Early Childhood

Laundromats, Playgrounds to Promote Early-Childhood Literacy

By Christina A. Samuels — June 10, 2015 3 min read
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Reading during the rinse cycle? Singing during the spin dry?

Why not? asks Too Small to Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, two nonprofits that have made early-childhood education a focus of philanthropic efforts. On Tuesday, the Coin Laundry Association announced that it will be asking its members to hang posters and distribute pamphlets that encourage parents to use laundry day as an opportunity to talk, read, and sing to their children.

The announcement was made at the 5th annual meeting of Clinton Global Initiative America, in Denver.

“Too Small to Fail is looking at every possible way to reach children,” said Patti Miller, the director of Too Small to Fail. Families who use coin laundries are often lower-income and spend more than an hour there, making laundromats a perfect place to get the message out about the importance of early-literacy efforts, Miller said.

“We all know that parents are really busy, and for low-income parents, it can be a struggle,” Miller said. “We’re trying to make this as easy for parents as possible.”

Brian Wallace, the president and chief executive officer of the Coin Laundry Association, said the “Wash Time is Talk Time” effort will kick off this fall with the association’s 2,000 members, which together operate about 5,000 of the nations’ 30,000 retail coin laundries. Additional coin laundries will be reached through the association’s trade magazine, “Planet Laundry.”

Other local organizations plan to host events tied to the literacy effort. For example, in Oakland, Calif., the nonprofit organization Jumpstart plans to kick off its annual “Read for the Record” campaign in local coin laundries. And the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions will distribute resources in Northwest Arkansas laundromats and hold monthly story time events with families.

“We have a lot of business owners who will be very open to embracing the [material] and providing it to their customers,” Wallace said. “It’s a natural fit. And increasingly, whether you’re a retailer, a marketer, or a foundation, there’s a trend toward trying to go to where the people are, rather than having people come to you.”

Playground Efforts

Too Small to Fail also announced on Tuesday a partnership with the nonprofit Shane’s Inspiration and with playground builder Landscape Structures, which have worked together to build playgrounds around the country that are

accessible to children with disabilities. The partners will be adding signs in English and Spanish that will encourage parents to talk to their children at the playground. Twenty new playgrounds will include signage linked to the “Play Time is Talk Time” initiative.

Shane’s Inspiration is named after Shane Alexander Williams, who died at two-weeks-old of spinal muscular atrophy. His parents decided to honor his life by building accessible playgrounds; so far, 56 have been built around the world. Landscape Structures, based in Delano, Minn., is a commercial playground equipment manufacturer.

Tiffany Harris, a co-founder of Shane’s Inspiration, said the partnership with Too Small to Fail offers a “wonderful opportunity to deepen our impact.” The conversational prompts will be linked to the playground’s theme, she said. For example, “if there’s a train theme, the signs might say, ‘How many wheels are on this train? Where is the train going? We are tying in very specific prompts to make it more fun and more engaging,” she said.

And through the partnership, Harris said she hopes visitors will learn that children with disabilities are also hungry for conversation, even if they do not speak, themselves.

“Children who are non-verbal are very often not communicated with, because people feel they can’t communicate, or they feel like they don’t want to make it uncomfortable for the child. But nonverbal children are in dire need of communication,” she said.

Bedtime Math Commitment

A third commitment came from the Bedtime Math Foundation, which said it plans to distribute 1,500 “Bedtime Math” books in English and Spanish to local outreach campaigns in Oakland, Calif., and Tulsa, Okla. Bedtime Math books help parents and caregivers talk about math concepts and engage in early math activities with their preschool-aged children. Bedtime Math also plans to distribute materials to health-care providers who work with families and young children.

Playground rendering courtesy of Landscape Structures, Inc.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.