The average US family spends more than two hours a week at their neighborhood laundromat, and many bring their kids with them. That’s downtime that experts say could be put to better use, which is why 600 laundromats across the US are installing family-friendly literacy spaces for kids under the age of six by 2020.

The project, which is sponsored by the Clinton Foundation, may seem like a rather unorthodox approach to boosting literacy in America, but it actually makes a lot of sense. By the time they start first grade, children who are poor readers are more likely to continue to struggle with reading. That early literacy gap is especially pronounced in the US among low-income kids who have access to fewer books and whose parents tend to talk to them less. They’re also the kinds of kids who are likely to spend a lot of time at laundromats, given that the median household income of a typical laundromat customer is $23,000 per year. The idea is that while parents are busy doing laundry, kids can work on their reading and math skills alone or be creative and play with other kids. 

Susan Neuman, a professor of childhood education at New York University who is involved in the project, makes it clear that her team can’t hope to improve literacy; they can only give kids access to activities that are linked with better literacy outcomes and hope they take advantage of them. The laundromat project is part of a bigger movement that is placing more attention on turning public spaces into the ultimate learning environment for children.

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