Play is firmly at the heart of pre-school education in the curriculum being circulated to Scottish nurseries. The framework, prepared by the curriculum advisory body for the Executive of the new Scottish Parliament, is intended to back the Government's commitment to a free part-time place for all three and four-year-olds by 2002.
Teachers of entrant primary pupils will be interested in the curricular philosophy and its suggested implementation. The In-spectorate in Scotland is happy that Primary 1 teachers (equivalent to Reception) refer to the three-to-five framework, especially for young or less mature pupils, as well as the 5-14 guidelines which are equivalent to the National Curriculum south of the border but without the same statutory force.
A contrast has been drawn between pre-school ideas in Scotland and the more formal approach in England which emphasises preparation for primary school. Scotland is not scared of the word "fun". The framework states: "Children should learn to have fun with language and making stories."
According to England's "review of the desirable learning outcomes for children's learning on entering compulsory education", most children by the end of their Reception year should be able to hold a pencil correctly and form recognisable letters. However this review is being revisited.
The Scottish framework is aware of the wide range in ages of the group it covers. It points out three-year-olds learn more slowly than those a year older. "The importance of emotional, personal and social development cannot be over-emphasised, particularly for the youngest children. For them, arrival in new and strange places can be an anxious and unsettling experience."
Tina Bruce, an expert in early years education and visiting professor at the University of North London, has written: "In the first five years the human brain is designed to be good at everything on the Scottish curriculum. We can accelerate brain function and push it to perform in the three Rs, but why? At six years, the brain is matured and finds it easy".
Peter Peacock, the new Scottish deputy minister for children and education, believes the framework will allow "natural curiosity and creativity" to develop through play, and so the "habit of learning" will become embedded.
Meanwhile in England, regulation of all education and care for the under-fives will be taken over by the Office for Standards in Education. This ends the mixed system where social services inspected health and safety and Ofsted inspected education in playgroups, other voluntary provision and private nurseries. The Government aims to cut adult-child ratios in Reception classes of deprived local authorities. Qualified child care workers will join teachers to ensure at least one adult per 15 children. Sixty deprived local authorities will get grants to hire 3,000 extra staff by 2001.
"A Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 5" is available from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, Gardyne Road, Dundee, DD5 1NY, (01382 455053) price pound;5