Academics fear youngsters will be pushed into reading and writing.Early years campaigners are calling on the Government to rethink the new curriculum for pre-school children which is due to become law in September.
The early years foundation stage curriculum sets out what children are expected to do at different ages, such as pushing a rusk around their tray at eight months or doing up a zip between the ages of 2 and 3.
But there are growing concerns that children will be pushed into formal education too early. In a letter to today's TES, the campaigners are express their concerns that assessing young children through observing and noting their play is now creating such copious paperwork that it interferes with workers' ability to do their job.
The letter's signatories include Sue Palmer the author of Toxic Childhood, Penelope Leach, a childcare expert, Tim Brighouse, former London schools commissioner, and Dorothy Rowe, psychologist and author. They said the foundation stage was "fundamentally flawed" because it blends two previous curriculums - Birth to Three Matters and the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage - which had different purposes.
Ms Palmer said: "Birth to Three Matters was based on developmental milestones. The foundation stage was based on early learning goals. These, particularly the literacy ones, are extremely questionable. For example, being able to write in sentences: most 5-year-olds are not able to do that. That is an aspirational goal. It is not a developmental milestone in the same way that a little child enjoying babbling is.
"I thought there was no problem giving people working in nurseries the developmental milestones so they knew what to expect of children, but the unintended consequence has been to bureaucratise the whole business. Now checking that you've done all these things is more important than sitting on the floor chatting and playing."
Professor Lilian Katz, of Illinois University, warned last week that 4-year-olds drilled in reading and writing went on to perform worse academically than those engaged in imaginative learning.
Dr Richard House, senior lecturer at Roehampton University, feared that alternative philosophies, such as Steiner education, which advocates formal education starting around age 7, will not be allowed under the legislation, although there will be a way of applying for exemption from the curriculum.
He said: "I think it is important that there is no one view that is regarded as the correct view of early years. Trying to centralise and control children's development seems to be fundamentally wrong, not least because it doesn't work."
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "The early years foundation stage is a broad framework which does not prescribe any particular teaching approach and as such has the flexibility to accommodate a range of philosophies and practices."
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