Children who attend nursery school may perform better later in life
The Children's Minister has denied claims new guidance on the care of children under five encourages a "tick-box" approach.
Beverley Hughes said the Early Years Foundation Stage framework would ensure children got the best start whatever the setting.
The framework gives examples of good practice for the development and care of children from birth to five.
Ms Hughes said these were to prompt ideas, not to get people to tick boxes.
Alongside the statutory guidance for nurseries, childminders and schools, the Department for Education and Skills provides 100-plus pages of practical guidance on putting the principles behind the framework into practice.
For example those looking after babies aged eight to 20 months are advised to talk to babies about the patterns and marks they make.
And those looking after older children aged three to five are encouraged to pretend to be a robot and ask children to give them instructions to get somewhere.
Ms Hughes said these were examples of good practice aimed at giving people ideas "not to get people to tick boxes and do all of these things".
She added: "Once you've committed to setting out in words what you want to be available for young children you have to produce documents like this.
"This document is for practitioners to develop a rigorous approach - it's not about a rigorous structured approach for the child. It's about the planning behind that."
Early years expert Bernadette Duffy who helped the education department draw up the framework, which brings together three sets of guidance into a single document, denied it was over-prescriptive.
She said many practitioners had been drawn into a tick-box mentality with earlier guidance and that the new framework was an opportunity to address that.
She said: "We can't use this simply as something to tick things off against - in that way lies madness.
"The learning and development grids are not about ticking children off against them. They're about thinking what children need."
She said the examples had been included to bring the document alive.
The statutory framework says childcare providers should aim to deliver individualised learning, development and care that enhances each child's development.
Each child should be supported to "make progress at their own pace".
It says all providers have an equally important role, adding: "A childminder who sees a child for two hours a day should consider what a child's individual needs are at that time of day".
Practitioners should ensure children are competent learners and that they meet the goals set out for their age group.
The guidance also sets out what children should be able to do by the end of the early years foundation stage.
These include interacting with others, enjoying listening to and using spoken and written language, and being able to listen attentively and with enjoyment, respond to stories, songs, music and rhymes.
During the final year of the foundation stage, when the child is likely to be aged five, children will be assessed regularly using 13 formal scales of development.
The results must be recorded and a written summary reporting the child's progress against the early learning goals and assessment scales must be kept.
The results will then be passed on to or maintained within the primary school the child attends.
Although these assessments are designed to give a picture of where the child is at the beginning of primary school, officials were keen to stress they could not be used to measure the value a school adds to a child's education.
Ms Duffy said assessments were important, adding: "In the old setting all you used to record was how many times a nappy was changed and how many ounces of milk got drank."
Shadow Minister for Children, Anne McIntosh, said it was inappropriate to have such detailed inspection of children this young.
"Every child is different, and develops at different stages in different ways - what works for one child will not necessarily be the best for another.
"This is formalised learning for very small children. I believe children should be allowed to find their own level under careful teaching supervision. We should free up teachers' time to teach.
"We should allow children to have their childhood and let the professionals do their job. Many fear that setting prescriptive targets between birth and the age of five can have damaging effects on child development."