Too Much Too Soon?

September 14, 2013 Published by

A letter to the Telegraph this week called upon the government to postpone the start of formal education until the age of 6.  Parent’s aren’t legally required to send children to school until the term after their 5th birthday but many children start reception at the age of 4 and some nurseries market themselves to parents of 2 and 3 year old children as being able to teach children numeracy and literacy.  It all seems a bit too Tiger-Mum for our liking – we far prefer the concept of learning through play, but how are parents supposed to do what’s best for their children if there are experts and authorities telling them two different things?

Reception is part of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and is supposed to be very play-oriented but parents and schools are increasingly focussed on targets and learning outcomes which stifles creativity (the teachers’ and the children’s) and can put pressure on schools to begin more formal education before the children are ready.  This may have long-lasting negative consequences for children’s development, education and mental health.

On the other side, education is often seen as the silver bullet and children from disadvantaged families benefit hugely from being given access to nursery settings from the age of 2.  However, I’d argue that for young children it’s not education in the formal sense that’s the silver bullet, it’s the opportunity to develop holistically and explore the world – learning through play – that can teach children the softer skills required to succeed in school and in life.

Good EYFS settings provide this access to play and opportunity for holistic development.  Delaying access to this for deprived children will create a double disadvantage as they will be even further behind their peers when they do start school – not because they haven’t been taught to read or count by the age of 6, but because, if their home environment doesn’t facilitate play, they will not have the social or emotional development to be able to access the learning anyway.

For children to really benefit from access to schools from the age of 4 or 5, the curriculum needs to focus on developing the whole child and, most importantly, fostering a child’s natural curiosity with the world to ensure he or she becomes a life-long learner and that’s not done through hot housing or teaching to the test.

It’s not rocket science – let the children play!




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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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