Originally published Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 02:22p.m.

Derrith Hardy was back in the workforce and looking for an infant child care center for her second child, Liam.

She learned of the Little Miss Muffet child care center, operated by the Navajo Nation Child Care and Development Fund in Fort Defiance, but was hesitant about leaving her 6-month-old in a new place. But site supervisor Al Dale put her at ease.

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Liam Hardy in the garden at Little Miss Muffett. (Photo courtesy of First Things First)

“It’s my job right from the start to make a good impression on the parents,” Dale said. “I give them a rundown of how everything works and what they can expect from us as a Quality First center. We talk about the support in mental health and our coaching team and how this environment will help their children get prepared for kindergarten, even as babies.”

Quality First is a signature program of First Things First and partners with child care and preschool providers to improve the quality of early learning across Arizona. Quality First funds quality improvements that research proves help children thrive, such as training for teachers to expand their skills and to help create learning environments that nurture the emotional, social and academic development of every child.

At Little Miss Muffet, there is an emphasis on literacy, nutrition and the physical health of students. Each classroom is assigned a garden bed and the food they harvest is built into the curriculum at the center. Through gardening, children learn about colors, shapes, different types of food and families are taught how to prepare healthy meals together.

Liam, now 2, and the family as a whole have benefitted from the quality learning environment, his mother said.

“Liam loves the garden,” Hardy said. “It’s a great learning experience for him and our family. He has also developed a large vocabulary and knows how to hold a conversation and socialize with others.”

The initial uncertainty Hardy felt has been replaced by an assurance that her child is developing on track and learning healthy habits.

“The center is doing an amazing job helping me raise my child,” she said. “I really think he is prepared to go to kindergarten.”

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