Early Childhood Education, Emotional Intelligence, News ECSEL4-1200x800-1

Why Begin to…ECSEL Supports the Growth of Emotional Intelligence

Dr. Donna Housman

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



Parenting, Early Childhood Education, News, T. Berry Brazelton

A Tribute to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

Elizabeth Wilcox

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.

Early Childhood Education, Childcare Weston, News, Preschools Weston FEELINGSBOOK-BLOSSOM-1200x800

Day Care Center vs. Child Development Center

Elizabeth Wilcox

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.

Early Childhood Education, Emotional Intelligence, News

Building Blocks at Beginnings

Elizabeth Wilcox

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 to schedule a tour.

Parenting, Early Childhood Education, News 2015.06.10_BeginningsSchool-0358-e1458675303159

Parent Endorsement of Beginnings

Elizabeth Wilcox

Dear Beginnings,

First, congratulations on the article in the International Journal of Child Care and Education. Really wonderful to see your research highlighted here!

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

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!”

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.

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

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