Start 'em young

"Hello, Mrs Jones. Good to see you've brought Jake along nice and early for his first day at nursery."

"Thank you, Ms Trencham. I do hope he'll enjoy it, although I admit I am a little bit worried. He's only 2. It seems a bit young for him to be starting school."

"Oh, you can't be too young, Mrs Jones, not in these days of modern educational thinking. We want the best possible start in life for him, and research has shown that children who begin school at 2 will have a head start on those who begin later."

"Really? What research is that?"

"Well, the results aren't conclusive because little data has been collected, but it seems logical that the sooner Jake starts work on the new curriculum, the quicker he'll acquire the essential skills for success when he wants to become a banker or a judge or a barrister. Now, there's a row of little desks over there. If you could sit him down at one, I'll give him a few tests and then I'll sort out some personal targets."

"I'm afraid he's not keen on sitting down at this time of day, Ms Trencham. I usually take him to swimming club, or the outdoor activity group, or we play exploring in the park. We have a lot of fun."

"That's all very well, Mrs Jones, but it's time for some formal education. Now, Jake.Oh, he seems to have disappeared."

"No, here he is, Ms Trencham. He just popped outside to look around your garden area."

"I'm afraid we don't let children out there these days. Playing doesn't really extend their learning. You can't measure it, you see."

"Oh look, he's brought in a worm he's found. Yes, Jake, you're right. It is wiggly and slippery and tickly. We read together a lot, Ms Trencham, and he really loves words."

"Unfortunately those words aren't on our required word list, Mrs Jones, so we wouldn't want Jake to use them. I can of course give you a copy of the list to take home."

"So will he be doing some of the enjoyable, practical things he does with me at home, like sand and water play? He loves filling containers and playing with water in the old tin bath we have in the garden. He learns a lot from it, too."

"That's rather an old-fashioned view now, Mrs Jones. We want to pack in as much proper learning as we can. After all, it won't be long before Jake has to pass tests and exams. And think of the chaos we'd have if all the children splashed about with jam jars and water buckets. What on earth would the inspectors say?"

"So you won't be making little cakes with him, or building a roaring dinosaur, or crawling through a cardboard tunnel, or making a fire engine?"

"Oh no, they're just not measurable, you see. And I'm sure he wouldn't be interested in making cakes. He'd just get flour all over himself, and you wouldn't be happy about that."

"Actually, Ms Trencham, I'd be very happy indeed. In fact, I think I'll keep Jake at home for a few more years. Do you really believe this is what two-year-olds should be doing?"

"Of course not, Mrs Jones, I think it's a terrible idea. But then, I'm only a teacher. What would I know?"

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email:

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