Children of four to get literacy training

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The Independent Online

Children as young as four will be introduced to their own version of the literacy and numeracy hours under new guidelines on the education of under-fives published yesterday.

Children as young as four will be introduced to their own version of the literacy and numeracy hours under new guidelines on the education of under-fives published yesterday.

Teachers will be shown how to prepare children aged between three and five for formal learning while still having fun.

But early years campaigners last night warned the Government not to harm children by introducing the full literacy and numeracy hours too soon.

Four-year-olds would be exposed to short bursts of information rather than concen- trated teaching in a single hour. They would prepare children for the formal hours of literacy and numeracy at the age of five

Young children should try to say "cackling cockerels" faster and faster and to write their own names by playing with magnetic alphabetic letters, the guidelines say.

In maths, the teacher might pretend to be a "monster muncher" who takes a number of linking cubes from a child while they shut their eyes. Each child has ten cubes, and if they work out how many are missing, the "monster muncher" gives the cubes back.

The advice aims to instruct teachers on how to prepare children for meeting early learning goals. Nursery teachers initially attacked the goals, saying children were being forced into formal learning too soon.

But Margaret Hodge, the early learning minister, insisted yesterday that the distinction between learning and play was a false one and that the modified guidelines had won widespread acceptance.

"These guidelines are rigorous and they recognise that it is important to ensure that children have the necessary education at this stage to develop their potential.

"But children learn through play and learning has to be fun. One of the objectives at this stage must be to encourage an enthusiasm for learning."

The guidelines aim to help children reach national goals in speaking, listening, working in a group, concentrating and persisting in a task before they are six.

They show how children progress towards knowledge of phonics for reading and towards writing. "Samuel makes a mark on his dad's birthday card and says: "That's Samuel." At a later stage, "Marcia is playing in the cafe and writes customers' orders on her notepad. She tells the chef, "They want pizzas."

Later still, "Marcus says his name begins with "m", Faraz with "f" and Tommy with "t".

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The guidelines are rigorous but there is an enormous amount of detail. They must not become a straitjacket. Their interpretation must be left to teachers' professional judgement."

Theresa May, the Conservative education spokeswoman, warned the Government not to put pressure on children. "I am worried about the extent to which formal education is being pushed down the years and that three and four-year-olds are missing out on learning through play."

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