As part of the second annual LaundryCares Literacy Summit, held March 19-20 in Chicago, Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton – on behalf of the foundation’s work in early childhood learning through its Too Small to Fail initiative – met with local families and participants of the Summit. During a visit to a Chicago laundromat, Clinton announced the expansion of laundromat-based early literacy programs within the city and shared the results of a new evaluation on their effectiveness.


Video from ABC 7 News Chicago

“We know the first five years of a child’s life are crucial for early literacy and brain development,” Clinton explained. “I’m so proud that, through the work of Too Small to Fail and the Laundry Literacy Coalition, we are meeting families where they are – providing parents, grandparents and caregivers with critical resources to set children up for success later in life.”

The LaundryCares Literacy Summit was hosted by Laundry Literacy Coalition partners – the LaundryCares Foundation, Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders – and brought together a diverse group of national early childhood and literacy organizations and foundations, as well as vended laundry owners and industry manufacturers. These groups explored ways to work together to create learning spaces in laundries across the country, with the goal of providing families with tools and resources to support children’s early brain and language development.

The opening of a new “Family Read & Play Space” at Chicago-based Wash Time laundromat included remarks and story time, which was led by Clinton, the Chicago Public Library and Encore.org’s Gen2Gen campaign. The visit also featured a comprehensive tour of the facility and a reading of Too Small to Fail’s new children’s book “DJ’s Busy Day,” released by Scholastic Inc. A total of 10 new “Family Read & Play Spaces” will open in Chicago this year.

“Family Read & Play Spaces” are playful, literacy-rich areas to help prompt language-rich activities such as talking, reading, singing, writing and playing among young children and their parents and caregivers. These spaces include a sofa, a bookshelf filled with high-quality children’s books, puppets, crayons, in-store signage for parents, an alphabet rug, blocks, magnetic letters and family tip sheets.

New Research on the Impact of Laundromat Literacy Programs

Also as part of the LaundryCares Literacy Summit, Dr. Susan Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at New York University, presented the results of an evaluation on the effectiveness of “Family Read & Play Spaces,” which were piloted in three vended laundries in New York City.

Evaluation findings overwhelmingly showed that laundries can serve as an important environment for early literacy development.

Among Dr. Neuman’s findings were that:

  • The “Family Read & Play Space” significantly enhanced children’s time spent on literacy-rich activities that support school readiness. Children were observed engaging in 30 times more literacy activities in laundromats that include the spaces compared to the laundromats that did not have these areas.
  • When the spaces were paired with librarians, children engaged in substantial and sustained literacy activities. The average stay per child was 47 minutes.
  • Parents expressed pride and delight as they observed their children’s literacy-related activities.
  • Parents observed librarians modeling a rich array of literacy activities and expressed their enthusiasm for the literacy spaces and librarians’ visits.
  • Customers overwhelmingly expressed their enthusiasm for the literacy space and said they chose to come to that specific laundromat because of it.
  • Laundromat owners and staff also expressed unanimous praise for the literacy areas.

Committing to Early Literacy Efforts

Also at the Summit, the Laundry Literacy Coalition announced a number of new commitments to expand efforts nationwide to help transform neighborhood laundries into playful, literacy-rich spaces for families, caregivers and their children.

Those commitments include the following:

  • The LaundryCares Foundation will expand the “Family Read & Play Spaces” into 600 new locations by March 2020. In fact, 250 laundromats have already committed to integrate these spaces into their stores.
  • The LaundryCares Foundation will host a minimum of 30 “Free Laundry & Literacy Days” within a year. These will feature free books and literacy resources.
  • The Coin Laundry Association will promote the “Family Read & Play Spaces” as a basic component of future laundromat designs by sharing sample layouts with laundry equipment manufacturers, distributors and the CLA’s network of 5,000 retail, self-service laundries.
  • Too Small to Fail and Encore.org’s Gen2Gen initiative are launching a new “Gen2Gen Laundromat Literacy Volunteer Guide,” which provides strategies to recruit volunteers aged 50 and older and provide them with tips and resources to lead early literacy programming in laundromats.
  • Too Small to Fail is committing to lead coalition efforts for more research on the role of laundromats in promoting early literacy. This research will be expanded into Chicago, where they will be evaluating “Family Read & Play Spaces” in 20 laundromats across the city – in partnership with the LaundryCares Foundation, Libraries Without Borders and the Chicago Public Library.

Since 2015, the LaundryCares Foundation, Too Small to Fail and Libraries Without Borders have launched several initiatives to deliver high-quality early literacy resources and outreach programs directly into local self-service laundries to meet families where they are and support young children’s early brain and language development.