Quality First partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of early learning across Arizona. Created and administered by First Things First, Quality First works with early learning 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.

90 percent 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.

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
  • 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.

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 – including the quality checklist – to ask questions and have a conversation with your provider about the quality of care your child receives.

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.

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 (Star Ratings) took the best from national accrediting bodies and combined that with current research and best practices for helping children learn and thrive.

Quality First Star Ratings are reliable, easy-to-understand indicators 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 and learning environments. Based on these assessments, each program is given a Quality First Star Rating, ranging from Rising Star (1 star) to Highest Quality (5 stars). Programs with ratings of 3 stars and above are in the quality levels. 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.

Please note:  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, assessments were suspended between March 2020 and August 2021. Assessments resumed in September 2021. In order to allow programs time to receive supports to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic, updated Star Ratings based on assessments conducted between September 2021 and June 2022 will not be automatically posted.

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. “Rating Unavailable” means that a program has been enrolled in Quality First and engaged in the improvement process for less than one year.

In addition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, assessments were suspended between March 2020 and August 2021. Assessments resumed in September 2021. In order to allow programs time to receive supports to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic, Star Ratings based on assessments completed in September 2021 through June 2022 will not be automatically posted.

No. The standards are high, and reaching the quality levels (3 stars and above) can take some time. 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 rating scale.

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 child.