Early Learning Spaces from Your Library

Child reading next to a community center, laundromat, and medical center. Early Learning Spaces from your Library.

“The average laundromat visit takes about 2 to 2.5 hours — making laundry time a valuable, yet often overlooked, opportunity to engage children and families in language-rich activities like talking, reading, and singing together.”

– Jane Park, Director of Too Small to Fail

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Since 2015, the LaundryCares Foundation and Too Small to Fail (partnering as the Laundry Literacy Coalition) have been focused on the role of laundromats in promoting children’s early literacy development. The Coalition works to provide greater opportunities to deliver high-quality early literacy resources and outreach programs directly into local self-service laundromats in underserved communities. In 2018, the Coalition developed “Laundry and Literacy Kits” to place inside of laundromats and conducted several subsequent studies to measure whether these centers increased the amount of literacy activity with young children.

Beginning in 2022, both LaundryCares Foundation and the Idaho Commission for Libraries began incorporating non-laundromat partners in our efforts to provide literacy centers (aka “early learning spaces”) in rural and urban communities throughout Idaho. We are proud to support six early learning spaces in non-laundromat sites in Idaho in health clinics, community centers,  a veteran’s center, and a Boys & Girls Club. In 2024, we re-branded our program to include this expansion from “Idaho Libraries & Laundromats” to “Early Learning Spaces from Your Library,” though the premise for the program and it’s goals remain the same.

Laundry Literacy Coalition

The Research

A pilot study was conducted in low-income New York communities with three treatment sites that received Laundry and Literacy Kits, and three control sites that did not. Findings showed that:

  • Compared to the control sites, children engaged in 30 times more literacy activities in the sites with the Kits than at the control sites.
  • Customers reported high praise for the literacy spaces and greater loyalty to the laundromat.
  • While children engaged in more literacy activities, parent engagement was restricted to mostly checking in on their children and then returning to their laundry chores.

In order to increase parent engagement, librarians from local public libraries were recruited to provide storytimes and programs at the orginal three pilot sites that housed the literacy spaces. Findings showed that:

  • Children engaged in significantly more purposeful engagement in literacy activities compared to children in the control sites, as well as compared to the activities in Phase 1 at the treatment sites.
  • The amount of time children were engaged in activities increased.
  • While parent engagement varied, many parents spent at least some time engaged with their child while the librarian facilitated storytimes/programming/one-on-one time with children.

Using the key findings from the pilot study, researchers selected 20 laundromats in Chicago and randomly chose 10 as treatment sites and 10 as control sites. At the treatment sites, “Family Read, Play and Learn” spaces were installed and partnerships with trained local public library staff were established. Findings showed that:

  • Trained librarians, paired with the “Family Read, Play and Learn” spaces significantly increased children’s engagement in literacy-related activities. The average amount of time spent by children in the literacy space during librarian visits was 47 minutes, significantly more than the average 29 minutes they spent alone in the space.
  • Importantly, more parents became involved in their children’s literacy-related activities during the librarians’ visits.
  • The majority of customers of all ages reported praise and appreciation for the addition of the literacy spaces in their laundromats.
  • The study further confirmed that laundromats can play an important role in promoting greater equity by increasing access to high-quality learning environments and resources in neighborhoods affected by poverty.

Family Read, Play, Learn Centers

“Family Read, Play, Learn Centers” are the design and creation of the Laundry Literacy Coalition. Working with Lakeshore Learning and Scholastic, these centers are uniquely designed to create safe, fun, and engaging places for children and families in laundromats. “Family Read, Play & Learn” spaces are equipped with literacy-rich materials to support children’s early brain and language development and are a meaningful way to serve communities and customers.

Early Learning Spaces from Your Library

In 2020, the ICfL began a pilot project to bring literacy centers to Idaho through partnerships between local public libraries and laundromats. Based on the findings of the New York and Chicago studies referenced above, the intent was to establish “literacy-rich spaces” in local laundromats and take advantage of laundry wait times by bringing books and other early literacy materials to children and families utilizing laundromats in rural settings, as well as low-income suburban and urban communities. The ICfL piloted this project with three Idaho libraries in the fall of 2020 through spring of 2021. Several program expansions have occurred in the last few years and today, in 2024, ICfL and our library partners now support and maintain early learning spaces in 24 communities across Idaho.

Map of Idaho marked with library locations participating in the Early Learning Spaces from your library program.
View Larger Map (PDF)
Lewiston Public library's project

This project aims to…

  • Serve families/caregivers with young children, who are unable or unlikely to visit the library, with early literacy services.
  • Support families/caregivers in their efforts to prepare their children for kindergarten.
  • Utilize laundromat wait times to offer early literacy resources to children and families.

Laundromat Learning Resources:

This program is brought to you by the Idaho Commission for Libraries and was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Kristina Taylor

Kristina Taylor

Outreach & Family Engagement Consultant
Email / 208-639-4136
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Staci Shaw

Staci Shaw

Youth Services Consultant
Email / 208-639-4178
Read my Blogs