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Story Time at the Laundromat

by on February 21, 2019

February 7, 2019

Growing up in a historically impoverished region, I remember plenty of weekends spent at the local laundromat with my mother and sisters. The only thing we had for entertainment was a mounted television that played nothing but soap operas and a vending machine that my mother almost never had the extra change to purchase anything from. My sisters and I were yearning for entertainment that was anything other than staring at our laundry spinning in circles over and over again. Occasionally we had books to read but we would have benefited from (and enjoyed!) a story time program put on by local librarians. The Chicago Public Library has done just that for families who spend plenty of their time at laundromats like my family did.

“Parents of very young children usually have to do loads of laundry, and low-income families tend to bring their kids with them to public laundromats. Inside one of about 14 laundromats in Chicago’s lower-income neighborhoods, children gather for Laundromat Story Time, a Chicago Public Library program that combines early education principles with public outreach and a dash of early literacy guidance for parents. Becca Ruidl, who runs the Laundromat program, says families have adjusted their household’s laundry day to coincide with librarians’ visits.”[1] These story time programs are beneficial to the overall educational foundation of low-income students. And the Chicago Public Library is doing a great job of bridging the achievement gap. It is no secret that early childhood literacy is instrumental to the overall educational foundation of children. In fact, it is heavily supported by overwhelming research.

Low-income parents sacrifice much of their time with their children due to work or completing chores like washing loads of clothes at their local laundromat. The Chicago Public Library’s laundromat story time is assisting where parents (for reasons out of their control many times) simply cannot. Librarians understand the importance of reading aloud to children. Science and research support that importance. “Children who have been read aloud to are also more likely to develop a love of reading, which can be even more important than the head start in language and literacy. And the advantages they gain persist, with children who start out as poor readers in their first year of school likely to remain so. In addition, describing pictures in the book, explaining the meaning of the story, and encouraging the child to talk about what has been read to them and to ask questions can improve their understanding of the world and their social skills.”[2]

To make the story time a fun, memorable time for children, librarians “lay down colorful mats, oversized board books and musical shakers beside the industrial washing machines and wire laundry baskets. Amid the muffled churn of the washers and the humming of dryers, anywhere between a handful to more than a dozen children hear stories, sing songs, and play games designed to help their brains develop. The event also aims to tacitly instruct parents on how to repeat the experience for their kids, working to reverse poor literacy rates in underserved communities.”[3] The children can look forward to amazing stories, dancing and singing all provided at no cost by the Chicago Public Library.

The power of stories is undeniable and librarians provide that with this program. As a child, I, too, yearned for this kind of entertainment at the laundromat. So, I appreciate the dedication of the Chicago Public Library and their youth librarians for thinking outside of the box and providing this kind of program to low-income families. Those families, and especially the young children, will forever remember the amazing story times presented by their local librarians.  

[1] American Libraries Magazine. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/latest-links/laundromat-story-time-chicago/ Accessed February 8, 2019.

[2] BMJ-British Medical Journal. “Children Better Prepared for School if Their Parents Read Aloud to Them.” May 12, 2008. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080512191126.htm Accessed February 8, 2019.

[3] Williams, Joseph P. “Literacy at the Laundromat: A New Program in Chicago Transforms a Chore Into a Chance to Learn.” December 25, 2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-12-25/library-laundromat-program-puts-spin-on-child-literacy Accessed February 8, 2019.

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