'Racing to Read' program expands to help blind and visually impaired children

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JEFFERSON CITY — 'Racing to Read', a free program created to provide grants to libraries around the state to support early literacy programs, is expanding to help blind and visually impaired children read. 

The expansion provides these children, ages zero to six, with books and other materials designed to improve literacy and sensory skills that are important when learning how to read.

This program expansion is run by the Wolfner Talking Book and Braille Library, a branch of the Missouri State Library and a division of Secretary of State Jason Kander's office.

Wolfner Library Deputy Director Abbey Rimel said programming for 'Racing to Read' at Wolfner Library will focus on six early literacy skills: touching and sensing, rhyming and singing, playing with books, letters and dots, telling a story, and words everywhere.

"Initially they receive a packet with a binder and they receive the first skill, which is the touching and sensing skill," Rimel said. "They receive curriculum that goes along with it, the parent learns a little bit more about the actual skill, and then they have activities we give them that they can do to enhance that skill."

Every other month over the course of one year, participants will receive early literacy materials with sensory-enhanced illustrations that readers can feel, smell and hear.

"We provide alternate materials to our patrons such as audio books, braille and large-print books," Rimel said. "We've taken the 'Racing to Read' program and we've expanded it so that it applies to our clients. We have about 12,000 patrons throughout the state of Missouri and they have either visual disabilities, a physical disability or a reading disability that prevents them from using standard print materials."

So far four children are signed up for the Wolfner Library 'Racing to Read' program.

"We actually anticipate maybe 20 children per year are going to sign up for this program," Rimel said. 

The Racing to Read program was started by Secretary of State Jason Kander in 2014.

In a press release, Kander said he is thrilled to expand the early literacy program.

"The Racing to Read program is a powerful tool for increasing literacy levels and encouraging a love of reading among young children," Kander said. 

Since the program began, the Missouri State Library has awarded nearly $1 million in grants to public library districts throughout Missouri to either begin or help continue the program.