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About Quality First

Quality First supports Arizona’s child care providers, so they can support our young children.

Quality First is a program of First Things First, Arizona’s early childhood agency. Because learning starts from birth, and so many Arizona families need child care, First Things First funds Quality First to help early care and education providers in our state improve the quality of their programs in ways that help young children learn, grow and thrive.

Currently more than 1,300 child care and preschool programs in communities across Arizona participate in Quality First. All of these programs are regulated in the State of Arizona, but participating in Quality First is voluntary. These early care and education providers 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.

Why quality matters

The early childhood years, from birth to age 5, are when your child’s brain is growing and developing faster than any other time in life. And early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. The brain connections needed for many important abilities like motivation, self-regulation, problem solving and communication are formed in these early years through positive, nurturing relationships and interactions with caring adults. These relationships begin at home, with parents and family, but also include early care and education professionals.

Quality improvement

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 and professional development for staff to build on what’s great about a program and identify opportunities to improve in ways that support children’s learning.
  • Funding to support quality early learning for young children, including the purchase of age-appropriate books, toys and learning materials, as well as new classroom furniture, outdoor equipment or other improvements to the physical space.
  • Specialized assistance from a team of early childhood experts in child health, mental health and supporting children with special needs.

Quality First provides resources to help Arizona families find quality child care


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, and reaching the quality levels can take some time. Programs are assessed every two years and receive a new rating with each assessment.

The rating of each program is posted at the program’s location and on this website immediately following selection in Quality First. If they achieve a 3-, 4-, or 5-star rating, the program’s rating becomes public and is posted. If they achieve a 1- or 2-star, their rating isn’t posted and “Rating Unavailable” would show. The program will be reassessed again 2 years later for their renewal rating. All renewal ratings are public.

There are many quality early care and education programs in Arizona that are not enrolled in Quality First. Ratings are just one of several factors to consider in finding the right program for your family’s needs.

All early care and education providers that participate in Quality First are actively working on quality improvement, with the support and resources needed to move up the rating scale. No matter a program’s current 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.

Quality First is voluntary for child care programs and preschools.

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