The National Union of Teachers yesterday called for an immediate review of the primary school curriculum to make room for "spontaneous activities".
Relaxing requirements to teach subjects such as geography and history could also be used for the three Rs and for lessons in moral development and citizenship, according to teachers interviewed in a study carried out for the NUT by Leicester University.
One teacher said: "We never have time to listen when children come in with `I did this' or `Here's my book' or found this twig on the way to school'.
"It is very hard to make them know that these things are important to us as well."
The Government's literacy and numeracy targets for 2002 would be threatened unless schools had more flexibility in planning the timetable, the NUT said.
The university's study found that, on average, primary schools were already exceeding the hour a day ministers say should be spent on literacy and using up the hour recommended for numeracy.
More flexibility in the national curriculum would allow schools to spend longer on the basics while more moral and social education would encourage discipline.
Teachers were also of the opinion that children were missing out on some of the fun of learning because of the rigidity of the curriculum.
They wanted more time for sessions such as "circle time", in which children sit round and are encouraged to talk to each other about, perhaps, a cuddly toy being passed round.
A so-called "discretionary day" each week, supposedly freed up by Sir Ron Dearing in the first slimming of the curriculum in 1994, had been largely swallowed up in covering the curriculum and providing more time for literacy and numeracy, headteachers said.
NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said: "The report identifies the denial of opportunity for teachers to build on the spontaneous interests of their pupils and also highlights the stifling effects of the curriculum."
A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said that ministers had heeded teachers' calls for stability and had promised not to change the curriculum before the year 2000.
The education White Paper, published earlier this week, had indicated a thorough review of the curriculum would then be carried out, he said.Reuse content