Children should have the chance to take risks from their first days in school, David Hanson, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools, said this week.
He criticised heavy-handed early years advisers who want pre-school education to be almost entirely child-led. Many outdoor activities, such as those that enable children to explore and climb, were valuable and must be adult-initiated to be carried out in safety, he said.
"Our concern about the early years foundation stage is not the six areas of learning, which all make sense: it's the nature of delivery," he said. "It's for the professionals to determine how the EYFS should be delivered.
"But the problem for schools is, when local authority advisers visit they can bring with them a received wisdom about how they believe the early years curriculum should be delivered. (Often they) say the majority of time should be undirected, child-centred play.
"I believe it's essential for children from the youngest age to explore and find where the boundaries are and. take risks and engage in the world around them.
"The idea is to create opportunities where children can learn about taking risk and learn from their mistakes. But when children are climbing on equipment, you want someone around helping them to explore what is possible. So the idea that early years is all about undirected, child- centred play is ridiculous. These are activities which need to be adult- initiated, managed and led."
At the association's conference this week - the theme was "risk, adventure and success" - Mr Hanson said that most prep schools offer some element of adventure activities as part of a broader curriculum.
Hazlegrove Prep in Somerset has a programme of outdoor education that includes camping in the school grounds, learning the basics of map- reading, using a compass, orienteering and camp craft skills. All pupils also learn to kayak.
Richard Fenwick, Hazlegrove's headteacher, said: "Many of our children are from armed services families. It is essential that we equip all children properly for their later lives, and a fully rounded education in the broadest possible sense is what so many independent prep schools offer, rather than being blinkered about subjects that just get good Sats results."