Families will now have more information and tools for finding quality child care and preschool through www.QualityFirstAZ.com.
The new website - launched by First Things First - gives families information about why quality is important in child care and preschool and what quality looks like. It also gives parents tools they can use to find a quality child care and preschool setting that meets their needs. This choice has never been more important.
"Children who have quality early education experiences are more prepared when they enter kindergarten, and do better in school," said Dr. Pamela Powell, an Associate Professor of Literacy and Early Childhood at Northern Arizona University and Vice Chair of the First Things First Board. "Skills like motivation, self-control, focus, and self-esteem are rooted in early childhood and are learned from interactions with adults."
Dr. Powell said many of those interactions happen in child care and preschool, so it is vital that those settings be quality environments 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; and,
caregivers who provide regular feedback to parents on the development of their child.
All of these elements combined prepare children for kindergarten. Marsha Smith, executive director of Little Folks Day Care on the Navajo Nation, is committed to providing a quality child care setting for the babies and toddlers in her care. "We are creating an environment where we're helping children develop to the best of their abilities. Within our center, we prepare them to go into the school environment to succeed, "she said.
Currently there are rigorous expectations for kids in kindergarten. However, Marsha knows her kids will do well because she's seen the children in her center show increased verbal skills and problem solving abilities. Through Quality First, her staff has learned to set up the center in a way that's helping their children's mind, thought processes and creativity develop.
Kelly Yazzie, takes care of several children including her foster children at her home-based center, Kelly's Kiddie Farm, just outside of Williams. "I started off with just a 4x6 rug and a bucket of toys. I would dump the toys on the floor and watch them play. Now I focus more on free play and interacting with them, like asking them open ended questions, and focusing on one word a day and through play they identify things that start with that word."
Kelly holds an Early Childhood degree and knows the importance of early childhood experiences, but found that through the Quality First coaching and support she has been able to increase the quality of care she provides.
"The interactions, the talking and playing have helped. One family whose children were about 3 and 4 would talk in gibberish. Within a short time they were talking in more complete sentences, and the parents thanked me. I was able to include them too and share with them ways to encourage language at home."
First Things First partners with communities to support parents in their role as their child's first teacher. By giving parents the information they need to make the best choices for their families, improving early learning opportunities for young kids, and ensuring that more children arrive at school healthy, we increase their chances of doing well in school. And, when kids are successful, we all benefit.