New research from Professor Susan Neuman finds that laundromats can serve as an important environment for early literacy development. The research was part of a program led by Laundry Literacy Coalition.

Photo of washing machines in laundromat
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During last week’s LaundryCares Literacy Summit, NYU Steinhardt Professor Susan B. Neuman presented new research demonstrating that laundromats can serve as an important environment for early literacy development.

Neuman’s research was part of a program led by Laundry Literacy Coalition, a group formed by the LaundryCares Foundation, the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative, and Libraries Without Borders to make early literacy resources available to underserved communities through local laundromats nationwide.  

The coalition developed “Laundry and Literacy Kits,” consisting of items such as: a sofa for parents and children to sit together, a colorful alphabet rug, an open-facing bookshelf, an assortment of children’s books, a set of four colorful animal puppets, as well as a few other items. The coalition implemented these “kits” in three locations across New York City in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens – naming them “Family Read & Place Spaces.” The spaces were designed to be playful, literacy-rich areas.

Youth at the "Family Read & Play Spaces" in NYC Libraries

Photo Credit: Laundry Literacy Coalition

Neuman evaluated the effectiveness of these newly created spaces to determine if laundromats are an ideal venue for supporting early literacy development in urban areas. The findings overwhelmingly showed that laundromats can serve as an important environment for early literacy development.

The findings also revealed that:

  • The “Family Read & Play Spaces” significantly enhanced children’s time spent on literacy-rich activities that support school readiness (children were observed engaging in 30 times more literacy activities in laundromats that include the spaces compared to the laundromats that did not have these areas)
  • When the spaces were paired with librarians, children engaged in substantial and sustained literacy activities (the average stay per child was 47 minutes)
  • Parents expressed pride and delight as they observed their children’s literacy-related activities
  • Parents observed librarians modeling a rich array of literacy activities and expressed their enthusiasm for the literacy spaces and librarians’ visits
  • Customers overwhelmingly expressed their enthusiasm for the literacy space and said they chose to come to that specific laundromat because of it
  • Laundromat owners and staff also expressed unanimous praise for the literacy areas
Susan Neuman standing at podium

Susan Neuman, NYU Steinhardt

“It’s amazing how little things can mean a lot,” said Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt. “Creating literacy related spaces in laundromats reaches people 'where they are.' These spaces provide books, play materials, and engage children in developmentally appropriate practices in informal spaces. Plus, it brings new families to the laundromat...A win win for everyone!”

The full executive summary of the findings can be viewed at http://toosmall.org/blog/body/Laundry-Literacy-Coalition-Pilot-Evaluation_Executive-Summary.pdf.

Following this evaluation, the Laundry Literacy Coalition will open a total of 10 new “Family Read & Play Spaces” in Chicago this year. To learn more about the coalition’s work, please reach out to info@toosmall.org or visit https://laundrycares.org/laundry-literacy-coalition/.

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.