An Eye-Opening Talk with Ron Ferguson, the Founder Of The Basics

Today we have the honor of sitting with The Basics Founder, Ronald Ferguson, PhD. He’s an economist whose focus on education and youth development has had a tremendous impact on the way institutions, communities and families interact with children. Ron’s made a career of intentional change through his work as an author, Director of The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, Co-Founder of Tripod Education Partners, and over 30 years of teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School, and now, The Basics.

In our interview, Ron details the scientific research, as well as his own familial experiences, that fuel his passion for spreading the five simple yet powerful Basics of early childhood caregiving.

Ron Ferguson, Basics Founder

The Basics Founder, Ronald Ferguson, talking to a local Father. Photo Credit: The Basics Videos

Ron, you told me that thirty years ago you noticed a relationship between academic and growing wage disparities, which is what got you started working on education. Which specific academic skill disparities did you notice?

Initially, it was reading and math scores. In 1979, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) administered the Armed Forces Qualifications Test (AFQT) to over twelve-thousand 14-to-21 year-olds.

The NLSY interviewed the same young people every year, so ten years later, at the end of the 1980s, we looked to see how their skills measured at the end of the 1970s (when the test-takers were teenagers) predicted their earnings and employment status when they were young adults. As it turned out, the scores from 1979 predicted most of the black-white and Latinx-white hourly earnings gaps in 1989 and ‘90. It was stark evidence that reading and math skills really mattered.

Over the decades of the ‘70s and ‘80s, we had gone through a period when the importance of reading and math skills in the labor market increased. It was actually a period when the black-white and Latinx-white achievement gaps appeared to be narrowing, but they were closing more slowly than the market value of skills was rising. For example, if a ten-point difference in AFQT scores between two 25-year-olds in the mid-1970s predicted a one dollar per hour difference in their wages, an increase in the market value of skills that the AFQT measured might cause that same ten-point difference in scores to predict twice as large a difference in wages.

The racial gap in academic skills seemed to be narrowing, but technology and other factors were making academic skills more valuable to employers, increasing economic inequality.

That’s when I and a lot of other economists started working on education.

That's interesting! I know you developed the Tripod Project in 2001 (which later became Tripod Education Partners) to reduce the academic opportunity gap in elementary and secondary schools. I'm curious what prompted the shift to early childhood through The Basics in recent years?

I didn’t switch. My work still focuses on cradle to career. I added the preschool and early childhood period, because I saw in nationally representative data that the cognitive skill gap was evident by the age of one, and pretty stark by the age of two, less than half the way to kindergarten!

So, the gaps that we care about, the disparities that predict later life outcomes, were already fairly well developed by the time children hit kindergarten. We really needed to back up and start focusing on families prenatally.

Can you say more about these cognitive skill gaps?

By cognitive skill, we're talking about a child’s mental agility. The ability to respond well to intellectual stimuli.

And for little kids, it’s really a lot about the quantity and quality of adult-child interactions. For example, a scholar named Ann Fernald, with some of her colleagues, studies how rapidly children two-years-old and younger associate words with objects.

In one study, children from more advantaged backgrounds were already six months ahead in language processing speed, compared to economically disadvantaged peers, by the time they were two-years-old.

There’s a fair amount of research that gives us a way to interpret those findings, showing that children from more advantaged backgrounds tend to experience more verbal language -- their parents tend to talk to them more. So, they've had more practice at hearing and responding.

There's also a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University from the last two years looking at four- to six-year-olds. Scientists were interested in whether they could use MRI, brain scan technology, to detect how home language environments affected the brain.

They had three dozen kids wear devices at home to measure the number of words they heard and spoke.

In addition to the sheer number of words, the scientists tracked the amount of back-and-forth conversational turn-taking. Children who were engaged at home in more conversational turn taking showed a distinct pattern in their brain scans: a part of the brain associated with language “lit up” more on the MRI screen when a researcher in the lab read the child a story.

So, it looks like it matters that children in back-and-forth conversations have to process what the other person is saying, then formulate and deliver their own response. And every one of those exchanges requires the use of that “muscle,” the brain. The more the child uses the brain, the stronger it gets.

That's fascinating how the brain works! I appreciate that you've taken lots of research like this and put it into five simple Basics that every family can use.

I noticed a consistent theme of research-to-practice in your work. I'm curious, what qualitative and quantitative outcomes do you expect from The Basics?


We've isolated the types of early childhood lived experiences that contribute to early brain development. Families who use The Basics consistently, who otherwise might not have, can alter their child’s lifetime trajectory of success.

We know that the ease of learning depends upon early brain development -- a child’s orientation to life, their tendency to identify things that they're interested in and become passionately engaged in learning more about those things. So, it’s not just how much the child knows, it’s the child’s tendency to set high aspirations and to be confident enough to investigate and learn things that they initially don't understand.

There are a number of qualities that contribute to life success, and it goes beyond basic reading and math skills. More recent research is showing that self-management skills, called executive function skills, are really important in the long term.

Executive function skills are the skills an individual uses to make a plan and actually follow through on it; to shift their attention from one thing to another; to resist the temptation to do something that they have an urge to do, but know that they shouldn’t.

Executive functioning skills are strongly affected by the sense of security children have early in life, which helps make the first Basic, Maximize Love, Manage Stress, so important.

Each of The Basics is linked to a set of skills and attitudes that are foundations for lifelong success. The big impact we want to document over time is the trend line in school readiness rotating up. There are still large percentages of children who arrive in kindergarten without having the executive function skills that they need to do well. Of course, along the way, we want to be able to document changes in parental knowledge and childcare routines, as well as some markers of early childhood developmental progress. But ultimately, over a period of several years, The Basics is a community-wide public health initiative to raise that trend line in school readiness. Research at the Brookings Institution indicates that over 80 percent of kids who enter kindergarten school-ready are still on track with reading and math skills as of fifth grade, but fewer than half are if they entered kindergarten underprepared.

We at The Basics are becoming more interested in supporting the parents’ belief in their own potential, which will reflect back on the child’s ongoing development. We know the types of mindsets that help human beings persist in the face of adversity; to be their best selves. So, paying attention to the parents’ development is worthwhile in and of itself.

We want parents to become empowered with their infants and toddlers, then stay engaged for the rest of the children's lives, knowing that what they do as parents actually makes a difference.

I appreciate the holistic approach to outcomes that not only aims to help the child, but the parents as well.

Our last question gets a little personal. I wanted to learn more about how you were raised and your child-rearing years.

My grandmother was a master teacher of special education students. Even at home, she was constantly teaching. On top of what my parents did, she spent a lot of time with me as a preschooler building my skills and confidence. She was also my oldest son’s childcare provider for the first year-and-a-half of his life.

I grew up the oldest of five boys, no sisters. We each had our own unique mix of relationships with our parents and grandparents, which I think helps explain why we turned out so differently. My coauthor Tatsha Robertson and I have written about it in a chapter on siblings, in our new book, The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children.

The book reveals a pattern with eight principles or “parental roles” we found in how exceptionally high-achieving young adults were raised. It covers birth through adolescence and also addresses why some siblings didn’t do as well. The Formula is a great supplement to The Basics, for parents of older children.

Thirty years ago, my wife Helen and I read the standard parenting books, and they were helpful. But what we learned wasn’t as simple to keep track of, or to organize life around, as The Basics and The Formula. I don’t think we did either The Basics or The Formula to the degree that we would now, now that we know them.

We emphasized fun and love in our parenting (Maximize Love, Manage Stress) Our home was not especially stressful, so there wasn't a lot of stress to shield our kids from, but even if there had been, I'm not sure how intentional we would have been in shielding them from it.

With Talk, Sing, and Point, I’m not sure how aware or intentional we were with pointing. If we had known about the science of language acquisition, I’m sure we would have done it more.

With Count, Group, and Compare, we probably would have been more intentional about playing grouping and comparison games.

Our kids had all kinds of toys and art materials and I remember playing computer games together, but we probably would have done even more with Explore through Movement and Play.

We read stories at bedtime pretty much every day until at least fifth grade, but we almost never discussed.

Thank you for sharing your personal journey. Now we have a deeper understanding of your dedication to this work.

Let me end by saying that one reaction we get regarding The Basics, is that we're wasting our time trying to reach parents who are preoccupied with life’s stressors, like how to pay rent.

They mean that parents need help first dealing with emotional baggage from a lifetime of stress and hardship. Surely some do. But my reaction is, “Let’s tell them about The Basics anyway, and let them decide for themselves,” instead of arbitrarily and paternalistically making the decision for them.

Agreed! We appreciate you planting the seed that can have a significant impact on generations to come.

This interview was conducted by Dominique, blogger behind DommiesBlessed. It has been edited for clarity and length. The Basics continues to have an impact on communities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, Yonkers, New York and Palmetto, South Carolina. Want to incorporate The Basics in your work? Start with our free online toolkit here. You can also follow The Basics on Facebook, Twitter, and sign up to receive our newsletter.

Dr. Aura Obando Describes How She Maximizes Love and Manages Stress in Boston Family Shelters

The Basics team is honored to interview Dr. Aura Obando, the Family Team Medical Director at the Boston Health Care For The Homeless Program. According to the Annual Homeless Census, Boston has been making great strides towards addressing family homelessness. Dr. Obando leads the team that provides high quality care to 1,600 families with children during their most vulnerable time. The mother of three small children, Dr. Obando graciously talked to us about how she uses the Basic practice Maximize Love, Manage Stress for the families she serves, as well as to address the secondary trauma that she experiences herself from hearing their stories.

Thank you Dr. Obando for being committed to one of Boston's most vulnerable populations. Before we hop into The Basics, would you mind describing what shelter life is like?

Shelter stays average a year for many families. The shelters look a lot like a [college] dorm and shelters and shelter staff try to make families feel comfortable. Big shelters are usually in institutional buildings that were former hospitals. Each family gets a room and then they share a cafeteria and common space. Small family shelters are often located in old Victorians in communities like Jamaica Plain or Roxbury. Families take one of the rooms and then they all share cooking and cleaning duties. They also share a common space and the kitchen. While they are not required to leave at 6 a.m., like in some of the adult shelters, they are required to be actively looking for work, studying, or demonstrating some kind of activity.

How do you integrate The Basics into the work you do with families?

I love that all of The Basics are low-cost, free, or low-tech solutions to positive parenting behaviors. And so, all of The Basics help our work in some capacity, because our patients are currently living in shelters and don't have access to things like age-appropriate books and toys.

Dr. Aura ObandoDr. Aura Obando in one of the 4th trimester groups she runs, helping a mom figure out how to get her baby in and out of a carrier. Photo Credit: Dr. Aura Obando.

The families really love the videos and they're very easy to show. Maximize Love, Manage Stress has had the greatest impact and is my favorite.

Sometimes we show the Basics’ videos individually or encourage parents to look them up on their own, but mostly we use them in group settings. We have a couple of groups that we run in shelters, including a postpartum group for new moms. They're all pretty young and it's a great opportunity to get The Basics going early.

We show two videos at a time, have some food, then break into discussion groups.

Why Maximize Love Manage Stress?

In groups, the participants share how they manage their own stress. And although there can be poor access to a lot of resources, hearing from their peers is really helpful to other parents who are struggling with a lot of stressors.

Opening up the discussion builds community amongst shelter residents, which is really important because homelessness is a very isolating experience, especially during early motherhood.

And then we, as a clinic, can also offer other interventions that are more clinical for managing stress, including meeting with a therapist, having a medical visit, and talking about medications to help with depression and anxiety.

You mentioned hearing from other parents is comforting to the families. What are some of the ways the families themselves manage their stress?

That’s a great question. One of the ways that comes up a lot is getting outside to leave the stressful environment of the shelter.

Shelters have a lot of rules, like curfews and mandatory check-ins. So getting away from that setting, where people feel like they're being watched very closely, can be liberating.

Getting outside also brings up a whole discussion on what’s nearby? Where to go? Where's the nearest park? Where are the nearest libraries and diaper banks, and other free and local ways to decrease stress?

Families also talk about how walking and getting exercise is really helpful. Depending on the site, there are gyms nearby that offer free or discounted memberships and sometimes they even have childcare available, which is really nice.

Gym discussions lead to how do you get a gym membership and what's the youngest age childcare will take care of? Through these conversations, families are generating a list of resources that will help them cope with all their stresses.

Sometimes we talk about listening to music and having dance parties on your own as a quick de-stressing mechanism.

It’s really nice witnessing the families build community and seeing friendships develop after these discussions so that they can rely on each other in a stressful moment.

Wow, it's powerful that the residents feel loved and supported enough to open up during these group discussions. Can you tell us a little bit about your role as the Family Team Medical Director and how you support Maximizing Love and Managing Stress?

Our entire program is based on the idea that we bring medical care to where people are. Knowing there are a lot of barriers when families experience homelessness, all of our clinics are based in family shelters. We've built clinics throughout the Boston area that provide primary care and urgent-care type services. Our team is comprised of medical providers: medical doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses. We also have five therapists, a psychiatrist, and a psychiatric nurse practitioner on the team for behavioral health support.

Our case managers are absolutely essential to getting our work done. They help us address all the barriers to care by providing bus passes to medical appointments and putting in medical rides so that patients can get to their specialists. They also assist families in getting material needs like clothes, diapers, and wipes. And of course, a lot of our patients come in without health insurance and we get them connected immediately.

We pack a lot of supplies into our suitcase and, literally, set up a mini-clinic in a shelter living room or kitchen to see patients that way.

My role as medical director is making sure that all those clinics are functioning. Even though the setting is atypical in these shelters, our goal is for our clinic to provide the same gold standard of care that they would get at Boston Medical Center, Upham’s Corner Health Center or MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center.

It sounds like you and the team are able to help manage stress for families simply by going to them.

Yeah, that’s the key. Moms and dads that don’t have bus passes to get to the clinic and are on a limited income will often prioritize their children’s health, but let their own health lapse. So we do a lot of parental well-care on site to address that need.

I love the program's whole family approach. I'm curious, how do you Maximize Love and Manage Stress in your own home?

That’s another good question as I’m reentering the workforce and trying to strike that balance. I try to let go of mom guilt. I think it’s easy when you’re a working parent to feel inadequate in both the areas of work and parenting. I rely on really good child care support. My partner and I make sure to take time for each other and for our marriage. I listen to audiobooks and try to do a little bit of escape from the stresses of my daily life, so that I show up at home, or at work, with a clear mind. I make sure to spend some time with my kids, playing with them before getting into the chaos of our night time routine of dinner and bedtime. Even if it’s short, just some solid play time, which is one of The Basics, helps us connect every day.

Dr. Aura Obando Candid photo of Dr. Aura Obando during one a clinical session. Photo credit: Dr. Obando.

Can you elaborate more on how the stress of work impacts your home life?

The work itself is incredibly rewarding, but we all incur a little bit of secondary trauma by hearing about others’ trauma.

Generally, the feelings of fulfillment from the work outweigh any of that. But there are always some really sad cases that just weigh on you and it’s really hard to not bring that home. So I try to separate that. I don’t want to let myself get depressed thinking about residents’ circumstances and have my kids feel that stress or depression. I really try to set boundaries and make sure to take some time for self-care. We also do that proactively as a program, and as a Family Team. We take time to talk about challenging situations at work and how all of us have coped with it, to try to make sure that we are not letting the secondary trauma go unattended.

Thank you, Dr. Obando! It's great to hear that you have a supportive team around you while you serve families experiencing homelessness. We also appreciate your dedication to The Basics and especially to Maximizing Love and Managing Stress amongst your team, in your groups, and in your home.

The Basics have been a wonderful resource. I’m a big fan of them in general.

This interview was conducted by Dominique, blogger behind DommiesBlessed.

Want to incorporate the Basics in your work? Start with our free online toolkit here. You can also follow the Basics on Facebook, Twitter, and sign up to receive our newsletter.

Vickey Siggers: A Boston Basics Star

Vickey Siggers is a star in the Boston Basics firmament. She coordinates the Boston Family Engagement Network, Mattapan Hugs and Play groups, and the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. She also conducts Welcome Baby visits and trains a cadre of local residents as Parent Partners. Vickey is based at the Boston Family Engagement Network and is a proud grandmother to her four-year-old grandson. Today Vickey talks to us about how the Basics affects her life and work, personally and professionally.

Vickey Siggers with her 4-year-old grandson. Photo Credit: Vickey Siggers

Welcome Vickey! When did you first hear about the Boston Basics?

Being part of the Boston Family Engagement Network, we were invited to the Boston Basics launch about three years ago.

There were a lot of similarities with some of the work that we were already doing. So, I found that it was a really useful tool. The team had lots of information, handouts, and I especially loved the videos.

What did you love about the videos?

A few of the scenes were filmed in Ryan Park, which is a place I take my grandson. I loved that they included people who lived in the community, some of whom I knew. It made me feel comfortable sharing the videos with our families.

That's powerful to be able to show families locally-produced resources and Boston residents practicing the Basics. You mentioned there were some similarities with the work you were already doing. What do you mean?

Talk, Read, Play is a campaign, sponsored by Countdown to Kindergarten with similar ideas, such as emphasizing to parents that they are their child’s first teacher. They also help families understand the importance of engaging with their children.

I never want to make parents feel like they are doing something wrong. I always want to make sure I am celebrating what they are doing, as well as offering other options to hopefully make their lives a little easier.

Some moms have only been here [in Boston] for a few months and don’t have anyone to go to for support. My job is to help them celebrate being a parent.

In doing this, I’ve had to learn about different cultures and how others parent differently.

Can you talk about some of the ways culture plays into your work with families?

That was something I had to learn. I really had to step back and look at myself because I couldn’t understand the challenges some parents had when it came to engaging with their child, in ways that recognized their incredible power as the child’s first teacher. After talking with several families, I realized that they were not raised like that, and it’s not how they do things in their culture.

For example, I found that some people with Caribbean backgrounds view teachers as trusted guides, similar to priests and nuns. That means they see their responsibility as parents as more focused on clothing and feeding their child rather than “teaching.”

My goal is to help parents understand that it’s okay to be down on the floor with their child, reading or playing with them. A lot of parents didn’t know that they can start reading to their child when the child is in the belly. They looked at me like I was crazy.

Over time, I explain that reading helps a child’s vocabulary grow. That helps them to be school ready. I explain that we don’t want our children to be behind. We don’t want them to struggle. We want their academic experience to be a positive one that they will enjoy.

Since most of your families come from cultural backgrounds outside the U.S., how long does it take them to be receptive to the Basics?

Getting families to come to our playgroups is an important first step.

Story time at the Mattapan Playgroup

Storytime at the Mattapan Playgroup. Photo Credit: Vickey Siggers

We may get a referral or I may personally see someone at the laundromat or grocery store. I then give them information on the services we offer like Welcome Baby, which is a home visit where we bring families a bag full of diapers, books, and other items for their child.

As a follow-up, we invite them to the playgroup. Some families don’t come, but a lot do. And once families visit, they keep coming back every week. While they are there, we are constantly using elements of Boston Basics.

Which one stands out for you?

Maximizing love and managing stress is all about self-care. So, we started doing baby yoga every other month with the families. It was supposed to be the mom or dad doing yoga with the baby, but most of the time it’s just the parent needing the yoga. (laughs)

When parents take care of themselves, all the other things—reading, pointing, and singing—become more enjoyable.

Photo Credit: Mattapan Playgroup Facebook Page with permission from Vickey Siggers

Yes! Self-care is super important and I'm happy you prioritize that with your families! What does “Read and Discuss Stories” look like at your group?

At our Friday playgroup, most of the families that come are Haitian, and their English is limited. One recent Friday, we were reading and the parents started reading along. Since we had read the book so many times, the families were able to recognize the words. The person who was reading actually stopped and started pointing to the words so that the parents could read them to their children.

I was so happy to see that, I cried. That showed me this work is not just about child development. I saw our playgroups help parents develop new skills as well.

I ordered extra copies of the book so that families could take it home and continue to read it to their children.

Wow! Talk about impact. That would make me cry too.

Another Basic we incorporate is singing, but when I would sing nursery rhymes, families didn’t join in. These were families that spoke English. Finally, one of the moms told me, “We don’t know these nursery rhymes.” And I said, “Oh!”

I assumed families from Haiti, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries knew the nursery rhymes, but they didn’t. I created a little booklet so that they could take it with them and sing the songs at home.

Even with count, group, and compare, I’ve learned to take that concept and turn it into something that is understandable for our families. And once I explain the importance of the Basics, they embrace it.

It's nice that you're able to incorporate the Basics using American culture. Are you able to use elements of Caribbean culture when implementing them?

Yes! We’ve been learning some Caribbean nursery rhymes as well, like “Uncle Bouki” from Haiti.

The Mattapan playgroup is growing and I often get compliments like, “Vickey, the playgroup is really good.” And I usually respond, “Thank you for the compliment, but the reason why it’s doing well is because it’s needed in the community.”

Mattapan PlaygroupFamilies at the Mattapan Playgroup. Photo Credit: Vickey Siggers


You are doing a great job! While the Basics are offered in different languages, I appreciate how you mold them to fit your families' needs. You mentioned you have a grandson. I'm curious to know how you use the Basics with your own family?

My grandson is 4, soon to be 5. Exploring through movement and play is my favorite with him, especially at this age. When he’s with me, I make sure we walk down to Ryan Park, even if it’s just for one hour. We also take advantage of the Greenway (the walking path). We stop, look, and point at things. We count the leaves and compare their colors.

My grandson is very articulate. We often have conversations with him, making sure to introduce new words and ideas.

We have discussions about the books we read. Goodnight Gorilla is one of his favorites. We read it many times! When I read and ask questions, he’ll say, “Mimi, could you just please read the story?” (laughs)

I just go with the flow. But what’s interesting is that every time we look at the pictures we see something different. He said, “I never saw those bananas hanging from that cage.” And I said, “Neither did I.”

As a grandparent, it’s so different. I never knew love like this (laughs). Before, I knew you were supposed to read to your children and take them to the park, but to now understand all the developmental reasons why really brings it full circle for me. As a grandparent, I get a second chance at this (laughs).

Thank you Vickey! Your grandson is so blessed to have you and our community is blessed to have you too!

Aww. Thank you!

The Basics are offered in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole to meet the language needs of our families. Visit our website to get our free online toolkit for your community. You can also follow the Basics on Facebook, Twitter, and sign up to receive our newsletter. To connect with Vickey Siggers and learn more about her work in the community, email

This interview was conducted by Dominique, blogger behind DommiesBlessed.

Program Director Haji Shearer is Our Man on a Mission

Program Director of the Boston Basics since September 2017, Haji Shearer is the former Director of the Fatherhood Initiative at Children’s Trust, published author, mindfulness advocate, and father of two adult children.

In our conversation he shares how he got involved with the Basics, and how he helps organizations integrate the five core principles into their daily work with families.

Welcome Haji! Please tell us how you learned about the Basics and came to join the team.

I met Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard University, and founder of the Boston Basics, at the Massachusetts Fatherhood Leadership Summit in April of 2017. I was intrigued by what Ron was doing with the Basics and wanted to get involved. I followed up, and while I thought that I was persuading the Basics team to create a position for me, it turns out they already knew they wanted to hire me.

Wow. That's great! What did you think you could bring to the initiative?

The Basics grew out of Ron’s work with the Achievement Gap Initiative. When I met him, the Basics wanted to build a strong presence in the community to support partners in adopting and sustaining the Basics in their programs. Because of my work in the community for 25 years, I knew I could be the right messenger. I’m a licensed social worker with a family systems approach who’s also an experienced trainer and interested in how the entire community can support child development. When I started in the early 90s, it was clear to me that fathers greatly impact children’s lives but weren’t adequately included in parent support programs. And because nature abhors a vacuum, I decided to fill the void. Family support with an emphasis on fathers was a great niche for me.

I worked on fatherhood initiatives for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for over a decade, providing professional development and technical assistance. I’d covered center-based programs, home visiting programs with young families, and school systems, so I understood the range of professionals who work with families.

The Basics can reach families in all these areas to give children a strong start in life. Being an unrepentant trainer, I’m excited to help build capacity to make it happen!

Now that you are on the Basics team, what has the feedback been from fathers you've met?

Across the board, both moms and dads are happy to have a clear approach—we call it a fun, simple and powerful approach—to parenting young children. Fathers, and mothers, are happy to see dads featured in our videos and other materials. Dads aren’t in the videos as an afterthought, they are there because the Basics team wanted fathers citywide to know that they are important. And when dads see themselves in the videos, it makes them feel good even if their own fathers weren’t involved in their lives. It’s great modeling to see other men talking about and demonstrating how important being a father is.

You are right. Examples of fatherhood in the family unit are so important. I'm happy the feedback from moms and dads alike has been positive. Earlier you mentioned helping build capacity to share the Basics. How do you measure that?

One way, is that we have developed a rubric that helps organizations identify their maturity in implementing the Basics. It’s a scale from one to four. Level one is “Pre-Implementation,” meaning the organization is just beginning to learn about the Basics but hasn’t really taken any steps to implement them. Level four, “Mature Implementation,” means that the Basics are used systematically—that they are institutionalized—across the organization. For example, there is a point person who really owns the project and actively supports staff to embed the Basics into their work. The videos are used to spark conversations with parents; there are Basics posters and printed materials in common areas; staff are leading parent groups using the Basics, or providers are talking with parents about these principles when they come in for well-baby or school visits. That’s actually the most common way, just building it into conversations. Organizations may also share information about the Basics on social media or other platforms where they communicate with families.

We want to make it easy. Part of my job is making organizations aware of the free tools that are available, as well as helping them figure out where they can implement these tools in work with families.

Nice! So you are working with established organizations. Why would a provider choose to integrate the Basics into their work?

A powerful aspect of the Basics is that they are recognizable ideas that most early childhood educators have been talking about already. The beauty of the Basics is that starting from the scientific studies that proves their importance, the AGI codified language that we can use in lots of different places. Folks in every part of the community can use the same words to talk about these weighty ideas in a way that feels natural, but that’s also pretty comprehensive. The language makes it simple for people in faith communities, housing developments, health centers--everywhere that families with young children interact--to be confident in talking about early childhood development.

For example, people have been talking about early childhood literacy for years. Having videos and tip sheets that parents can use to encourage them to not just read to their kids, but to discuss the stories with their children as well, is a value added.

Same thing with counting, grouping and comparing. It’s not just about counting fingers and toes, which is great by itself. But also encouraging parents to compare sizes of objects, talk about different shapes, and play games involving grouping and regrouping objects. These are all simple ideas that build strong brains.

A great technique in helping providers share the Basics with parents is reinforcing what parents already do well. We reinforce the importance of maximizing love and managing stress and help providers feel confident talking with parents about it. Asking questions like, what are you doing to manage your stress is critical, because we know when parents are stressed it gets passed along to their children. It’s essential to create space in professionals' daily interactions with parents to talk about these powerful topics.

To build relationships with the greatest number of families, our approach is to reach out to trusted leaders in the community because they are the ones who already have rapport with parents.

I like that the Basics team focuses on building rapport and engaging trusted messengers in the community. As the Program Director, do you have any interesting partnerships that you are working on right now?

Haji Shearer (center in blue shirt) with leaders from Community Based Organizations. Photo Credit: Mari Barrera

One interesting partnership is captured in this photo, at an orientation meeting last month with staff from six organizations we’re working with thanks to a grant from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Collaboration for Community Health. Three health centers (Codman Square Health Center, Mattapan Community Health Center and the South End Health Center) are linked with three early learning centers (Mattapan Head Start, Epiphany Early Learning Center and Harrison Ave Head Start) to share the Basics with families in their care. In this project, we partner with Families First. While our organization trains staff to share the Basics with parents, Families First provides an in-depth exposure to the Basics for about 20 families in each neighborhood cohort in their Power of Parenting program.

I am also very engaged in East Boston, which is an active hub for activities around early childhood development. The Family Engagement Network, through the leadership of East Boston Social Centers, has been a key early adopter in helping spread the Basics.

Left to right: Ron Ferguson; Gloria Devine and Justin Pasquariello – East Boston Social Centers; Haji Shearer; Magda Rodriguez, Families First

I love it. So how is implementation going overall?

Great! We recognize this kind of public health approach to social change takes time, but we’re seeing progress every day. While most of my work is directly with the provider community, it also brings me joy to work directly with parents of young children. I love hearing parents say, “I never thought of that!” or “I plan to do more of that (Basic),” or “I’m so happy to have these tools.” I’m excited to be able to promote something that brings more goodness, health, and wellness to the world, and that’s what the Basics approach does.

Thank you Haji for sharing how the Basics is supporting Boston's children and families! How can a provider that wants to become involved get in touch?

They can reach out to me directly by email Even before that, they can visit our free toolkit online, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on what’s going on with the Boston team.

This interview was conducted by Dominique, blogger behind DommiesBlessed.

Clara Angelina Diaz, Mom Of A Toddler, Joins Our Team

The Boston Basics is excited to introduce its newest member, Clara Angelina Diaz! As a mom of a three-year-old, parent educator, author, and life coach, Clara brings a fresh and practical perspective to the team. In our interview, Clara touches on where she learned about the Basics, how she became involved, and what she hopes to contribute.

Clara Angelina Diaz with her three-year-old daughter. Photo credit: Haji Shearer

Hi Clara! Would you mind telling us, what you hope to bring to the team?

The Basics is growing in many different layers - locally, nationally, and internationally. As a team, we are trying to give every child what they deserve - a powerful start. I am so proud to be part of this movement! My contribution is being a multicultural and bilingual resource and model to other parents - to show them that this simple, fun, and powerful approach works. Second, I’ll help to train and coach community leaders such as doctors, nurses, and day care directors to share and model the Basics with every person who cares for a family with children. And I am so excited to be a part of this team!

When did you first hear about the Basics?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I really wanted to prepare for parenthood. I asked my mentors and other people I respected for ideas. One of my mentors mentioned the Boston Basics as “the thing” to do for kids. After I looked into using the Basics, I started seeing the billboards and subsequently became a bilingual parent educator at Families First, where the Boston Basics is used in their parenting education curriculum. And I use them with my daughter every day.

Fast forward two years, Haji Shearer, The Basics Program Director, visited a parenting class I was teaching. He invited me to speak at the Basics Leadership conference on how I was sharing the Basics with a group of 24 Hispanic mothers. This opportunity was a great alignment for me because not only do I practice the Basics, but now I have the opportunity to have a larger influence in the world by training leaders in this life changing opportunity for children.

Wow, so you knew about the Basics before you gave birth? Now that you have been using the Basics for a few years, which one of the Basics would you say comes most naturally to you?

(Laughs). I don’t know if any of these come naturally to me. Being a great parent is not an easy task. I can tell you which one I enjoy the most because I think all of them require work and a conscious effort.

My favorite is Maximize Love, Manage Stress. One of the suggestions on the tip sheet for this Basic practice is to “have a routine.”

I remember when bedtime was not my favorite part of the day with my daughter. After two years of being a first time parent, I have come to enjoy this part of the day, specifically on Monday nights when her dad works late. He does bedtime mostly every other night now. Angie knows exactly what comes after each step in the routine: dinner, play, bath, pajamas, book and or story time, shadow animals to say good night and a few back rubs.

I have learned to do the following and now enjoy bedtime.

Preparing myself:

I have learned to prepare internally for this peaceful time, by having a clear cut off time for my work, thinking and home responsibilities. I literally tell myself, “Okay Clara, it’s bedtime. Take a few deep breaths.” Shifting my energy in this way has proven to be effective. My daughter now takes a bath with a smile and leads the routine by reciting to me what is next in the routine.

Preparing the space and including her in the process:

I turn down all the lights after dinner. I tell her that she has a few more minutes to play and I go get the bath ready. I call her into the bathroom to add her own bubbles and her toys. I also play the same song at bath time every night ("A Frog Went a Courtin").

Being Present:

Instead of rushing through the process when I am really tired, I do my best to stay conscious and enjoy it. I take deep breaths and do my best to enjoy what is happening. If I am not genuinely present, she quickly responds with resistance and doesn't want to continue with the routine.

Surprisingly to me, I have come to enjoy bedtime as a time for both of us to slow down, reconnect and finally rest. Maximizing Love and Managing stress is The Basic that has the most impact on my life, my daughter’s life, and our household. The idea that I can give our family permission to be loving and to make stress-reduction intentional is life-changing.

Over time I’ve learned there is a big difference between caring for a child and truly loving a child. It’s not just about her behaving, because it makes my life easier. It’s really about what kind of environment I need to create so that this is a loving space that she can grow in happy and healthy from the inside out.

So the Basics made you think more about having an intentional loving relationship?

Absolutely. They didn’t just help me think about it. The Basics affirmed that for me. The Basics were developed by the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University and each of the five is firmly based on science. We already know in our hearts that love is the way. Maximizing love for your child and shielding them from stress is the first step to connecting with them.

Culturally a lot of people may say you will spoil your child. But my partner and I have decided to parent differently. Because of the Basics, we know it’s important to pay attention to our daughter’s emotions. We pride ourselves in creating an environment of love for the family.

It's cool that you are able to use the Basics to help you deal with life's pressures. Would you mind sharing which of the five is most challenging?

Definitely, explore through movement and play.

We play a lot at home, but sometimes I like to find places outside of my home to play. Especially now that it’s winter, I have to go out of my way to find indoor playgrounds and ways to be physically active outside of the house. The indoor malls, moms’ groups, libraries, gyms, and YMCA’s are great places for parents who want to give their children a variety of play experiences.

It takes a little bit more effort to not stay home in the cold.

I also really love organization and cleanliness (laughs). And when you have a child, you kind of have to let that go. That has been a challenge for me and also an opportunity to stretch my creativity.

Thanks for being honest about your parenting journey and welcome to the Boston Basics Team!

Watch our videos to learn more about Clara’s favorite Basic, Maximize Love, Manage Stress. This interview was conducted by Dominique, blogger behind DommiesBlessed. To learn more about Clara, visit her website.



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