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 sand pits 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.
Almost all Year 1 teachers had spent time with their new class while they were still in reception year. But the majority had some children who found the transition difficult.
Gail Bedford, head of Mount Pleasant school, Dudley, said: "The report is reflecting a growing practice throughout the country. But the emphasis has to be on knowing the children. There has to be rigour. It is important that people don't think, 'I'll put foundation stage activities in Year 1 and that will be great', because it will not be great.
"We started doing this when we had a challenging reception year with a lot of summer-born boys. For most of those children, sand and water were absolutely crucial for a least a term into Year 1.
"But the next year we had a cohort who were more mature and wanted to do more table-top activities."
In Wales, a move to offer a play-based foundation stage curriculum until age seven, is now being piloted with three and four-year-olds in 41 schools.
A study of the transition from the foundation stage to key stage 1. Dawn Sanders, Gabrielle White, Bethan Burge, Caroline Sharp, Anna Eames, Rhona McEune and Hilary Grayson. National Foundation for Educational Research.
PRIMARY FORUM 24
'IT WASTES YOUR LIFE'
What five-year-olds think about school:
Researcher: "Is there anything you don't like about Year 1?"
First Boy: "Being on the carpet for a long time."
Second Boy: "Neither do I because it's very boring."
First Boy: "And it wastes our time playing."
Second boy: "It wastes your life..."Boy: "I don't like sitting on the carpet all the time."
Girl: "Yeah we just sit, sit, sit."
Boy: "Yes and it's boring."
Girl: "Yeah and we could be playing outside and getting some exercise..."
Researcher: "What's different about this year compared to last year?"
Girl: "We haven't got a pretend shop."
Boy: "Or a house."
Girl: "We have activities."
Boy: "We have got Lego."
Girl: "It has been work, work, work."