Government proposals to introduce a foundation stage for children aged three and upwards and early learning goals, which set out what most children are expected to achieve by the end of reception year, brought accusations of "targets for tots" and created widespread fear that play would lose out to formal education.
In the event the goals, which replace "desirable learning outcomes", and stipulate that most children should, for example, be able to count to 10 by the time they are six, were fairly well received by schools, nurseries, playgroups and childminders.
Early-years practitioners received the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's guidance for the foundation stage today. It reaffirms that structured and focused play is the crucial element.
The 128-page documen states that reception teachers may choose to cover literacy and maths across the day rather than in a single unit of time.
According to Wendy Scott, chief executive of the association, the commitment to short bursts of learning will help teachers who felt pressed by headteachers, governors and Office for Standards in Education into adopting a three-Rs straitjacket for three-year-olds. She said: "Literacy is 24 hours and this acknowledgement shows that ministers have been convinced by the arguments of the experts."
The guidance recommends young children should try to say "cackling cockerels" faster and faster to develop language skills.
In maths, teachers are encouraged to create a "monster muncher" who eats cubes, leaving children to work out how many are left.
An pound;8 million pot for introductory training has just been announced by the Government, in addition to the pound;13.5 million announced last year for more general training and development support for early-years workers.