What is Quality First?
First Things First created Quality First to work with child care and preschool providers across Arizona to improve the quality of their early learning settings. Currently more than 1,000 early learning programs in communities across Arizona participate in Quality First. All of these programs are licensed and regulated, but participating in Quality First is voluntary. These programs are committed to quality improvement, going beyond regulatory requirements to help the infants, toddlers and preschoolers in their care be ready for success in school and beyond.
Child care centers, home-based providers and preschools participating in Quality First are supported with training and coaching to help improve their programs in ways that nurture the emotional, social and academic development of every child.
First Things First supports child care and preschool programs enrolled in Quality First with:
- Coaching to build on what’s great about a program and identify opportunities to improve
- Funding for the purchase of educational materials, equipment and other resources
- Financial support for teachers and caregivers to expand their knowledge of early childhood and how to nurture the development of young children
- Specialized assistance from a team of experts in child health, mental health and supporting children with special needs
To measure progress in quality improvement, each program participating in Quality First is assessed and given a Quality First Star Rating, ranging from 1 to 5 stars. Star Ratings are based on what research shows are the key components of quality early care and education:
- Health and safety practices that promote children’s basic well being
- Skilled teachers who know how to turn everyday experiences into learning moments
- Learning environments with age-appropriate activities, books, toys and other learning materials that promote emotional, social, language and cognitive development
- Opportunities for active play and hands-on exploration throughout the day
- Teacher-child interactions and engaging conversations that build language and promote thinking and social skills
The standards are high. Programs are assessed every one or two years and receive a new Star Rating with each assessment.
Three-quarters of the child care and preschool programs with Quality First Star Ratings (prior to March 2020) meet or exceed quality standards (3-stars and above).
Please note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, assessments were suspended between March 2020 and August 2021.
Going beyond licensing requirements
No matter a program’s current Star Rating level, families can be assured that child care providers participating in Quality First are committed to making improvements that help prepare kids for school and life. They are dedicated to providing care that exceeds the basic requirements of the Arizona Department of Health Services, Department of Economic Security Child Care Administration or tribal or military authority that provides regulation and oversight of their program.