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

Early Childhood Education, emotional competence, News, Op-Ed, 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

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

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.

emotion knowledge, emotion regulation, emotional competence, News, Parenting

It's Okay to Tell Your Children You're Angry

Dr. Donna Housman

As a psychologist and founder of a child development center, I work with young children on building emotional competence. Emotional competence, research shows, is a critical foundation in achieving lifelong academic and social success, as well as overall wellbeing.

Emotional competence is comprised of emotion knowledge and emotion regulation. Advances in neuroscience show that by three years of age, 90% of a child’s brain has been developed and that during this time, the maturation of the brain is intricately connected to the ability to manage and control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child noted in 2004, “When feelings are not managed or well regulated well, thinking can be impaired; when the brain is dealing with unregulated emotion, it cannot learn.”

In order to teach children emotional competence, we as adults also need emotional competence. As our childrens’ primary socializers, we need to know how to permit and promote appropriate expressions of behavior so that they can learn through the observation, imitation, modeling, guidance, and responsive reaction that emerge out of our close relationships with them.

But the reality is that permitting and promoting appropriate expressions of behavior in ourselves can sometimes be difficult, particularly when it comes to expressive language. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard adults mislabel emotions, especially when it comes to anger. While Ryan hitting his sister might make Mommy angry, Mommy, perhaps for fear of being too harsh, tells Ryan instead his actions made her sad.

Granularity of language matters, especially when it comes to emotion. A recent article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, points to studies that show that emotional granularity allows people to be more agile at regulating their emotions.

“People who achieve it are also likely to have longer, healthier lives,” she writes. “They go to the doctor and use medication less frequently, and spend fewer days hospitalized for illness. Cancer patients, for example, have lower levels of harmful inflammation when they more frequently categorize, label, and understand their emotions.”

Feldman Barrett also points out, as we know so well at Beginnings, that schoolchildren who learn more emotion concepts have improved social behavior and academic performance.

Recognition and identification, expression, understanding and regulation are all important parts of emotional competence. To develop it in our children, we need those same skills ourselves. So the next time you are mad at your child for bonking the dog on the head or pulling a sibling’s hair or dumping that lasagna you just burned on the floor, please don’t say you’re sad, if in fact you are angry.

Your child will be better off for it.

News, Parenting

10 Ways Creative Play Helps Kids

Dr. Donna Housman

As adults, when we typically think of play, we embrace the thought of escaping from work, relishing the fantasies of just being able to have fun. Unfortunately for us, we tend to believe that play and work are mutually exclusive. To children, however, play is their "work," and they take it very seriously. As a result, play enables children to acquire some critical developmental skills that can serve them for the rest of their lives.

There are many definitions of play, but play here refers to creative, imaginative recreation created and directed by children (such as make-believe play, block play, etc.). Allowing children to self-direct their play gives them creative control and ownership of their domain, allowing them to express themselves in an uninhibited manner. In turn, their curiosity is fed, stretching their minds and promoting further learning.

Here is a top 10 list of the benefits of play for young children.

  1. Dramatic play develops self-control and self-regulation. While play is often associated with freedom, dramatic play is actually self-regulated. Take the example of children playing firemen: if a child begins crying, another child will point out that firemen don't cry and self-control must be exercised if the child is continue to play that role.
  2. Role-playing increases a child's concentration and attention span. Research shows that a child's ability to control their impulses is stronger when imaging a dramatic scene rather than a non-play situation. When asked to stand still for as long as possible, four-year-old children typically did not make it past one minute. But when asked to imagine themselves as castle guards, the children stood still for as long as four minutes.
  3. Play is one of the vital signs and contributors of health in children. Many health professionals see a direct link between the decline of active outdoor play and the increasingly alarming rise in childhood obesity.
  4. Engaging in active and creative play gives children a place to vent their stress and pent-up energy. Many experts feel that the rise in childhood anxiety and aggression can be linked to the increased focus on kindergarten curriculum on standardized testing and the corresponding decrease in indoor and outdoor creative playtime.
  5. Different types of play cultivate different fundamental developmental skills. "Large-motor" play, more commonly known as playground romping (sliding, climbing, swinging, etc.) develops coordination, balance, and a sense of self-awareness and of the space around oneself. Small-motor play, such as puzzle-making and stringing beads, develops fine-motor control, as well as dexterity. Rules-based play requires children to exercise self-control, as well as perform the social negotiation skills needed to adapt rules to changing scenarios.
  6. Role-playing promotes observation skills and increases verbal expression. Creating and filling out a fully-fashioned character requires children to drawn on their observations of the world around them. To communicate these observations, they further expand their vocabulary, connecting rules of effective communication with social interactions.
  7. Through play, children form hypotheses and play the processes to test them. Initiating special projects such as the production of a play or construction of a pillow fort provides invaluable venues for learning at many levels - learning that involves math, literacy, and even the basis of scientific method.
  8. Play teaches children the importance of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion. Play allows children to internalize critical concepts and act out real life in an enjoyable, flexible manner that focuses on the process of learning, not the product.
  9. Play is linked to academic success. Research directly correlates play to children's ability to master such academic content as literacy and numeracy, problem-solving strategies, and group participation.
  10. Play fosters a child's social and emotional development. Play develops a child's executive center, which controls the higher brain functions associated with social and emotional abilities.

As a whole, research proves that creative play helps to develop, strengthen, and heighten children's creative, cognitive, emotional, physical, and social skills. It further promotes and enhances concentration, self-control, and regulation--all critical in achieving academic, social, and personal success throughout life.

Early Childhood Education, News

It's Not Just About Grit

Dr. Donna Housman

Grit is important. Perseverance, effort, the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down—these traits matter. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” “No one ever scored a goal without taking a shot.” “Success is dependent on effort.” Pick your adage, the message remains the same: effort brings reward.

Grit, as popularized by Angela Duckworth in her recent work, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, is in effect the ability to put forth continued effort despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. What really drives success is not genius, she suggests, but that combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

The reality, however, is that the primary ingredients for lifelong success are more expansive and begin within the first several years of life. In his recent New Yorker article, “The Limits of Grit”, David Denby skillfully explains why beliefs like Duckworth’s are misleading because they overlook this critical reality.

Denby does give credit where it’s due. As Denby notes, Duckworth and others do acknowledge the now widely accepted role that non-cognitive skills play in the academic and social success of a child. These include not just grit, but also self-control, zest, optimism, social intelligence, gratitude, and curiosity. But missing in that list of non-cognitive skills is emotional competence. Emotional competence is the ability to be aware of, constructively express, and effectively manage and deal with one’s own emotions and those of others. These skills are fundamental in the development of empathy and self-regulation (the ability to manage and control thoughts, emotions, and behaviors—all critical in learning).

So why is it so important to start to develop emotional competence in the earliest of years? Emotion is our first language and 90 percent of the brain is developed during the first three years of a child’s life. Research shows that this phase of “neuroplasticity” is when a child’s brain is most conducive to being shaped and rewired by daily experiences, interactions, and social environment. This development is informed by the interrelatedness of the brain’s emotional and cognitive circuitry. The more we strengthen emotional skills, the stronger the cognitive skills become.

In his article, Denby acknowledges the work of Jack Shonkoff, the director of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, who stresses that children “who do not grow up in an environment of responsive relationships that has buffered them from excessive stress activation” are more likely to lack the foundation necessary for grit and motivation. Denby also points to the work of Paul Tough and others who note that early childhood programs in which adults are responsive to children’s emotional and physical needs can go a long way in helping children (particularly underserved ones) overcome hardship so that they can ultimately learn and succeed. These include programs with home visits by trained professionals who help parents engage meaningfully with their infants and pre-K centers in which babies are treated with affectionate warmth and enfolded.

But it is not enough to talk in vague or abstract terms about early childhood programs that are described as responsive or as treating very young children with warmth. We need to be much more specific about how early childhood programs can provide children critical emotional skills. We must implement evidence-based programs that specifically teach emotional competencies—the building blocks for what common parlance now calls emotional intelligence. We must train our teachers to provide our young children opportunities and experiences to learn how to become aware of, constructively express, and effectively manage and deal with their own emotions and those of others. These experiences are critical for building the emotional foundations for learning and for developing a strong, secure and successful sense of self. Grit is helpful, yes. But grit means nothing if children lack the emotional competence that is the basis on which their long-term health, wellbeing, and success is built.

In the News

Beginnings to China: An Early Learning, Cross-Cultural Collaboration
In late September, Beginnings School founder and Housman Institute CEO Dr. Donna Housman visited...
Dr Housman Speaks at Harvard Graduate School
On Saturday, April 21, Beginnings School and Housman Institute Founder Dr. Donna Housman spoke on...
Why Begin to…ECSEL Supports the Growth of Emotional Intelligence
Beginnings School and Child Development Center is steeped in the knowledge that emotional...
A Tribute to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton
Reading to children at night, responding to their smiles with a smile, returning their...
Day Care Center vs. Child Development Center
We all want what is best for our children. We also know that the first years of a child’s life...