Heluna Health manages the largest network of WIC providers in the nation, PHFE WIC, serving nearly 200,000 WIC participants. Many WIC parents who were attending our WIC centers for nutrition information and support frequently asked for information regarding their children’s developmental progress and for recommendations about how they could help their children learn and be better prepared for kindergarten. These requests inspired the development of the Little by Little School Readiness Program, which was conceived of, not as a replacement for preschool or other high-dose programs, but rather, a program to foster a “culture” of literacy in the homes of lower-income families who may not have access to books and early literacy services for their children.
Drawing on extensive research that shows early reading improves children’s readiness for school, PHFE WIC developed the Little by Little School Readiness Program. Recognizing that WIC could expand its role beyond a focus on nutrition, staff embraced a broader educational role, providing guidance to mothers regarding early literacy and learning, as well as specific information on prenatal, infant and child development.
Between 2002 and 2008, the Little by Little Program was implemented at six WIC centers in Los Angeles County. At that time, there was no clear evidence that a low-dose WIC-based intervention could have the same effect as more comprehensive literacy programs in increasing school readiness for children in low-income families. Shannon Whaley, PhD, PHFE WIC Director of Research and Evaluation, along with other colleagues, developed an evaluation to examine the impact of the Little by Little Program. The evaluation included home visits with children and families who had received the Little by Little Program with their WIC services, as well as children and families who only received WIC services.
The data showed that school readiness increased significantly in those children who received Little by Little Program services compared to those who received WIC services only. In addition, parents who had participated in the Little by Little Program were more active in early literacy development with their children. These were particularly exciting and important findings given that these changes were achievable with as few as four Little by Little Program touch-points with families per year. The evaluation findings were published in March 2011 by the Journal of Pediatrics*.
During the first phase, Little by Little touched over 118,000 children ages 0-5. The program came to a close in 2008 when PHFE WIC was unable to secure the additional funding. In January 2011, First 5 LA committed to fund the Little by Little Program again over a six-year period. Along with this "re-launch", the Little by Little Program now incorporates general safety messaging and “screen time” guidelines into the curriculum. The Little by Little Program began program services starting in 2012 and offered services 10 WIC sites in Los Angeles County by August 2014.
*Whaley, et al. Literacy Promotion for Families Participating in the Women, Infants and Children Program. Pediatrics published online Feb 14, 2011. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3572