Today, Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, spent time at the Bubbleland laundromat on Fullerton, not far from Kelvyn Park, reading a picture book to preschoolers and their families. Her visit comes about a year after Chicago librarians began holding story time in laundromats around the city in an effort to reach out to families with young children and meet them where they are.
According to U.S. News and World Report, more than 60 percent of low-income Chicago households don’t own any books. [As a side note, I used to help with a Dia del Nino book giveaway at Cornell Square Park in Back of the Yards. The eagerness with which kids and families chose books and the speed at which they vanished tells me there is something to this statistic.] And many families, especially with very young children, may not have time to make it to the library. So librarians are bringing story hour, finger plays and songs to families while they get their wash done.
The program is a hit, with families changing their laundry times to make sure they don’t miss the fun. Librarians involved hope that parents will take the songs and games home with them, increasing conversation, oral language and other important pre-reading skills with their children. “A big part of what we do is model literary skills for parents so they can do it at home with their kids,” Becca Ruidl, the Chicago Public Library’s STEAM Team early learning manager, who runs the Laundromat Story Time program, told U.S. News.
“We know the first five years of a child’s life are crucial for early literacy and brain development,” said Clinton, in a statement. “I’m so proud that through the work of Too Small to Fail and the Laundry Literacy Coalition we are meeting families where they are—providing parents, grandparents, and caregivers with critical resources to set babies up for success later in life.”
While Chicago is thinking hard about kindergarten readiness, it’s important to use unconventional avenues to meet parents where they are and bring them assets they can use. I’ll have to check out the action at the Bubbleland over by 51st and Western, where they do this program, too.