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In These Laundromats, Adults Do the Wash, and Children Read (Video)

By Lisa Stark

Weekends are busy times at most laundromats, and that's certainly true at Giant Wash in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y.  

Adults are sorting, washing, and drying clothes. And the kids—well, normally they might be glued to an electronic device, or running around. But this Sunday afternoon they're sitting on a colorful rug listening to a story.

It's all part of an effort to improve early-childhood literacy by bringing books and storytime into unusual locations—in this case the laundromat.

Brooklyn librarian Samantha Owen has a simple goal: "I want the kids to have fun and be really engaged with story time."

Librarians, early-literacy groups, and laundromat owners are combining forces to see if reaching out to families in places they frequent can help close the literacy gap between low-income and higher-income students.

A preliminary study of six New York laundromats has shown a big difference when a reading corner is added. There's a lot more reading and educational activities going on when children have a literacy area to explore.

Researcher Susan Neuman, a professor of Childhood Education and Literacy Development at New York University, says it is critical to reach children at an early age. "The problem with early literacy for so many of our children is they are not successful when they come to kindergarten and subsequently will not catch up fast enough by 3rd grade."

Neuman says that 3rd grade is often thought of as a  reading "benchmark" and if children can't read fluently by then they will have "great difficulty" in later grades.

Those behind the New York effort include the Clinton Foundation's "Too Small to Fail" program, Libraries Without Borders, and the laundromat industry. They hope to expand literacy areas to thousands of locations nationwide.

"We have the right audience ... parents and kids who need the most help when it comes to literacy and access to books," says Brian Wallace, president and CEO of the Coin Laundry Association. "Rather than watch the socks tumble ... use that time and make it more productive."


Related Video: Tips for Parents - Reading to Your Child  

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