I have read several articles in which critics argue that it is not beneficial for very young children (3-5 years) to be taught literacy and numeracy skills. Protesters suggest that the Early Years Foundation Stage is wrong to provide a framework of achievement to carers of very young children, because early learning will put too much pressure on children to succeed, reducing their amount of play time and limiting their interest in learning for life (links to further articles from WordPress can be found here ).

Yet I do not think that early years learning requires excessive pressure to be placed on young children, since learning can use children’s existing interest in their environment as the basis for education. I am not proposing that very young children should be given formal lessons in literacy and numeracy. Instead, skills should be built upon by asking children questions about their interests to allow them to gradually increase their knowledge. Siraj-Blatchford and Silva (2003) suggest that the questioning technique is most effective when questions lead to sustained and shared thinking and are based on a balance of activities that are both adult and child-initiated. I believe this is successful since adult engagement in the child’s natural interest is likely to be reinforcing and encourage them to pursue further interests, thus promoting learning for life. The positive attention given to children when adults engage in their interest is also likely to reduce issues of misbehaviour, since they are being socially rewarded for desirable behaviour.

I also believe that learning literacy and numeracy can be made enjoyable for young children when learning is incorporated into their natural play. Consequently, early years education can proceed without impacting the amount of play time allocated to very young children. Evangelou, Sylva, Kyriacou, Wild and Glenny (2009) compiled a meta-analysis of research to propose ways in which very young children can be taught literacy and numeracy skills through play. The authors suggest that early years literacy is facilitated using children’s interest in books: reading, encouraging children to predict the sequence of events, using puppets to tell stories and role play, while relating events that happen in the story to events in the child’s life. Similarly, numeracy skills are promoted by encouraging children to count toys that they are playing with, facilitating the matching of equivalent numbered toys (for example, one cup to one saucer) and by being responsive to children’s mathematical utterances and building upon them by asking questions. I think that by encouraging literacy and numeracy skills using objects that interest the child, a great amount of transference of the skills will occur, since the child will naturally use the skills in different contexts and with different objects.

In my opinion, encouraging early years learning benefits children for life, as it provides them with a strong start in literacy and numeracy that can be maintained throughout primary and secondary school. Goodman and Sianesi (2005) suggest that this is the case, with children undertaking pre-compulsory schooling obtaining better test scores at 7, 11 and 16 years than general pre-school peers.   

Overall I am not suggesting that very young children (3-5 years) should be given formal literacy and numeracy lessons. Instead, their natural interest in their environment should form a basis for the learning of literacy and numeracy skills, with adults facilitating this learning rather than directing it.