The progress toddlers in England are making in literacy and numeracy could be monitored from this autumn, under plans for an early years "curriculum".
"Purposeful play" will be the focus in the early years
The Department for Education has published an "action plan" setting out the details of its plans to reform early years education.
There will be no assessments, ministers say - though there will be "goals".
More detailed plans are due in September, building on the review of the teaching of reading using phonics.
The government will publish frameworks for early years and primary literacy and numeracy teaching - which are expected to take into the account the recommendations of the phonics review carried out by former Ofsted inspections director Jim Rose.
He recommended that synthetic phonics - the sounds and of letters and their combinations - should be the primary method.
But the rest of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), as it is known, will not be a requirement until September 2008.
Choice and affordability
Ministers also plan to extend the free childcare entitlement to 15 hours per week for three and four-year-olds.
The action plan also places new responsibilities on local authorities to carry out a detailed assessment of childcare needs and "develop a diverse market which meets those needs and offers increasing choice and affordability".
And the government has increased the number of its Sure Start childcare centres, which provide childcare to families in disadvantaged areas, to 800.
Pilot schemes to provide free childcare to 12,000 children aged two will begin in a number of disadvantaged areas.
Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said parents needed to be able to take their own decisions about childcare, and should have access to choice and affordability.
"We know that high quality early care and education provision boosts children's later achievement," she said.
"We must now keep up the momentum. Too many parents struggle to pay for childcare and too many find that provision available does not reflect their needs.
"The plan we have published confirms our commitment to increase provision and improve flexibility and I hope that it will focus everyone on moving forwards."
The EYFS will be delivered through "a balance of adult-led and child-initiated activities, with children learning through planned, purposeful play".
It will cover six areas of learning and development:
- personal, social and emotional
- communication, language and literacy
- problem solving, reasoning and numeracy
- knowledge and understanding of the world
- physical development
- creative development
The framework, published in the Childcare Bill, tells childcare providers to give a mixture of "integrated care and education from birth".
A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said the EYFS was "about providing children with the experiences and activities they need to grow, learn and develop".
"There are no tests or targets for this age group, the framework is to help practitioners plan activities based on what they know about the child's interests and in discussion with the child's parents."
But a spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, Margaret Morrissey, called the plans for an early years curriculum "absolute madness".
She added: "We are now in danger of taking away children's childhood when they leave the maternity ward."