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Accessible Playgrounds, Laundromats Focus of Early-Literacy Effort

playground_large_rendering.JPGTwo organizations committed to building playgrounds accessible for all children has now committed to making early literacy a part of its efforts. 

The nonprofit Shane's Inspiration and playground builder Landscape Structures will be adding signs in English and Spanish to their playgrounds to encourage parents to talk with the children see around them. 

The "Play Time is Talk Time" initiative was announced Tuesday at the 5th annual meeting of Clinton Global Initiative America, in Denver. The partnership is one of several early-literacy efforts spearheaded by Too Small to Fail, a joint project of the Clinton Foundation and Next Generation. 

"Too Small to Fail is looking at every possible way to reach children," said Patti Miller, the director of Too Small to Fail. "What this really does is it gives parents things to talk about." 

Shane's Inspiration is named after Shane Alexander Williams, who died at two-weeks-old of spinal muscular atrophy. His parents realized that, had their son lived, he would not have been able to go to the playground, and decided to honor his life by building play areas that can be used by children of all needs. So far, 56 have been built around the world. Twenty new playgrounds will be built with the signs to prompt conversation by July 2017; the organizations are also looking into adding signage to existing playgrounds.

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. 

Laundromat Learning

The Coin Laundry Association also announced Tuesday 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. 

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."

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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