More than 60 aims - including in writing, reading and mathematics - are laid out in a new "foundation stage" curriculum to guide children from the age of three to the end of their "reception year" (usually at age five).
The guidelines, which are a more specific version of earlier "desirable outcomes" for nursery schools and reception classes, are designed to provide children with solid basics before they start the full national curriculum in school. Some are aimed at children's social development, morals such as the difference between right and wrong, forming relationships, working in groups and being able to concentrate. But there are also specific and numerous goals in English and maths.
In English, the aims include linking letters and sounds, naming all the letters of the alphabet, and showing understanding of the main elements of stories. They should also be able to find information in non-fiction texts to answer questions such as "where, who, how and why".
Aims for writing includes holding a pencil correctly and being able to write their names, simple words and sentences.
The aims for mathematics include being able to count to 10, recognise simple patterns and use concepts like "greater than" or heavier and lighter.
Margaret Hodge, the minister in charge of early years education, said the reform "will help develop the key skills for learning, such as listening, speaking, confidence with numbers, concentration, persistence and co-operation".
She said it was important to have clear goals for early education. "We are modernising the early years. We need to bring together play, care and education in a structured and rigorous way which is appropriate to the age of the child."
But Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the guidelines were "over the top".
He said: "Not even old Joe Stalin was as prescriptive as this. The brightest children from the pushiest families will be able to cope, but there are some children who are not ready for this sort of thing".
Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which drew up the proposals, said: "The proposals... set out high expectations whilst reflecting the particular needs of very young children as they make their transition from home to school."Reuse content