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A place for play;Leading Article;Opinion

AS FIRST reported in The TES Scotland, the playgroups movement is facing a crisis. New facilities offered by local authorities and competition in some parts of the country from well marketed private nurseries are forcing playgroups to close and staff to be made redundant. Since provision, especially as it moves to embrace more three-year-olds as well as four-year-olds, is based on three partners - the voluntary sector as well as local government and private enterprise - a loss of choice would be regrettable.

The Scottish Pre-School Play Association ascribes some of the blame to the apparent desire by parents to get their children off the starting blocks early in the education race. But if that is what parents are thinking, they are guilty of the common though understandable belief that what applies in England also does here. (The new parliament will be no automatic protection against cross-border misinformation.) The suggested curriculum for four-year-olds in Scotland - and its recently published extension for three-year-olds - does not try to pre-empt work done in primary 1. It prepares children for more formal learning but it does not assume that a head start in reading, writing and number is desirable, regardless of children's readiness.

Compare the "desirable learning outcomes" south of the border with ours. In the "reception class" for four-year-olds to five-year-olds, the child should learn to "read a range of familiar and common words and simple sentences independently". The three-to-five Scottish curriculum suggests that children "have fun with language and making up stories".

Parents may seek early acceleration but they risk immature children being put off learning. They might be better encouraged to accept that brain development in the first five years needs an informal curriculum with a slower start and, hopefully, learning throughout life.

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