Early Literacy

Literacy Promotion in Laundromats: Reaching Families in Everyday Spaces

For years children’s librarians have capitalized on the potential of reaching families in everyday spaces, like local laundromats. Families spend an average of 2.5 hours during each visit to the laundromat—a place where they routinely visit about once a week. Over the past five years, Too Small to Fail, the early childhood initiative of the Clinton Foundation, has been leading a partnership with the LaundryCares Foundation to transform laundromats across the country into playful, literacy-rich environments for children and families. These “Family Read, Play & Learn” spaces are designed to meet families where they are and encourage parents to engage in language-rich activities like talking, reading, and singing during laundry time. Each space provides a set of high-quality tools and resources, including a book shelf, an assortment of bilingual children’s books, furniture, engaging laundry-themed posters with parent-child conversation prompts, and a variety of other early literacy toys and materials. These kits have been purchased by laundromat owners and early literacy groups nationwide who are committed to helping children learn and believe in the power of their space to make a positive impact on the families they serve.

A before and after picture of laundramats

Dr. Susan Neuman, Professor of Childhood and Literacy Education at New York University conducted a pilot evaluation of the “Family Read, Play & Learn” spaces throughout laundromats in low-income communities in New York City. In the first phase, researchers compared three “treatment” laundromats—which included the “Family Read, Play & Learn” spaces—to three “control” laundromats that did not include the spaces. The research revealed that children engaged in 30 times more literacy-rich activities in laundromats with our literacy play spaces compared to the control sites. In the second phase, librarians from New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Libraries were brought in to conduct weekly story times at the laundromat. By adding librarians to the space, there was a significant value added to these spaces. Researchers found that during story times led by librarians, the average stay per child increased to 47 minutes, representing a substantial amount of sustained engagement in early literacy activities.

As evident in the research, an integral part of this initiative involves bringing community supports and literacy programing to these laundromat spaces, inviting local libraries and librarians to conduct family story times at these spaces. Our goal is to install these spaces into thousands of laundromats across the country.. and our hope is to partner with libraries across the country to promote children’s literacy development—one laundry load at a time.

Libraries, please join our national movement! Too Small to Fail and the LaundryCares Foundation are seeking to partner with librarians to lead story times in laundromats within their local communities. This is an incredible opportunity for librarians to form new community partnerships and reach children in some of the most underserved communities in our country. If you are interested in joining our national movement, please contact Kari Kurjiaka at kkurjiaka@clintonfoundation.org. To learn more about Too Small to Fail, please visit www.toosmall.org or www.laundrycares.org/kits for information about the “Family, Read, Play & Learn” spaces.


Today’s guest blogger is Kari Kurjiaka. Kara is a Program Associate at Too Small to Fail.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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