The Gift of Presence


As schools wind down for the long holiday break, we know you are winding up for the fun and exciting holiday events you surely have planned with family and friends. At School Literacy and Culture, we are also preparing for a week away from the hustle and bustle of work while at the same time readying ourselves for the hustle and bustle of time spent with loved ones. It’s a busy time of year, primed with joy and excitement and also a tinge of stress and rush to “get it all done.”

Our challenge to you this year, the same one we are extending to ourselves, is to give the gift of a slower pace and “presence” rather than “presents” this year to family, friends and neighbors. Replace the worry about purchasing the perfect gift for a loved one with the opportunity to spend time together, maybe baking cookies or playing a board game or participating in another beloved holiday tradition. Many years from now the little ones in your life will likely not remember the toys they received but rather the card games played with a grandparent, sledding with neighbor friends (or, in Houston, maybe playing catch in the front yard with a neighbor; no snow here!) and curling up for a good bedtime story with mom in front of a roaring fireplace. This exact moment in time will not come again, enjoy it. So put down your cellphones, close your laptop and practice being “present” where you are.

Thank you for a wonderful 2016. We hope this holiday season brings you and your loved ones great joy and peace and may you share the best gift of all, being “present” with those around you.

We’ll see you in 2017!


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


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Tis’ the Season to Get Cooking!

amber-pic-1As a young child, I remember sitting on the counter top watching my mother cook, begging her to help stir and, of course, lick the spoon! I didn’t realize until now how beautiful those memories were. Believe it or not, I was learning, too. Sharing the cooking experience with even the youngest child can have lasting positive impacts on their cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. What’s better than an experience that is both educational, child-friendly and tasty?

Just imagine a child getting a box of muffin mix out of the pantry. They immediately look at the pictures and read the ingredients needed. They are counting out the number of eggs and gathering measuring spoons by matching the label on the box to the 1 tsp label on the spoon. Learning to measure carefully and accurately (especially when doubling a recipe) is a skill that can only be taught through experience. Too much salt can be disastrous whereas too much sugar or cinnamon is usually never a bad thing. Cracking eggs without getting shell in the mix is a challenge that even adults struggle to master. Practicing cracking eggs into a separate bowl strengthens motor control, and let’s face it, we could all use a little practice! The ingredients have been added, now it’s time to stir! What a great feeling it is to watch a child’s facial expressions in wonder as they are seeing the eggs, flours and oil change right before their eyes. This is a great time to talk about the physical changes that each ingredient goes through in the baking process. Before, during and after baking, it’s fun to take out some crayons and draw pictures of the cooking process. It’s great cognitive practice to write or discuss what they are noticing and how they think the treat will taste. As you watch the timer count down…. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, BEEP! Now it’s time for the most important part: Taste testing for quality assurance!

Cooking is a love that knows no age limit! You can give step by step picture recipes and access to a microwave to the youngest child, or have your teenager help with cooking the Thanksgiving meal for your family of 20! You can find easy to follow picture recipes at the following link:

Amp up the cooking experience by donating meals to your local nonprofit or giving to a family in need in your community. Sharing cultural recipes and cooking traditions is a gift that keeps on giving for generations to come. Tis’ the season, so get cooking!


Authored by Amber Denton, First Grade Teacher at Bang Elementary School and former Early Literacy Leadership Academy Resident Teacher

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Why Creativity Matters


I was attending a School Literacy and Culture leadership seminar in Houston during which we were discussing the article “Imagination Conversations: The Call for Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation at America’s Imagination Summit.” One of the leaders asked the following question, “What if instead of focusing on a knowledge economy we valued an idea economy?”

Creativity in adults is highly valued in our society and it contributes to inventiveness, innovation, and social and cultural change. We know that creative people have effective responses that help them achieve their life goals and allow them to enjoy the journey. Creativity is both a skill set and an individual character trait that is developed throughout life.

A study from the article asked more than 1,500 CEOs, managers and public leaders what they consider to be the most crucial quality for competing in today’s world.

Creativity was the number one response. The article states that “there are many studies that support that this skill of creativity or innovation will increase in importance in the next few years and that our college degrees are coming up short in teaching this skill.”

Professional development for teachers seeking ways to inspire creativity in young children is hard to find. This is alarming to me as an early childhood teacher who is expected to give my students the tools they need to thrive. Education plays a key role in the development of innovative thinkers. Experiences that inspire fresh ideas are needed at every stage of the educational journey in early childhood. I have observed how children benefit from teachers who foster creative thinking. One of the most joyful parts of teaching is seeing children discover their innate creative potentials. Creativity should be a part of the learning plan in all subjects taught in school. When public schools eliminate opportunities for free play and/or the arts and curricula disregard creativity as a priority, children are not being prepared for a future that will depend on creative and critical thinking. We all will be losing out by leaving creativity as an optional skill to be developed in the classroom.

According to “Creativity Development in Early Childhood: The Role of Educators” by Doireann O’Connor (2013), activities experienced through the senses internalize the learning within the child so that it is remembered on a deeper level. This allows for strong creative foundations upon which knowledge and skills can be built. It is the role of the early childhood curriculum to introduce creativity through activities such as drawing, storytelling, problem solving, outdoor or pretend play, and building with natural materials. All children are creative beings. Their minds are made to be curious and explore.

There are questions that we must ask ourselves as teachers of young children, “How do we provide learning environments where imagination, creativity and innovation can flourish? How do we support teachers’ creative ideas that keep children’s brain muscles strong and free? How do we provide safe places where children are encouraged to take risks?” As educators we have the responsibility to teach our students in a way that best prepares them for their futures. We can make that difference by what and how we teach. So, let’s find ways to support an idea economy in our schools. Let’s make our classrooms a place where creativity deeply matters!


Authored by Emily Hughes, Teacher at Kujawa EC/PK in Aldine ISD and former Early Literacy Leadership Academy (ELLA) Resident Teacher

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2016 Annual Gift Guide

Blocks: A Gift That Spans the Ages

Welcome to the 2016 SLC Holiday Gift Guide! We’re excited to share our top gift picks with you as you start your shopping treks either around the city or online. You’ll notice this year’s gift guide is organized differently than the last couple of years’. Rather than focus on gifts for one particular age group, we’ve decided instead to center our attention on one type of play and specific, developmentally appropriate materials to support the play throughout the early childhood years.

Block play is fundamental in the early years both in classrooms and at home. School Literacy and Culture so values block play that we have an entire workshop devoted to the topic (“The Building Blocks of Building Blocks”). Blocks make an appearance in nearly every presentation we do for teachers and parents alike, and this year we featured blocks and loose parts construction in our first annual fall conference, “The Critical Importance of Play.” Blocks, as you can see, is one of our very favorite topics! We believe they are integral to a young child’s development and, therefore, should be at the very top of your holiday shopping list.

Wondering what exactly blocks do for a young child and why they are essential for little ones? They’re versatile and purposeful. Block play stimulates learning in all domains of development: cognitive, intellectual, physical, social-emotional and language. Opportunities for hand-eye coordination, visual perception, spatial awareness and balance are provided as children explore with blocks. Not to mention blocks provide great occasion to explore math and science concepts, too. Maybe most importantly, block play stimulates young children’s imaginations which in turn inspires creativity, a skill that is oft undervalued in today’s classrooms. Our futures quite literally depend on the creative thinkers we are growing and building up in our homes and classrooms!

Blocks are a wise gift investment because they can grow with children. While we categorize our suggested gift picks below by age, children will play with any and all kinds of blocks no matter their age. In fact, some of the best learning opportunities happen when various types of blocks are combined. Imagine the possibilities when the giant Melissa & Doug Jumbo Cardboard Blocks (suggested for toddlers) come together on the same playroom floor as Tegu Blocks (suggested for preschool) or Dr. Drew’s Discovery Blocks (suggested for early elementary)!

Should you decide to invest in blocks for the young children in your life, you will observe their block play change over time. At first, young toddlers will love to push a block tower over again and again. Then they will begin to stack the blocks on their own and eventually they will begin creating structures used for purposeful play like castles, roadways, grocery stores and more. Fabulous additions for block play can be found online or in stores, like plastic animals or story characters. Add them to your child’s block baskets and work with them to create a zoo, a pet shop, a castle, whatever their minds can dream up! Now come on, let’s get shopping!

Happy holidays to all of you! We wish you a joyful season.

Block Suggestions for Infants and Toddlers (0 to 2 year olds):

  1. First Years Stacking Cups
  2. B. Toys Plastic Cube Blocks
  3. Jumbo Building Blocks
  4. Melissa & Doug Jumbo Cardboard Blocks
  5. LEGO Duplo Blocks

Block Suggestions for Preschoolers (3 & 4 year olds):

  1. Foam Blocks
  2. Battat Bristle Blocks
  3. Lincoln Logs
  4. Melissa & Doug Wooden Unit Blocks
  5. Tegu Blocks

Block Suggestions for Early Elementary (5 & 6 year olds):

  1. MagnaTiles
  2. Tree Blocks
  3. LEGO Classic Blocks
  4. Melissa & Doug Wooden Building Blocks
  5. Dr. Drew’s Discovery Blocks

Interested in viewing our past gift guides? Find them at the links below!


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

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Program Feature: Music Moves Minds


Active participation in learning is crucial to education. In this world of ever increasingly virtual and often sedentary educational experiences, music and moving is more important than ever. Making music takes the mind and the body to a higher level of focus, engagement and joy. As children become less active, not only in learning but all areas of their lives, music offers a unique gift for the classroom. While we do not desire a return to the past, we also donʼt want to ignore or discard aspects of the past that were beneficial to our children and our society. One of the most powerful of those traditions was classroom music making – singing and dancing. These are activities that create a sense of community and wellbeing, strengthen emotional ties, aural comprehension and cooperative skills, and enhance language, mathematics, science and social studies. Singing coaxes language out of the most recalcitrant speaker and enhances the language skills of the fluent (Brandt, 2012). Making music brings to physical life basic arithmetic relationships; organized movement develops geometric and spatial awareness. Singing, dancing and playing percussion instruments are whole body activities that engage the childʼs mind and imagination. Making music encourages participation in learning and independent thinking; it develops self-discipline and advanced aural skills (Booth, 2013). If we are to go strongly into the future, our whole bodies must come with us. It is through the whole body and all the senses that children learn. The younger the child, the more essential it is that every part of the body and sensory system participate. Research has shown that making music is a biological mandate for the human species. That means everyone can do it! In Music Moves Minds, teachers will learn how to integrate singing, movement and simple instrument making into the classroom, so that their children can walk into the future with alertness, poise and a light heart. Register on our website:

Authored by Rachel Buchman, Lecturer of Music, Rice University Shepherd School of Music



Brandt, Gebrian, Slevc. Music and Early Language Acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology. September 11, 2012.

Booth, 2013. On Active Engagement in Learning.


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