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Dr Housman Speaks at Harvard Graduate School

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.


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.

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

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!

Conversations with Dr. Donna, News

NYT David Brooks Stresses Teaching Emotional Competence in Early Childhood Education

Dr. Donna Housman

I was delighted last week to read “The Building Blocks of Learning” by New York Times OpEd columnist David Brooks in which he noted that the most important education environment is the one that surrounds children in the first five years, “when the emotional foundations are being engraved,” and that the best programs are responsive, empathetic, and “guide them back to calmness.”

We are so thrilled that national discourse is at last recognizing not only the importance of early childhood education but also the importance of learning emotional competence at this phase of children’s development—long our primary focus here at Beginnings School.

To create a healthy society in which children become confident and successful contributors, we need to teach them at an early age how to identify, constructively express, manage, and effectively deal with their own emotions and those of others. These skills are critical in the development of self-regulation and should be taught from birth within the context of relationship in a nurturing, sensitive, and responsive environment. These emotional competencies are also pivotal in fostering empathy, kindness, and compassion—traits that today’s society sorely needs.

I commend Mr. Brooks for his perceptive observations and for bringing attention to this issue at a time when this country is finally willing to discuss the vital role of early education and its long-term impact on our children’s wellbeing and lifelong success.

Conversations with Dr. Donna, News

The Need for Early Childhood Teacher Training

Dr. Donna Housman

I had the honor of running a workshop last week for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) at their annual professional development conference on the topic of training educators to teach self-regulation and the building blocks of emotional intelligence. The workshop underscored both how timely and how critical qualified, well-trained educators are in ensuring that our early childhood education programs succeed both at a local and national level.

Teaching children emotion regulation and self-regulation from birth helps develop the neural circuits for emotional intelligence, which are highly associated with executive function. Understanding the teacher’s role as socializer, addressing emotion in real time, and using age-appropriate tools are essential in teaching the emotional competencies necessary for developing emotional intelligence.

Some 120 educators and administrators attended my workshop and what most struck me was the number of attendees who approached me afterward to ask if I could provide similar training in their state. Their overwhelming interest in the ECSEL (Emotional Cognitive Social Emotional Learning) approach we employ at Beginnings School and in how we train our educators to deliver ECSEL was indicative of the growing recognition at both a state and national level of our need to put in place the requisite support to effectively provide the quality early childhood education that our country so needs.

As the first state to create a department of early education in 2005, Massachusetts is now expressing a similar interest. About ten days ago, the Boston Globe ran a story about House Speaker Bob DeLeo’s efforts around early childhood education. Speaker DeLeo is currently meeting with business leaders to develop a plan on how the state can not only increase access to early education but also improve its quality. A professionalized, well- trained workforce is key to ensuring that we, as a nation and as a state, provide our children the level of excellence that effective early childhood education demands, a need that at last is being given the recognition it deserves.


In the News

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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...