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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, 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

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

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 guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

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®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

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, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

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.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website