First Things First Early Education and Childcare

Study: Quality First works to improve and measure quality in early learning
Another highlight in 2017 was a study conducted by a national research organization which proved that First Things First’s signature program, Quality First, works to improve the quality of early learning settings and that the five-star rating scale reflects distinct and increasing levels of quality child care and preschool. This evaluation was the first phase of a three-phase project which will continue into 2018.

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Best tip for child care search? First consider quality

Prescott (September 1, 2017) – For working families, finding a quality child care center or preschool for their infant, toddler or preschooler is an important decision. In Arizona, 60 percent of children live in families where all of the adults work. So, most children spend all or part of their day learning from other adults.

Research shows 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.

So how can families know what a quality early learning setting looks like?

First Things First (FTF) offers resources to help families as they search for quality child care. Quality First, an FTF signature program, partners with child care providers and preschools in Arizona to improve the quality of early learning for children birth to age 5. Through, Quality First also provides families with information about the importance of quality in child care and early education; what quality looks like in order to promote learning; and tools to help families find quality child care or preschool programs in their area.

“Quality early childhood education is a vital component to our society, said John Heiney, Prescott’s outreach manager. “Quality starts with a core set of values, and translates to curriculum, programming and staff who reflect those values every day.” Heiney is a former board member for the Child Care Council in Oakland County, OH.

FTF offers families the following tips on what look for when searching for quality child care and preschool settings:

First, visit the program in person and take the Quality Child Care checklist with you to help.  The checklist includes questions such as asking what the teachers’ qualifications are and what is the ratio of teachers to students?

There are also things to observe at the visit, such as how to spot positive, nurturing teacher/child interactions, such as does the teacher make eye contact with the children, smile and listen without interrupting?

Look for places that that 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 parents on the development of their child.


In addition, families can check if there are centers, homes or preschools participating in Quality First in their area by using this online search tool. First Things First created Quality First to improve, assess and communicate the level of quality in child care and preschool programs. Since it began, the Quality First program has significantly improved the quality of early learning options available to Arizona’s families.  In fact, since 2013, the percentage of participating programs statewide that meet or exceed quality standards has increased from 25 percent to 71 percent. In the FTF Yavapai region, the same figures increased from 33 percent to 78 percent.


In addition, Quality First recently underwent a two-year independent study which found that participating child care and preschool providers improved the quality of their programs between each assessment. It also determined that Quality First’s 5-star rating scale does reflect five distinct and increasing levels of quality.  No matter their current rating level, families can be assured that child care providers participating in Quality First are committed to improving the quality of child care.


About First Things First – First Things First is a voter-created, statewide organization that funds early education and health programs to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, visit