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Oct 24, 2018 |

Half of Jefferson County, Kentucky, children lack the basic skills and knowledge to begin kindergarten. The PNC Foundation, Lift A Life Foundation, National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), Metro United Way’s Ready for K Alliance, and Louisville Metro recently announced a more than $250,000 collaboration to support Say & Play with Words, a new pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative. Say & Play with Words will target at-risk children in Louisville neighborhoods, with a goal of shrinking the word gap and increasing kindergarten readiness.

“Words unlock success for children,” said Chuck Denny, PNC regional president for Louisville.  “The more words they hear before kindergarten, the more success they often achieve. The link between ‘words’ and learning motivated PNC to begin emphasizing developing children’s vocabularies as part of PNC Grow Up Great®, our signature early childhood education initiative.”

The research is clear; preparing children for kindergarten starts from birth:

  • By age 4, low-income children are exposed to 30 million fewer words than children from high-income families.
  • Testing showed a child’s vocabulary use at age 3 predicted their vocabulary and reading skills in third grade.
  • First grade vocabulary measurement predicts about a third of reading comprehension in 11th grade.

“Say & Play with Words Louisville is a comprehensive strategy to better prepare our children for academic and life success,” said Sharon Darling, president and founder, NCFL. “Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. By arming them with the right tools, families are strengthened, and we are able to break the generational cycle of poverty.”

During the initiative announcement on October 23, 2018, NCFL President and Founder Sharon Darling explains the importance of parents speaking with their children from birth.

Say & Play with Words will equip parents with free vocabulary-building tips and activities – found on – to use at home or on the go; build upon NCFL’s existing Family Learning efforts underway in Louisville; and, will provide training for professionals working with children and families.

PNC's Senior Vice President, Director of Client and Community Relations Mike Moll talks with a family participating in an NCFL Family Learning program. Say & Play with Words will build upon NCFL’s existing Family Learning efforts underway in Louisville.

“Half of the children in this community are at an academic disadvantage before they even step foot in kindergarten,” said Theresa Reno-Weber, president and chief executive officer, Metro United Way. “And unfortunately, once they start behind, they often stay behind. However, parents and family members can change the course their children are on. Say & Play with Words will provide the resources to do just that.”

A Community Effort 

“Kids’ Spaces” will launch in area businesses later this year as a way to meet families where they gather. Local businesses can volunteer to host a “Kids’ Space,” which will provide easy access to resources for their customers. Examples of potential locations include the waiting room of a doctor’s office, nail salon, tire shop, barber shop, etc. – anywhere parents and children may spend time.  Businesses will be given Say & Play with Words signage and activity sheets that encourage young children and families to explore new words together. In addition, parents in NCFL Family Learning programs will be empowered as leaders in their communities by serving as Say & Play ambassadors.

Say & Play with Words materials

“We are proud to partner on this program, which sets the stage at the earliest level for better academic outcomes for our next generation,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “It’s critical for the future of our city that we make sure our babies are equipped for success in their academic career and eventually, to move on to a high-quality job.”

Development and outreach for Say & Play with Words Louisville is supported by Louisville Metro Government, Lift a Life Foundation and Ready for K Alliance. The PNC Foundation’s $250,000 grant supports development and outreach, as well as implementation at existing NCFL Family Learning sites. 

Say & Play with Words Louisville will replicate the success of a similar program in Detroit, also supported by PNC. Since 2014, more than 3,000 Detroit caregivers have received vocabulary-building resources each week in English and Spanish and their children heard 6,000 more words per week, on average. Say & Play with Words Detroit engaged nearly 100 businesses and trained staff at nearly 400 child care providers.

Follow Say & Play with Words Louisville on Facebook or visit for more information.


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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