Dragging laundry – and your kids – past a laundromat or two to wash clothes at another facility doesn’t seem to make much sense, until you talk to a parent that does it. 

According to a father in Queens NY, it’s worth a 6-block walk, passing another laundromat, to frequent his favorite facility because it helps his kids learn. Since March, families in Chicago now make that same choice, enjoying Family Read Play & Learn Spaces in ten area laundromats. 

The Clinton Foundation’s Too Small To Fail initiative and the Laundry Cares Foundation have teamed up to bring these literacy promotion efforts to places where families spend time together, supporting parents in helping their children develop language skills. After the first summit in New York, Chicago hosted a second summit in tandem with the installation of the Family Read Play & Learn Spaces in these Chicago laundromats.

This initiative all began with Wash Time Is Talk Time. Conceptualized by Jane Park Woo of the Clinton Foundation and enthusiastically embraced and championed by Brian Wallace, CEO of the Coin Laundry Association, the goal of the initial program was to promote literacy in unexpected places. In 2018, five thousand posters explaining prompts to help parents talk to their children, tip sheets and coloring activities were distributed to laundromats around the country.

The team soon realized that efforts needed to go deeper. The need for physical environments within the laundromats that promoted literacy was identified, so Family Read Play & Learn Kits were created. The kits contain high quality materials. There is a comfy couch, books in both English and Spanish that are carefully curated by librarians and teachers, puppets for storytelling and of course, those posters, which help turn the entire laundromat into an opportunity to learn. 

Phase Two’s goal was getting the spaces activated by bringing in local librarians to conduct weekly story times during high traffic times. Not only do these librarians talk, read and sing with the children who attend, they also model for parents ways to interact positively and engage in literary activities with their children. 

Chicago laundromats with Family Read Play & Learn Spaces have two scheduled story times each week, offering an additional opportunity for literacy promotion and customer traffic. 

Parents have noted that they are planning laundromat visits during these story times, spending more time in the laundromat itself. They are not only participating with their children, they are also able to more effectively concentrate on the task of doing their wash, knowing their children are positively engaged in the safe space. 

Dr. Susan Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University confirms this. Neuman evaluated the Family Read Play & Learn Spaces in New York and found that during these story times, children stayed engaged an average of 47 minutes and participated in 30 times more literacy activities than in laundromats that did not have Family Read Play & Learn Spaces. Anecdotally, Neuman also found that library patronage increased in the areas that had a convenient laundromat with a Family Read Play & Learn Space.

Due to the dearth of librarians in some areas of the country, or due to a lack of time for those professionals, Family Read Play & Learn is now partnering with Generation To Generation and similar organizations. Gen2Gen works to bring generations together, helping adults 50 and older interact with young people to realize the potential of both older persons and of every child. This integration will mobilize older adults to activate the spaces by regularly conducting story times and other literacy events. 

Family Read Play & Learn Spaces are now being habitually integrated into new stores and remodels, enabling our 5,000 plus members an opportunity to easily become part of this initiative. At the recent Clean Show, kits were on display and received an enthusiastic response from laundromat owners, manufacturers and design professionals. 

With over 30,000 laundromats across the country, Family Read Play & Learn Spaces have a great deal of room to grow. 

For more information and to purchase your own Family Read Play & Learn space, click below. Shop Now!