Little Leaps Child Development Program

Short Background:  Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change.  The brain doubles in size in its first year, and by three, it reaches 80% of its adult volume.  Despite increasing knowledge of this critical time in development, no formal institution exists that routinely educates all children between 0-3.  Therefore, the molding of a developing brain is dependent on the engagement and interactions of a parent or parents. 

Most parents, however, especially those in the lowest socioeconomic or educational quartiles, are not exposed to how simple strategies can maximize their baby’s brain development.  This is particularly true in rural, impoverished areas where higher than national average teen pregnancy rates and lack of access to pediatricians makes parental education and skill building on developmental outcomes exceedingly rare. 

Our Department of Population Science and Policy identified an innovative rural community in our service region to partner on enhancing structures within a hospital to improve infant and toddler brain development. 

Project Lead:  Sameer Vohra

PSP Team Members:   Heather Whetsell, Anne Scheer, Yuri Fedorovich, Amanda Fogleman, Tracie Johnson, Kimberly Palermo

Collaborators:  Hillsboro Area Hospital, Hillsboro Community Child Development Center, Patrice Jones, Laura Kessel

Goals:  Hillsboro Area Hospital serves as a community center, routinely hosts community events, houses a gym, and has a child development center, in partnership with the local school district, on the hospital grounds.  Partnering with physicians, academics, early childhood workers, educators, and public health officials, our team has started efforts to use these structures to build baby brain friendly practices designed to improve the developmental outcomes of vulnerable children.   

A project has been initiated to use the child development center and other hospital structures to engage parents on “serve and return” practices designed to help augment infant and toddler development skills.  The program bags contain low-tech toys and everyday household objects, as well as cards with suggested activities and highlights of the primary brain activation during those activities. There have been educational events to provide the child development center teachers and caregivers information on brain development. Surveys have been conducted at the child development center to measure if the intervention is increasing parent engagement and evaluate caregiver satisfaction with the program. Further measures will evaluate the program from the child development center perspective.

Resources: Little Leaps Child Development Activities

Findings:  Pending

Presentations:  Vohra SS, Sanders K, Pointer C, Jones P, Koehler J. "Building an Interdisciplinary Rural Coalition to Research and Improve Baby Brain Development". Poster Presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 National Conference and Exhibition. October 23, 2016. San Francisco, CA.

Westrick H, Brown R, Fogleman A, Albers T. Innovating Illinois Communities - Regional Approaches to Population Health. Panel Presentation at IPHA 77th Annual Conference: Public Health Proud. September 5, 2018. Normal, IL.

Publications:  Pending

Another Successful Year for Hillsboro Area Hospital - October 23, 2017
A "Little Leap" to Boot Babies' Brain Power - October 10, 2017


'Little Leaps' Hillsboro Area Hospital Kick-off Event

Held August 31st, 2017 at Hillsboro Area Hospital campus, 1200 E Tremont, Hillsboro, IL 62049.

We are happy to report a great turnout with nearly 100 in attendance including parents, teachers, and members of the Hillsboro community!

(Left to Right): Heather Whetsell, MBA; Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA, FAAP; Jeanne Koehler, PhD; Sheri Reynolds; Rex Brown, MHA

Resources: Little Leaps Child Development Activities