Children are being turned off formal education from the start because they spend too much time sitting on the carpet and miss play, researchers have found.
A team from the National Foundation for Educational Research discovered that five-year-olds dreaded carpet time. One boy described it as a waste of your life.
The Government-funded study has recommended schools provide more of what five-year-olds want, namely sandpits and role-play corners, and cut back on carpet time in order to help children settle in more effectively.
The NFER team contacted staff in 60 schools and studied 12 schools in depth.
Overall, children enjoyed their new "bigger" status in Year 1, the researchers said, but missed being able to choose their own activities and not being allowed outside as often. One parent said: "They don't feel as if they are having a good time as much - they worry more about knowing things, spelling etc."
Almost all parents said their children found school more tiring. Most said they were happy to go back to school after the summer holidays. A few said their children had been keen when they started but were put off by the changes they found.
Although several Year 1 teachers did continue to provide role-play areas, many said they were in smaller classrooms with less adult support than their colleagues in reception.
Most of the reception teachers in the study said they tried to prepare pupils for Year 1 by introducing more structured lessons at the end of the year. But a third of reception teachers disagreed with this approach, saying Year 1 should be less formal.
This view was backed by the NFER researchers who concluded that the foundation stage curriculum should be offered through reception year and its play-based approach continued into Year 1.