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Aug 6, 2018 |
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The following is part of a series of guest posts by leaders in the field of literacy and family learning. This guest post is by Tom Vander Ark, author and CEO of Getting Smart, and keynote speaker at the upcoming 2018 Families Learning Conference.

In the old days (like two years ago), you had to tell computers what to do. They are increasingly figuring it out on their own. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), code that learns, is reshaping life and work.


We’re a couple years into a new era driven by exponential technology:

  • Cheap devices (phones, cameras, and sensors), computing and storage yield big data;
  • We live, learn, work, and play on platforms; and
  • Our life and work have been augmented by artificial intelligence in narrow but broadening categories.

AI has quietly worked its way into every facet of life—social media and digital assistants, radiology and epidemiology, shopping and shipping, traffic management and energy production, automated manufacturing and agriculture optimization. AI promises extraordinary benefits in each of these categories.

Everyone is experiencing high change—and things will continue to speed up for our kids. That makes three new literacies more important than ever:

  • Design skills: an iterative problem-solving approach;
  • Entrepreneurship skills: taking initiative and learning to deliver value; and
  • Social skills: collaborating on diverse teams.  

We continue to learn more about human development:

  • Science is yielding principles of learning including the importance of full engagement and learning in chunks to build associations.
  • Deliberate practice brings knowledge out of long-term memory and reshapes and restores it.
  • However, children exposed to the trauma of poverty and violence face long-lasting consequences.

There are three trends boosting family literacy:

  • Smart devices, smart apps, and smart agents are getting to know you and your kids in ways that are making them more useful and responsive.
  • Smart cities like Tulsa are coordinating massive early literacy efforts.
  • Smart pathways to high wage, high demand jobs are becoming more affordable and accessible.

To build family literacy, we need to be on guard against three risks:

  • Guidance is more important than ever. Young children need help building productive device use habits. Secondary learners need community connections, work experiences, and mentorship.
  • Family supports will be increasingly important as income inequality and dislocation expand.
  • Civic capacity must be built to address the waves of challenges and opportunities our communities will face.   

We’ve covered a lot of ground in a few paragraphs. In short, it’s a great time to learn and it’s never been more important. Here’s the bottom line:

  • For younger children: read to and with them, manage device time, and encourage them to go outside and move. Focus on social skills and school readiness.  
  • For middle age children travel with them as much as possible and ask them to write about what they see and learn. Ask them to design skills to build solutions to problems they care about.
  • For teens, help them make community connections, visit employers, and get jobs. Help them build a public portfolio of personal bests that showcases entrepreneurial skills.


By Tom Vander Ark

Join him at the 2018 Families Learning Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, September 24 - 26, where he will share more on this topic as a keynote speaker. He is the author of Getting Smart, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and most recently, Better Together. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation and Charter Board Partners. Follow Tom and Getting Smart on Twitter, @tvanderark and @Getting_Smart.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University