Where did the summer go? Kids are going back to school and for many youngsters age 5 and under, this will be a first time away from home experience as they enter preschool.

From the findings of numerous national studies over several decades, investing in the education of children early on puts young minds on a promising road of lifelong learning and future success.

Ninety percent of a child’s brain develops before age 5, according to Quality First, an organization created by First Things First, an entity that partners with families and communities to support healthy development and learning of Arizona’s young children. Quality First works with more than 1,000 child care and preschool providers in Arizona to improve the quality of learning in ways that help young children learn, grow and thrive. All the programs are licensed and regulated, but participation in Quality First is voluntary.

For young children, every experience or encounter presents a learning opportunity. Childhood education specialists reported that preschool children learn best when they interact with their peers and that the preschool environment allows children to acquire vital skills that allow them to listen to others and express their own ideas, make friends, share, cooperate, and become accountable for their actions.

“Children are naturally inquisitive learners,” says Susie Simmons, director of Los Niños del Valle Preschool, a four-star, Quality First preschool partner at Posada Life Community Services. “Developing a rich, age-appropriate preschool curriculum in a play-based learning environment allows preschool children the flexibility and freedom to expand their early learning potential. This potential involves all developmental domains of learning, including language acquisition and expression, large body coordination and movement, fine motor development, social awareness, emotional self-regulation skills, and cognitive skills.”

Choosing a child care setting for your infant, toddler or preschooler is a big decision, and quality is one of the most important factors to consider. Knowing the key elements of quality can help you make an informed decision when choosing a child care or preschool setting for your family.

First Things First supports child care and preschool programs enrolled in Quality First and encourages parents and other child guardians to research early learning providers. The checklist below will help you recognize the key elements of quality and make a more informed decision when choosing a child care or preschool setting for your child:

• Teachers and caregivers who know how to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

• Positive, nurturing relationships that give young children 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.

All of these elements combined make a child care environment that prepares children for kindergarten.

Along with Los Niños del Valle Preschool, other local Quality First providers include: Shepherd’s Fold Daycare, Loidas Child Care, Tricia’s Learning Center in Sahuarita, and Continental School District #39.

Visit: qualityfirstaz.com for more information.

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