A second laundromat in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, Ill., has installed a bookcase, books and signs encouraging families to turn the downtime during the washing and drying process into a learning and literacy-building experience for their children.

The second “Language in the Laundromat” location recently opened at the Blue Kangaroo laundry in Elgin and was made possible by the local school district, the Elgin Partnership for Early Learning, Blue Kangaroo and a local Girl Scout.

“We want for people with their own businesses to think, ‘What can we do to put an early learning spin where children can learn while they’re here,’” said Amber Peters, collaboration director of the Elgin Partnership for Early Learning, in an interview with the Courier-News.

Last spring, JetXpress Laundry, also in Elgin, opened the first such location. Reading materials are available to families while they wash and dry, and posters have been hung throughout the store to provide tips on how to make the visit more educational.

Blue Kangaroo BookshelfA similar setup was created at the Blue Kangaroo location, including a fully stocked bookcase in one corner of the laundry.

Ultimately, between 200 and 300 books will be moved through that bookcase, said Peggy Ondera, the local school district’s early learners initiatives director. The books will be targeted mainly toward younger children, and the material will be in English and Spanish.

Posters were hung throughout the store, also in English and Spanish. The signs suggest activities for the families to do with their children while they wash and dry – such as learning colors, counting, and improving reading and communication skills.

Education experts agree that valuable learning can be lost during daily chores like laundry, with children often staring at a smartphone screen to pass the time.

“Families typically spend about two-and-a-half hours in laundromats,” Ondera said. “We want them to use that spare time as best as they can.”

Several hundred books were collected for the laundry by Peyton Smith, a 15-year-old who helped obtain books for the store and built the bookcase as part of a project for her Girl Scout troop. The book collection drive – aided by Smith’s troop and social media – ran from last summer through the fall, she explained.

“If [reading material] is not readily available at home, let’s make it available wherever they may go,” said the high school freshman.

The project was funded by the Elgin school district, while the original site was funded through an Elgin Township grant, according to Peters. Her organization was established to provide communitywide initiatives in early learning readiness. Dozens of local institutions make up the group, including Elgin School District U46, the Gail Borden Public Library and the United Way of Elgin.

Plans are underway to expand the concept to other well-visited locations – including the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices and clinics, as well as perhaps local cafés, supermarkets and banks.

“We still have so much work to do for our children,” Peters said.

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