Why is quality important in early learning settings like child care or preschool?
90% of a child’s brain develops before age 5. The positive, nurturing relationships young kids have with adults – from parents to child care and early learning professionals – shape their learning now and throughout their lives. Quality child care and preschool settings help children develop skills like motivation, self-control, focus and self-esteem that are crucial to their success now and once they enter school.

What does a quality child care or preschool setting look like?
Quality child care and preschool settings build on basic health and safety to include:

  • Teachers and caregivers who know how to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers;
  • Positive, nurturing relationships that give young kids the individual attention they need;
  • Learning environments that encourage creativity and imaginative play;
  • Hands-on activities that stimulate and encourage positive brain connections in children; and,
  • Caregivers who provide regular feedback to families on the development of their child.

All of these elements combined make a child care environment that prepares children for kindergarten.

What is Quality First?
Quality First is a signature program of First Things First that partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of early learning across Arizona. Quality First works with child care and preschool providers to make quality improvements that research proves help children thrive, such as education for teachers to expand their skills in working with young children and coaching to help providers create learning environments that nurture the emotional, social and academic development of every child.

For Parents

My child care provider isn’t in Quality First. Does that mean that they are not quality?
Not necessarily. First Things First does not have the capacity to enroll all providers in Arizona who are interested in participating. And since Quality First is a voluntary program, some providers choose not to participate. There are quality programs in Arizona not enrolled in Quality First. You can use the resources on QualityFirstAZ.com – including the quality checklist – to ask questions and have a conversation with your provider about the quality of care your child receives.

Does my provider’s participation in Quality First mean that they will charge more?
No. First Things First provides funding for quality improvement efforts – like scholarships and coaching to improve teachers’ interactions with young kids and incentives to improve classrooms and learning materials – to prevent providers from passing on the cost of quality improvement to families.

My provider is accredited. Isn’t that enough to show it is quality child care?
By becoming accredited, child care and preschool providers have shown that they care about providing quality care to their students and families. The various accrediting organizations assess providers in different ways and not always on the same components of care. The Quality First Rating System took the best from national accrediting bodies and combined that with what the most recent research and best practice shows helps children learn and thrive.

Why should I care so much about quality when I can’t afford something fancy?
In child care, it’s not about a state-of-the-art facility; it’s about attentive, knowledgeable staff and positive interactions with your child. Those elements make a difference, and don’t always cost more. By knowing the key elements of quality, you can have conversations with your child care provider about what you expect for your child. Also, if you ever need to or want to move to a different child care or preschool setting, you’ll know how to spot one you love and that will be great for your kid.

What are the ratings and what do they mean?
Quality First Star Ratings are reliable, easy-to-understand indictors of quality. The quality of each program participating in Quality First is assessed by highly-trained early childhood professionals using valid and reliable tools that focus on what research shows are the key components of quality early care, including adult-child interactions, learning environments and staff qualifications. Based on these assessments, each program is given a Quality First Star Rating, ranging Rising Star (1 star) to Highest Quality (5 stars). The standards are high, and reaching the quality levels (3 stars and above) can take some time. All participating programs are committed to quality and are making improvements that help prepare kids for kindergarten. First Things First stresses that ratings are just one of several factors to consider in finding the right program for your family’s needs.

Why do some programs have no rating?
The Star Rating of each program is posted at the program’s location and on this website after one year of participating in Quality First. “No Rating” means that a program has been enrolled in Quality First and engaged in the improvement process for less than one year.

You rated the child care I use a Rising Star (1 star) or Progressing Star (2 stars). Is that bad?
Not at all. By participating in Quality First, your provider is actively working on quality improvement. Through your provider’s ongoing work with Quality First, they will have the information, resources and support they need to move up the scale. Good things are in store..

For Providers

How do I get in to Quality First?
You may apply online. Participating in Quality First is limited by the resources available in each community, and there is currently a waiting list.

If there’s a waiting list for the program, why should I apply?
It is crucial that providers apply because when spaces become available, providers are enrolled in Quality First in the order that they applied.

What can my program do while we’re on the waiting list?
This website contains information and resources that any provider can use to better encourage learning among the young children in their care. Parents and families who understand what quality looks like will recognize it in your program, whether or not you participate in Quality First.

Why do you give providers ratings?
Quality First is about continuous improvement. Quality First Star Ratings help guide the improvement process by providing both an objective measure of each program’s quality and a goal to achieve. They also help parents make more informed decisions when looking for a quality child care or preschool program. The Star Rating of each program is publicly posted after one year of participating in Quality First. First Things First also stresses to parents that ratings are just one of several factors to consider in finding the right program for their family’s needs.

Why should I publicize my 1- or 2-star rating?
This is about your commitment to quality and improvement. That’s the focus of our outreach. As quality early childhood education becomes an increasingly important issue among consumers, your commitment to quality will be perceived as an asset.

My center does fine and this isn’t something I want to get involved with.
Quality First is a voluntary program; only providers who apply are considered for the program.


Parents & Families



  • First Things First
  • First Things First partners with parents and communities to give all Arizona children the opportunity to arrive at kindergarten healthy and ready to succeed.