2022 Summer Blog Series – Wash, Spin, and Play at the Laundromat

Summer Blog Series – Libraries & PLAY #2

“Wash, Spin, and Play at the Laundromat”

Wash, spin, and…play? You may not think it, but all types of meaningful play are ‘bubbling up’ in the everyday space of laundromats. All across the country, local laundromats are teaming up to offer early learning through play in their facilities. The Laundry Cares Foundation, in partnership with the Too Small To Fail Initiative of the Clinton Foundation, supports this initiative to bring play to everyday spaces. The goal of the Laundry Literacy project is to bring transformed spaces, high-quality play materials, and beautiful children’s books along with trusted messengers from the community. Offering this to children who have a long dwell time during laundromat visits, a mundane yet essential family chore, allows for playful learning opportunities. “A core strategy of Too Small to Fail has been to transform everyday places into playful, literacy-rich environments that would delight and captivate children and provide support for their parents as well,” said Jane Park. Families typically spend about two hours at their local laundromat each week and return on a weekly cycle. “We see that the laundromat provides a critical space for families to continue their learning,” says Brian Wallace, CEO of the Coin Laundry Association. “Through Laundry Cares Foundation, we are transforming our space and outcomes for community kids. Play is essential to that effort,” Wallace continues. Literacy experts agree: “We know that play is learning; bringing play together with other early literacy initiatives and into everyday spaces is an impactful way to meet the needs of our communities,” says Brian Bannon, The Merryl and James Tisch Director at the New York Public Library where he oversees educational initiatives. Partnerships with public libraries to provide story times, open play, and play-based learning opportunities is an essential element of this work. The New York Public Library
has been fundamental in bringing early literacy activities to area laundromats.

Over 200 laundromats across the country have transformed empty corners or unused areas of their stores by installing a highly curated ‘kit of parts’ called the Family Read, Play, and Learn spaces. These spaces contain a child’s table and chairs, a small couch for a parent and child to read or play together, and many fun ways to learn and play. “Providing high-quality materials that encourage open play and exploration in a transformed space is essential for a lasting impact,” says Marisa Conner, Early Childhood Consultant to Too Small To Fail. Blocks, puppets, building shapes, magnetic letters, and a play washing machine are all a part of these installations and serve to increase child engagement and instances of play in the space. In fact, pre-eminent early literacy researcher Dr. Susan Neuman of New York University has been researching this project for over five years and has found that transforming the space of the laundromat alone can change outcomes for kids: children were observed engaging in thirty times more literacy activities in laundromats that include the prototype kit compared to laundromats without the kits. “Children are eager and ready to learn,” states Dr. Neuman, “and the laundromat can be a place of immense learning through play, books, and language.”

Ongoing learning initiatives are also rolled out through the participating laundromats. This summer, in partnership with author Sandra Magsamen, the laundromats have been promoting play connected to Sandra’s new book, I Wish Wish Wish For You. This is a national summer learning initiative of Laundry Cares in partnership with Sandra Magsamen Studios and Source Books Publishing. “This book is about all the dreams we have for our children. This is a critical time for us all to wish for our children and to hear and understand our children’s wishes for the world,” said Sandra as she launched this book and the World of Wishes Campaign at the National Summer Learning Association last fall. Through bilingual posters placed in participating laundromats, children are guided to build a city using the Read, Play, and Learn Space building blocks. Other prompts encourage children to find a bubble in the washers and make up a story imagining it taking off into the world. Liz Terrell, Early Childhood Consultant for the Laundry Cares project who worked on this national summer initiative, says, “Guiding play around this beautiful book and the environment of the laundromat helps children draw meaning and make connections, which is how children learn and grow.” Additionally, child-directed play in the laundromat is encouraged year-round. This play allows the child to take control of their play, own the ideas, and have power in the process.

In July the Laundry Cares Foundation offered a five-site Free Laundry and Literacy Day throughout metropolitan Atlanta. Free laundry was provided to help families get ready for the start of school and ribbon cuttings occurred in these laundromats’ on five new early learning sites. The day was filled with playful learning as children created their wishes and played with bubbles. “I like to play,” said eight-year-old Tala-hisha, “but sometimes I don’t get to because I have to help my Mom.” The new laundromat space will allow her and her family and other kids just like her time and space to dedicate to play and reading while the wash is spinning.

Other play initiatives in the laundries have included a partnership with Sidewalk Math that allows children a contract-free way to learn mathematical patterns while hopping, skipping, and jumping on math-pattern games placed on the laundromat floor. This was accompanied by a deck of math concept cards which were created by Highlights Children’s Magazine. The cards promote games that draw on math concepts such as shapes, sorting, and counting. The Highlights math decks were distributed to over 5,000 families across the country at the height of COVID. “The laundromat is a great place to learn math,” said Dan Naumann, Executive Vice President of the Laundry Cares Foundation, “Sidewalk math and the early childhood math cards are great examples of how guided play can promote learning in our stores. Laundromat owners know that transformed space is not only good for business, but it’s also good for kids, and that matters to us.” Philadelphia laundromat owner of The Laundry Cafes, Brian Holland, echoes that sentiment by saying, “play is at the heart of equitable learning in our communities. Using our everyday spaces-Laundromats- to help our children and our communities flourish is what matters most.”

For more information on how to bring play to a laundromat near you, please reach out to Liz@Laundrycares.org.

About the Author: Liz McChesney served as the Chicago Public Library Director of Children’s Services and Family Engagement, where she earned numerous national awards, including the American Library Service to Children Distinguished Services Recipient. She now serves as the Community Partnerships Consultant to the Laundry Cares Foundation, where she helps build early learning in everyday spaces such as laundromats, WIC Centers, and family courts. She additionally serves as a Senior Advisor to the Urban Libraries Council and is a Senior Fellow at the National Summer Learning Association. In all these roles, play is at the center of her work. She has two books with the American Library Association, Summer Matters: Making All Learning Count (2017) and Pairing STEAM with Stories (2019). Her first picture book, Keke’s Super Strong Double Hugs, was published in 2020 and her forthcoming book, The Path Forward: Serving Children Equitably is forthcoming.

About the Summer PLAY Blog Series: This summer we are featuring some great PLAY resources with our 2022 Summer PLAY Blog Series, starring two invited play partners as our content experts; Liz McChesney and Meghan Talarowski. Our experts will be sharing blog posts with you throughout the months of July and August.