Are four-year-olds too young to meet toddlers’ targets?

Leading educationalists and authors have joined together to try and get the Government to scrap its literacy targets for youngsters.

They argues that four-year-olds are too young to meet such goals as writing sentences and using punctuation.
As part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework – which applies to all early years – ministers wanted all five-year-olds to be able to write simple words and make attempt at more complex ones.

They also want them to be able to write their own names.

Campaigners claim that parts of the learning requirements set some children up for failure and that those who are less academically bright and do not come from middle class homes were particularly at risk.

Are we in danger of putting too much pressure on our children at a time when they should be doing naturally – learning through play and social contact?

I believe that every child in this country is entitled to the benefits of learning through play as set out in the EYFS and that their parents are entitled to the reassurance that their children will be well supported and cared for by high quality childminders and nursery workers. All of these childcare providers, who are registered with and inspected by Ofsted, will now need to adhere to the new EYFS. The very best childminders, nurseries and children’s centres will already be implementing the best practice on which the EYFS is based, but we want to drive up standards and ensure everyone working with children do the best they can to help them learn and develop at their own pace.

Ed Balls MP – Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

It is essential that practitioners have an understanding of each child’s development and their individual needs so that they can ensure that each child has the experiences and support they need to thrive. Observing and responding to a child is a continuous process and a professional skill that is key to informing effective planning and quality provision. Regular observational assessments  build a picture of a child’s development and comparing this to typical patterns of development can help identify where a child’s development needs supporting or extending. The setting also needs information about the progress of children in order to make decisions about the resources to offer, staff training and development.  This information is key for effective self-evaluation and improving the quality of a setting.

Megan Pacey – Chief Executive, Early Education

The idea that four-year-olds should have targets on writing sentences and punctuation is preposterous. Young children need to develop physically and emotionally before they are put into more formal educational pursuits.
Children need time and good play to develop. Why is it in Sweden that no child can read or write at six-years-old and yet by the age of 10 or 11 they are European leaders in the literacy stakes? Learning to read and write must have meaning for children without the worry of ‘Will I be able to do this?’ If placed in a Nursery school of good practice then of course they will.
As parents and teachers we need to focus on letting children play and developing strong independent youngsters who know that they will achieve.

Carol Talbot – Bluebell Nursery School

In my experience of working at a playgroup, the children were able to identify colours and could recognise their own name by the age of four, but as for writing in sentences and using punctuation – as a parent I wouldn’t want my four year-old to feel under pressure to meet those targets. It’s becoming a preoccupation with parents and causes anxiety. My sister-in-law teaches a reception class and she told me that one of the parents came in after school to ask her how her four-year-old son was doing and what his targets were. She told this parent that actually, at the moment, his target was to sit on his chair for two minutes at a time – behavioural and social development is what children of that age need. Children also don’t have the vocabulary for writing sentences, and I’m still telling Year 6 pupils where to put capital letters and full stops – so how can we expect a four-year-old to be able to do the same?

Kathie Howard, Primary supply teacher

I think the Government is not only unrealistic but misguided in its proposed new targets for four-year-olds. Whilst I agree that correct punctuation and grammar are essential building blocks for literacy this is far too early an age to set targets and make children focus on them. This is a time when children should be encouraged through play to develop their social and communication skills including active listening. Skills which will hold them in good stead later in their education when teachers begin to introduce dryer topics such as grammar. I think we are in danger of switching off too many children to the joy of learning if we constrain them at too tender an age. Four-year-olds should be playing and having fun with learning. I am speaking with the experience of being a mum, grandmother and a nursery and primary school governor.

Debbie Barber – Parent

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