Drawing on research showing that increasing early reading improves children’s readiness for school, the Little by Little School Readiness Program is an evidence-based program that was developed by PHFE-WIC staff. Recognizing that they could expand their 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. Women who were attending 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 advance. 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 low-income families who may not have access to such services for their children.

Between 2002 and 2008, the Little by Little program was implemented at six WIC centers in Los Angeles County. The funding for phase one of Little by Little came from First 5 LA, Majestic Realty and the Bannerman Foundation. 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 Little by Little. 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 compared to those who received WIC services only. In addition, parents who had participated in Little by Little 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 contacts with families per year. The evaluation findings were published in March 2011 by the Journal of Pediatrics (1).

During the first phase, Little by Little touched over 118,000 children ages 0-5. The Little by Little program came to a close in 2008 when PHFE-WIC was unable to secure the required funding.

In January 2011, First 5 LA committed to fund Little by Little over a six-year period. Along with this "re-launch", Little by Little now incorporates safety messaging and safety items into the curriculum. The Little by Little program began to be offered again at a few WIC centers starting in 2012 and ramped up to a 10 WIC sites in Los Angeles County by August 2014.

(1) 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.