by allowing them to pick out their own underwear. Remember, you want to encourage independence and a sense of control so clothing needs to be able to be easily removed (no belts, overalls, or tiny buttons!)

7) Provide Ongoing Support

Talk with your child about their questions, feelings, concerns, worries or excitement. Reading books are a great way to share information, spur questions, and provide answers!

Recommended Books:

Flush the Potty

By Ken Wilson-Max

Potty Superhero: Get ready for big boy pants!

By Parragon Books

Even Firefighters Go to the Potty: A Potty Training Lift-the-Flap Story

By Wendy Wax, Naomi Wax

Big Girl Panties

By Fran Manushkin

Big Boy Underpants

By Fran Manushkin


By Leslie Patricelli

It Hurts When I Poop! A Story for Children Who are Scared to Use the Potty

By Howard J. Bennett, M.D.

The Potty Chronicles: A Story to Help Children Adjust to Toilet Training

By Annie Reiner

You Can Go to the Potty

By William Sears, Martha Sears, Christie Watts Kelly

My Big Girl Potty

By Joanna Cole

My Big Boy Potty

By Joanna Cole

The Potty Book: For Boys

By Alyssa Satin Capucilli

Potty Time

By Caroline Jayne Church

Diapers Are Not Forever

By Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen

Parenting, Conversations with Dr. Donna, Early Childhood Education, News

Prepare Your Kids for Daylight Savings

Dr. Donna Housman

With the approach of daylight savings, I always have a few parents reach out to me as to how best to handle the daylight shift. In my experience, I have found children’s adjustment often varies by age. The disruption to the young baby’s sleep schedule is worse than the disruption to older children’s who are sleeping through the night.

This article by Anisa Arsenault on the provides some sage advice. Arsenault draws from the expertise of Kim West, a sleep expert, clinical social worker and author of Good Night, Sleep Tight. "With younger babies, you want to gradually make adjustments to their schedules, starting four or five days before daylight saving," says West, “Move meals, naps and bedtimes a little later; 15 to 20 minutes each day."

West goes on to point out that an hour's difference may be manageable for older children who already sleep through the night, but for toddlers at risk of waking too early, pushing bedtime later 30 minutes on Friday and another 30 minutes on Saturday can help. She goes on to suggest a few tools that can ease the transition, such as light bulbs in the nursery that don’t emit blue wavelengths and room darkening shades.

Consistent follow through remains important in making the transition smooth. Stick to your goodnight plan, even if your child resists. If your child wakes early, don’t break your routine. Attend to the child as you normally would in the middle of the night and then return to your bed. As I often repeat, knowing how to set limits with your child is an invaluable tool in parenting which is one of the most important yet difficult jobs you’ll ever do!


Tempering Tantrums and Limit Setting for Young Children

Elizabeth Wilcox

To help our children develop autonomy and self-control, we need to set limits.

How to set those limits and work with your child when emotions run hot were among the topics addressed in Dr. Donna Housman’s opening 2017 parent lecture at Beginnings School in Weston, MA.

The lecture, sponsored by the Newton-based Housman Institute, was attended by parents and teachers from Beginnings School, a school and child development center for children aged 3 months to 6 years that focuses on promoting the building blocks of emotional intelligence.

Beginnings School founder and Housman Institute CEO, Dr. Housman spoke of the challenges of dealing with temper tantrums, providing a step-by-step approach on how to respond when your child exhibits inappropriate behavior in response to heightened emotions. Underscoring this approach was the importance of supporting development of autonomy and self-control, particularly through limit setting.

First, Dr. Housman stressed the significance of listening, accepting, and identifying feelings. Elaborating, she emphasized the direct connection between children’s feelings and behaviors. Dr. Housman reiterated the importance of accepting negative feelings, clarifying that accepting those feelings is not the same as accepting behavior.

Subsequently, she encouraged adults to help children label and express their distraught feelings, thereby clarifying the emotion. Finally, Dr. Housman advised resolving the conflict and following through. These steps, she assured listeners, would help children to learn how to better understand, regulate, and cope with emotions, thereby leading to emotional intelligence.

Dr. Housman pointed out that research shows that by helping our children learn and accept limits and manage their emotions in the process, they also learn to develop self-control and self-regulation. These skills, along with other facets of emotional intelligence—such as emotional competence, empathy and other prosocial skills—are foundational to lifelong success.

Dr. Housman’s talk was one of a series of lectures for Beginnings parents and teachers funded by the Housman Institute, a training and research organization for early childhood education. Successive talks throughout the academic year will continue to educate parents and teachers.

Early Childhood Education, News

Early Childhood Teacher Training at Beginnings

Dr. Donna Housman

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. And again. Training is critical for our early childhood educators. A professionalized, well-trained workforce will help ensure that we, as a nation and as a state, provide our children the level of excellence that effective early childhood education demands.

But what kind of training do our early childhood educators need? Traditionally, teachers are taught to focus on developing cognitive skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics, but for young children, learning focused on emotional and social development is of primary importance. Emotional and social development provides the foundation for the development of academic skills. Persistence, maintaining focus during periods of frustration, patience, and perseverance are all essential to learning.

That is why children need the most effective instructors to teach them not only facts and figures, but also to help construct the building blocks of emotional competence. Teachers need training on how to help young children develop the emotional and social competencies central to academic and social success. They also must develop their own emotionality—awareness, expressiveness, and regulation skills—in order to model their behavior and reactions for younger learners.

At Beginnings School and Child Development Center, we not only begin our year with a week of training, but we continue to train our teachers weekly on these principles. We also provide professional development opportunities for our staff outside the classroom. Why?

Training is critical for our early childhood educators.

In the News

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