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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 09:27 GMT
Your views on early years
BBC education correspondent Mike Baker considered they way children are taught in the early years.

As usual we invited your thoughts too. Here is a selection of the responses.

Starting school at a early age is better. I started school when I was three, starting at a young age, makes you more responsability and strong. You learn to take parts in activities, you learn numbers, everything and certainly makes you ready for the wider society and further study.
Jessica, London

I definitely believe children who attend an early years setting benefit and will settle in to school life with less difficulty than those who don't. However the problem is often nursery fees are very high so low income families may loose out as parents cannot afford to send their children to a private nursery setting. The introduction to reception at four is definatley a better option, it eases children into school life before too much formality.
Samantha Murray, Stoke/ Staffordshire

I think it is important for children to learn about social relationships, and the ability to play with each other. This strengths the social bonds, and the older they are when they start formal education, the more they will undersand that education is another factor in their life experience. Basic social skills must be learnt as early as possible, as it is more diffult to change destructive social behaviour when people are older.
Eileen Jenkins, Edinburgh

Comparisons with other European countries need to take account of two important differences. Dutch, German, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Spanish, Italian and Welsh all have simple orthographies, with all or a very high proportion of words pronounced in a very predictable manner. Learning to read English is more complicated. In the UK, extended families in one house have become rare. I learnt to read from my grandmother, who lived in the same house as my (very busy) parents, before I went to school. Households with two working parents and no other adults are unlikely to provide this sort of intellectual foundation. Single parents are likely to be even less capable.
K C Moore, Reading, Berkshire

I strongly agree that there is too much emphasis on early formal education. My three-year-old is having the same lessons at school nursery that her brother received in reception/year one just four years ago. I believe better quality education begun at age five to six would be at least as effective.
Leisl Badham, Birmingham

This is a very interesting and timely column, I think. Mike is right to emphasise the important of giving children a play-based curriculum with a strong emphasis on care and their emotional and social development. But the generalisation that there is an English/French tradition that in the early years the focus should be on "preparing children for school" isn't quite right. There is a very long, well-documented tradition in England that puts the emphasis in early childhood on play, movement, being outdoors, making choices etc - it's been happening in English nursery schools for decades, inspired most notably by the work of Margaret and Rachel Macmillan. By nursery school, I mean very specifically the local-authority maintained schools for children before the start of compulsory education.
Julian Grenier, London

As headteacher of an infant school I wholeheartedly endorse the views expressed in this article. My children are drawn from a mixed catchment area and there are pockets of great deprivation. What on earth is the point in trying to teach some of these four year olds to read and write when they don't have the language to string together a proper sentence? Some of our children are language poor - this needs to be addressed first and can be done very successfully through each of the areas of learning of the Foundation Stage. Some of our children have not had the play experiences that enable them to develop their co-ordination or fine motor skills to a sufficient point to be able to write. When will those outside education acknowledge that our children need to experience a childhood full of all sorts of rich experiences and language if they are to grow up to be at least reasonably successful adults?
Mari Street, Whitwick, England

Extend the Foundation Stage curriculum to the end of KS1. Place an emphasis on speaking and listening, investigation and learning through play. Create powerful indoor and outdoor learning worlds which mesh seamlessly as the child travels through on his/her quest for answers, discussion, nurture and stimulation. We know it works. We want out children no matter what their age to see their work as play.
Mary Coen, Sutton, Surrey

I quite agree with Mike Baker's comments. An early stimulating environment either in the home or in pre-school activities should be much more than preparing them for school. There is too much presuure to perform for certain narrow criteria that growing as individuals with individual gifts gets squashed in the rush to make them read and write. Other skills are important also, verbal skills, fine motor skills, learning to be active are far more important than learning to fail and yet will aid reading and writing later on.
Joanna, USA

I am a deputy head in a secondary school with two daughters in nursery and I must say seeing this report last week made my blood boil. I take a great professional interest in the progress of students and have been involved with many projects to engage boys through better provision and delivery of education. My two and three-year-old girls are very happy in nursery, interacting with others through play, taking pride in the paintings they produce and gaining life skills that will enable them to master calculation and language when the need arises - much later. Ofsted really needs to worry about improtant things.
Andy Ireland, Sheffield

The problem with choosing a school starting age is that all children develop at different rates. Some have the maturity and skills to undertake formal learning at five whilst others are slower to mature and would benefit from a less structured curriculum up to the age of seven.The ideal 'diet' is an extended, creative Foundation Stage for the under 7's with opportunities for children that are ready and motivated to turn to formal literacy/numeracy activities as they are ready. What is crucial is motivation and enjoyment. The current system tries to treat all children the same and this holds back the progress of some and imparts a sense of failure to others.
Amanda Smith, Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire

Since the introduction of the foundation stage curriculum guidance there has been a growing awareness of the developmental needs of young children, and teachers in this stage plan to meet these needs, placing a greater emphasis on their social and cognitive progress than on the more "academic" areas. This does not mean that literacy and numeracy are neglected - rather the understanding is developed through practical and play activities. Many children enter the reception class with limited vocabularies and few conversational skills. Spoken language skills must be developed before children can learn to read and write, but this does not mean that they are not encouraged to enjoy stories and information books, play matching games, sort and count in situations that are relevant to them and engage in mark making and pre-writing activities. The problem is, and has been over a long period, that Ofsted is dominated by "experts" who do not understand child development, or the needs!
Sue Brown, Fareham, Hampshire

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