Program Feature: The Building Blocks of Building Blocks


Thanks to Friedrich Froebel and Caroline Pratt, blocks have been a part of early childhood classrooms for more than 150 years. Since the mid-1800’s, children have been playing with a material that hasn’t changed much; blocks have withstood the test of time. Used for many different purposes in the classroom, particularly construction play, blocks are struggling to maintain their presence in early childhood classrooms across the country as the stresses of standardized testing become more and more a part of our children’s daily routine (Miller & Almon 2009). Turning back the tide and providing the “necessary content through playful learning and provide(ing) time for the spontaneous free play that is so crucial to social emotional and academic growth” is the challenge presented to teachers in 2016 (Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk and Singer, 2009).

Block play supports children in a variety of areas of development and thus should be a universal material in the hands of every child, in every early childhood classroom. According to Rosanne Hansel, author of “Bringing Blocks to the Kindergarten Classroom,” “One of the most important features of blocks is that they are three-dimensional: they offer children ways to understand shape by exploring and manipulating them with their hands.” Children’s physical development is promoted in block play by offering opportunities for hand-eye coordination, visual perception, spatial awareness and balance.  Blocks also provide support of children’s cognitive development across the domains of language, literacy, science and math.

Join SLC this Wednesday, October 12th from 4-6 p.m. in a hands-on session and explore how block play impacts child and early literacy development. This presentation will also encourage teachers to become familiar with the stages of block play, learn ways to organize and manage a block center and explore ways to keep block play interesting throughout the school year. Register on our website:



Hansel, Rosanne Regan, “Bringing Blocks Back to the Kindergarten Classroom.” Young Children,  March 2015, pgs 44-51.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., R. Golinkoff, L. Berk, and D. Singer. 2009 A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool. Oxford University Press.

Miller, E., & J. Almon. 2009 Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.  College Park, MD: The Alliance for Childhood.


Authored by Sharon Dworaczyk, Rice University’s School Literacy and Culture



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Program Feature: Eight Books Young Children Should Not Live Without


Parents often wonder if they are making the most of time spent with their children. One of the best ways a parent can spend time with their child is by reading aloud to or with them. However, with so many books on the market, we are hard-pressed to find quality children’s literature amidst the multitude of options.

As parents and teachers, our responsibility is to open a child’s world to a variety of genres’ of quality literature. An increased variety of texts expands children’s view of the world by fostering their imagination, developing critical thinking skills and improving social and emotional skills.

Exposing children to an assortment of books early on “helps them develop a broad perspective on the world around them” (Huffington Post, Canada, 2013). Reading the fantasy books about princesses like “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch  and fairy tales like “Cinderella” is just as important as reading informational texts about “real world” royalty around the world. The more book variety children are exposed to the more their vocabulary will improve, their must-read book list will grow and basic critical thinking skills will be deepened.

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony” (Fox, 2001). Join mentor teachers from School Literacy and Culture on Wednesday, September 14 to explore eight genres of quality children’s literature and discuss ways to create the spark for literature in children Mem Fox refers to using books at home with toddlers to first graders.

Learn more and register on our website:

Authored by Sharon Dworaczyk, Rice University School Literacy and Culture

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What is SLC Reading this Summer? Part 2

“Neuroscientists, biologists, psychologists, social scientists, and researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process. It has evolved over eons in many animal species to promote survival. It shapes the brain and makes animals smarter and more adaptable. In higher animals, it fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups. For us, play lies at the core of creativity and innovation. Of all animal species, humans are the biggest players of all. We are built to play and built through play.”

play by stuart brown

It might be time to head back to the classroom, but temperatures are still soaring so it’s summer as far as we’re concerned! Today we’re sharing with you our second feature in “What’s SLC Reading this Summer?” “Play” by Stuart Brown is a professional text that has recently made its home on our “favorites” bookshelf. Brown, a prominent physician, psychiatrist, researcher and founder of the National Institute for Play has written this book in an effort to make sure both children and adults incorporate play into their days. As a reader, it is important to note that Brown “practices what he preaches;” he works out of his office treehouse!

With snazzy chapter titles like, “The opposite of play is not work” and “A world at play,” readers are drawn into the author’s friendly rhetoric and made to feel like one is sitting down to have a warm cup of coffee with the author rather than read yet another professional text. A play enthusiast, Brown was reluctant to define play for a long time because it was so diverse. Sharing the story of his work with a group of Hewlett-Packard engineers he explained how he finally came around to defining the properties of play in an effort to help others understand what play is, and, perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. He says there are seven properties of play, as follows:

  1. Apparently purposeless (done for its own sake)
  2. Voluntary
  3. Inherent attraction
  4. Freedom from time
  5. Diminished consciousness of self
  6. Improvisational potential
  7. Continuation desire

He goes onto describe each of the properties and why it is crucial in the description of play. He says, “Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.” Play is absolutely critical in child development (so he supports us incorporating it into our classrooms – yahoo!), but it is also absolutely critical for adults. All in all, this is a fantastic read.  Add it to your professional bookshelves; it’s taken up permanent residence on ours!

If you are interested in ordering any of the books on School Literacy and Culture’s summer reading list, please visit our Amazon store at:

Authored by Jordan Khadam-Hir, Rice University School Literacy & Culture

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Program Feature: The Critical Importance of Play

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers

Blocks 5

As we enter into an era in the world of education where we see a growing number of early childhood centers and schools replacing playtime with “instructional time,” we turn to research to support our conclusion that play should be present in every classroom of young children. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” One of our many goals at SLC is to equip teachers, leaders and parents with the research, data and practical methods and techniques needed to incorporate playful learning into their classrooms and homes.

We invite you to join the Rice University School Literacy and Culture team on Saturday, October 1, 2016 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as we hold a new fall conference, “The Critical Importance of Play.” We will be hosting teachers, principals, literacy coaches and parents of young children at the Anderson-Clarke Center for a day of interactive sessions and sharing of research-based strategies to integrate intentional play into the lives of our children.

Participants will explore purposeful play’s impact on a young child’s physical, emotional and social development. Attendees will also have an opportunity to select and attend two breakout sessions consisting of various topics such as developmentally appropriate, playful centers in pre-k, kinder and first grade classrooms, parents as children’s play partners and the neuroscience behind executive functioning and self-regulation that is developed through play.

For more information and to register, please visit our website:

Don’t miss the discount– early registration ends next Friday, September 1!

Milteer, Regina M.; Ginsburg, Kenneth R. [2012] The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on Children in Poverty. American Academy of Pediatrics.

Authored by Vanessa Quezada Vierra, Rice University School Literacy & Culture


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Taking Risks at Recess

New Ark Adventure Playground

At Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand, what started as a research experiment ended in a permanent policy change. In a decision that sounds truly foreign to most American educators, the school eliminated all rules during outdoor recess. Instead, children run free and play however they choose, even if that means more risky activities like skateboarding or tree climbing. The school has seen so many positive benefits in attention, social interaction and even serious injury reduction they have decided to adopt the policy for the foreseeable future.

For many American educators and parents, that may sound like a breath of fresh air, even if it’s one we take with hesitation. After all, research consistently shows that choice and free play are absolutely essential to children’s growth across developmental domains — in free play, children develop problem solving skills, self-regulation, oral language, socio-emotional abilities, physical and spatial awareness, and more. They also learn perseverance and confidence. As a professor who worked on the Auckland experiment explains, “children learn how to deal with risk only by facing risk.” And perhaps even more powerful than the evidence from research, many adults cherish fond memories of their time running free outside as children, making some mistakes, and learning more than we will probably ever realize along the way.

In other words, if the children in our lives suffer the occasional scrape or bruise, we need not panic. Of course, in our daily routines, it is much more complicated than that. Parents live with the powerful instinct to protect their children in all circumstances. Educators face increasing pressure to structure the outdoor time provided during the school day. Even when free play is allowed, it is often closely supervised with strict rules in place. As such, we must ask ourselves important questions: how can we advocate for the (true) free play opportunities all children need while ensuring their safety and well-being? To put the question a different way, how can we cultivate environments that protect our children and students from serious harm while still allowing them to take meaningful risks and develop a sense of perseverance? After all, children from Auckland to Houston have a lot in common: they all need the chance to experientially learn what it means to have a body that moves through space – and all the risks that come with it!
Read the full article here:

Authored by Magen Eissenstat, Community Bridges Intern, Rice University School Literacy and Culture

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