Early Literacy Space Opens in Chicago Laundromat

Chelsea Clinton spoke to the crowd and read books to neighborhood kids after cutting the ribbon to officially open the space, which is a project of the Laundry Literacy Coalition.

About 100 visitors packed into Wash Time on Wednesday morning for the opening of the Chicago laundromat’s new play space filled with books, art supplies, and puzzles for children. Tucked into the corner of the bustling Northwest Side business, the literacy-rich space was added to bring an effective and flexible early learning environment directly to pre-K children.

Chelsea Clinton with kids at Wash Time in Chicago. Photo by Camille Erickson

Wash Time is the first of 10 Chicago laundromats that will add a “Laundry & Literacy Kit” developed by the Laundry Literacy Coalition, an alliance of LaundryCares Foundation , Libraries Without Borders , and the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail. The kit includes a small sofa, an alphabet rug, bookshelf, children’s books, animal puppets, crayons, paper and activity sheets, and a magnetic board with ABC magnets.

But it’s not just about the physical resources. With help from the Chicago Public Library, the literary play space will also host local children’s librarians who can lead story times and activities.

Books and washing machines may seem like unlikely partners, but organizers said they hope to “meet where families are.” As parents wash their clothes, children can gain important early literacy skills, while safely playing, drawing, and reading—or being read to.

Chelsea Clinton cut the ribbon to officially open the new literacy space and explained the importance of expanding accessible learning spaces for early childhood development so that all children, regardless of their background, were set up for success.

“We know that 60 percent of American kids come to kindergarten not ready. That is something that should bother all of us,” Clinton said. “Every child deserves to show up for kindergarten ready to thrive, to grow, to develop.”

That means surrounding children with “words, numbers, and love,” she said. Organizers hope the idea will spread to hundreds, if not thousands, of other laundromats throughout the country.

After addressing the overflowing crowd, Clinton settled in the cozy literary nook to lead a special storytime for a small group of children. Clinton read Too Small to Fail ’s new children’s book DJ’s Busy Day, over the soft hum of washing machines.

Amari Motley, who lives in the neighborhood, brought his two-year-old daughter.

"It was a good experience, because when you are doing laundry, you don’t have to worry about your child running around,” Motley said. “She’s either drawing, reading, or playing with other kids.”

The Chicago Laundry & Literacy Kits represent phase three of a study by the Laundry Literacy Coalition. The first two phases examined a three-laundromat pilot program in New York City. In Chicago, organizers will specifically look at strategies to further engage parents and caregivers to participate in the literacy area with the children and how librarians can get parents more engaged in their literacy activities—as opposed to just observing.

Families spend an average of about 2.5 hours in laundromats a week, according to Patti Miller, chief executive director of Too Small to Fail. The organization aims to implement immediate learning seamlessly into children’s lives and advance early brain development.

“By making learning as easy and accessible as possible for parents, and as part of everyday moments and routines [as possible], you can really make small moments big,” Miller said.

At the Wash Time opening, local residents, nonprofit organizers, business owners, and librarians congregated in the buzzing laundromat. Too Small To Fail’s deputy director, Jane Parkwoi, described the opening event as “magical.”

“To bring joy into these spaces is wonderful,” Parkwoi said. “The children’s faces light up when they see these spaces. They know that it’s there for them.”

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Amy Goldstein

What an outstanding idea! I would love to know how I could get involved.

Posted : Apr 01, 2019 01:08


Alice Kingsbury

Wow! What a great idea for family literacy. Hope this spreads to other Laundromats!

Posted : Mar 26, 2019 07:50


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