Early years madness? – the case against Britain’s proposed “curriculum” for babies and toddlers

‘An education that has gradually been taken over by the State has deprived man of active striving; it has made him into a devoted member of the State structure. The State lays claim to the child and he is trained to fit the patterns of the State; he ceases to be a person and bears the stamp of the state.’ – Rudolf Steiner The baby must determine its own curriculum.’ – Dr Miriam Stoppard ‘Childhood is not a race.’ – Times Educational Supplement editorial, 11/11/05You couldn’t make it up… – really! What a way to start an article on the toxic absurdity that is Britain’s current early-childhood policy-making. Those readers who have read my previous articles in this series will know that I certainly don’t take any prisoners when it comes to writing about government policy on mainstream schooling in general, and on early-years policy-making in particular. But even I was left pretty much speechless at the British Government’s latest extraordinary intrusion into the very being of our youngest children, with the publication of its so-called Childcare Bill last November. Here is a selection of the press headlines that greeted the Bill the following morning (I have them all in front of me as I write): ‘Toddlers to have their own lessons’ (The Times); ‘A national curriculum for babies’ (Daily Telegraph); ‘The new nappy curriculum’ (Times Educational Supplement); ‘Toddlers taught to speak by State diktat’ (Daily Mail); and ‘lessons for babies from Nanny Blair’ (Daily Express).At this point you may think I am taking the mick and making this all up as some kind of spoof…- I only wish I were!… Here is an analysis of the story as reported in the much-respected newspaper, the London Times. What I will do is report the relevant aspects of the report verbatim, with my own commentary italicised in brackets:‘Babies are to be taught a “national curriculum” devised by Whitehall… Childminders and nurseries will be under a legal duty to teach the Early Years Foundation Stage to children from birth until the age of 3. [Note that it will be a ‘legal duty’ – i.e. compulsory.]… They will be taught mathematics, reading and writing, according to Beverley Hughes, the Children’s Minister. She argued that research showed that earlier education helped children to develop faster both socially and intellectually. [Note, first, that the emphasis is on babies and toddlers being taught (external source) rather than on them learning (through intrinsic motivation). Note also the extraordinary assumption that ‘faster is necessarily better’ – an absurdly ignorant assumption for which not only does there exist no scientific evidence, but for which there is actually a mountain of evidence – not least from Steiner Waldorf education theory and practice – that forced, premature development is actually harmful to children, and can and does have life-long negative physical and mental health consequences.]… Ofsted will police the new curriculum with its inspectors checking that children are developing in four distinct headings. The children will be expected to have mastered skills such as comparing, categorising and recognising symbols and marks. [Again, note the language and the unconcealed sinister tone – ‘will police’; ‘inspectors checking’; ‘children will be expected to have…’. It’s hardly surprising that some alarmed press reports see scarcely disguised forebodings of George Orwell’s Big Brother and Aldous Huxley’s terrifying Brave New World in all this madness.]… Ms Hughes said yesterday that the Bill… would provide a “coherent framework that defines progression for young children from nought to five”. [Note again that the Government is defining what constitutes healthy progression and development for children.]… The Government also pledged yesterday that by 2010 all parents of children aged between 3 and 14 should have access to year-round childcare places from 8am to 6pm. [Here we see one of the real agendas underlying all this – i.e. the economic one of driving young mothers back into the (low-pay) workforce – whatever the developmental cost to a generation of young children. Materialism rules…- and we will legislate to make sure that it does is the clear and unequivocal message.]… Ms Hughes said: “It is a truly radical Bill enshrining in law the duty of local authorities to reduce inequalities amongst the youngest children and improve outcomes for all. [Note, finally, that the State takes upon itself the role of eradicating inequality, and that of improving learning outcomes. Nowhere do we see any awareness of the countervailing unintended consequences of such social engineering – with such effects commonly (and perhaps inevitably) doing far greater harm than the maladies and inequalities which they are claiming to be cure. And there is also no awareness of the way in which such interventions actually have the effect of disempowering people rather than encouraging responsibility-taking and personal empowerment.]Not that all of the media reports were critical: thus – and amazingly – the Independent Education supplement (no less) ran a leader with the title “Why toddlers need a curriculum”; and both Janet Street-Porter (the Independent) and Helen Ward (of the TES) attempted to defend these proposals – to my mind entirely unconvincingly. Here is the letter I wrote to the TES on this issue (which they declined to publish):‘Along with education minister Beverley Hughes and Janet Street-Porter, Helen Ward must be one of the very few commentators who does not view the latest Childcare Bill as one (giant) step too far in over-centralised State diktat, and a disaster-in-the-making for a generation of young children (“Toddlers learning their times tables? Get real”, November 18).  The problem with all overbearing central State policy-making, from the National Curriculum onwards, is that it has necessarily stifled creativity and innovation, encouraged normalisation and uniformity, and disempowered and infantilised teachers. It mortifies me to begin to imagine what an often ill- and under-trained, inexperienced early-years workforce will do with these statutory guidelines when working with our youngest children.  Moreover, history is littered with examples of scientifically based “certainties” that subsequent discoveries have completely overturned. Given such a possibility, it is potentially catastrophic that the government dictate its own narrow view of healthy development when the model they are imposing (with its “earlier is better”, prematurely intellectual ideology) is highly contestable – and from the standpoint of Steiner developmental theory, just plain wrong.  Finally, this kind of pathologically intrusive legislation cannot but exacerbate precisely what it is claiming to alleviate – that is, inadequate parenting – through the pervasively disabling effect it will have on parenting capabilities right across modern culture. The sight of an arrogantly omnipotent State increasingly taking over the role of parenting is a chillingly disturbing one.’‘Curriculum’?…

‘The normal child… is… a fiction or myth. No individual or real child lies at its basis. It is an abstraction, a fantasy, a fiction, a production of the testing apparatus that incorporates, that constructs the child, by virtue of its gaze’ (my emphasis) – Erica Burman

Now in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the term ‘curriculum’ is defined as ‘course of study’ (my emphasis). We’ve heard all this before, of course; for one of the most notable feature of British Government’s early-years document, its Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage or CGFS), was also its highly inappropriate use of the term ‘curriculum’. In the latter document, it is assumed from the outset that in early-years learning, government guidance is needed ‘on effective learning and teaching to help practitioners in the planning and teaching of an appropriate curriculum…’ (p. 5). We are told further that ‘Practitioners should plan a curriculum that helps children… towards… these goals’ (p. 6, my emphasis). And on page 11 of the same document, we are told: ‘Effective education requires both a relevant curriculum and practitioners who understand and are able to implement the curriculum requirements’ (my emphasis). The tell-tale use of language is, or course, very revealing: for it is the curriculum which is seen as being responsible for children’s development rather than the children themselves. Thus, ‘The curriculum… should underpin all future learning by supporting, fostering, promoting and developing personal, social and emotional well-being, positive attitudes and dispositions towards learning.. etc. etc.…’ (p. 8, my emphasis; ‘the curriculum’ is cast as the active subject of the sentence, with children’s well-being being assumed to be ‘developed’ by the curriculum). This is no mere trivial or trifling point, for the way in which this language is cast reveals the underlying ideology about child development and learning informing this whole document – an ideology which readers of The Mother will, I believe, recognise as being quite incompatible with an holistic approach to child development.Much of the language of the CGFS used betrays a ‘nanny state-ism’ where infantilisation are the norm, and with the ‘parental’ Government deeming that it knows best what form ‘education’ should take, with the deprofessionalised teachers’ role simply being to deliver what the Government deems to be necessary and appropriate. Precisely the same infantilising ideology is at work in this new ‘curriculum for babies and toddlers’.There are so many problems with this worldview that it is difficult know where to start – and no clearer example could be found of the dangers of the state imposing its own limited and limiting ideology on what constitutes ‘normal’ development – for as Rudolf Steiner warned us many decades ago, what this is really about is the forced ‘standardising of human souls’. The respected childhood authority Dr Miriam Stoppard wrote an excellent press article that sums up the case against this madness very eloquently and succinctly. Thus she writes that babies will actually fail to thrive under such ‘oppressive intervention’, for babies ‘need the freedom to acquire [developmental milestones] at their own pace, in their own way… A curriculum would be a straightjacket for most babies and set them up for failure at an appallingly early age.’Relatedly, and with regard to developmental standardisation, Stoppard is unequivocal: ‘The word “curriculum” offends me when applied to babies as though a standardised blueprint for their early development can hold any legitimacy’. She continues, ‘A baby learns piecemeal. It doesn’t know about planned learning… No general road map can (or should – RH) accommodate the vagaries, the stops and starts, the growth spurts, that pepper a child’s development… Babies’ developmental blueprint is unique to itself and will only emerge in an informal, deconstructed environment where it has free reign’. ///<>Similarly, educationalist Alan Block (in his important book I’m Only Bleeding: Education as the Practice of Social Violence against Children ) argues how, in our technocratic age, ‘the definition of the child is made so precise that the imaginative freedom of the individual child is denied, [and] the child’s freedom to play and explore is severely curtailed’ (my emphasis). What we are talking about here is the freedom of imagination, a delicate human quality that can all too easily be damaged – sometimes irreparably – by technocratic educational practices. For Block, ‘to deny imagination is to deny the very creativity that makes self possible… To deny imagination is to instill hatred where should stem love and creativity’. Moreover, modern schooling ‘establishes a dictatorship over the child in which reality is defined by the other. …the imagination… [is] denied for the predetermined outlines of the other. This violence denies the very existence of the individual child and denies that child all opportunity to learn’. And in the face of a system which, as Block writes, ‘banish[es] children… under a dense cover of rationalistic, abstract discourse about “cognition”, “development”, “achievement”, etc.’, it becomes ‘impossible to hear the child’s own voice’, in the process ‘dismissing the child’s experience and… falsify[ing] the actual lived experience of children’. Perhaps in the light of all this, we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that, according to research carried out by psychiatrist Asdrian Angold of Duke University Medical Centre, at least one in ten of pre-schoolers may be suffering from mental illness – and that proportion will no doubt increase dramatically once this new early-years regime is installed and starts to bite.Block intelligently advocates doing away for ever with the fixed curricula, universal standards, and intensive surveillance through which we discipline our children: ‘Until we create an environment in which the child may use the educational establishment to create him or her self, until we serve only as a frame on which the canvas may appear in paint, we will continue to practice extreme violence upon the child, denying him/her growth, health, and experience’. Those parents fortunate enough to be able to home-educate, or to send their children to a Steiner (Waldorf) or ‘human-scale’ school run along humanistic lines, are far more than able to nurture their children’s inherent love of learning, not least through protecting their children’s developing senses and imagination from the cold bludgeon of modernity and its anxiety-driven surveillance and ‘audit’ culture.Closing CommentaryAlthough this latest intrusion of the British Government into the private lives of our citizenry does have some peculiarly British features, it does also reflect a more pervasive global trend in the Western world, driven as it is by a kind of aggressive and mechanistically utilitarian ‘modernity’ in the realm of childcare. Some writers have even argued that the technologically unbalanced modernist Zeitgeist is actually in its death throes as we enter the Aquarian age – and ideologies in their death throes typically thrash about in a desperate attempt to reassert their rapidly diminishing power and hegemony. It is also worth noting that a deep fear and anxiety seems to be pervasive in modern hyperactive culture; and perhaps politicians are peculiarly susceptible to being affected by it. Thus, anxiety commonly seems to lead to the ‘acted-out’ need and desire to control one’s environment – and pervasive cultural anxiety leads to highly dysfunctional political activity of a manic and typically quite inappropriate kind – all of which is observable in these latest absurd policy initiatives.In closing, we should of course be encouraged by the national outcry that these absurd proposals have precipitated (proposals are set to become law in the not-too-distant future). For perhaps it shows that there are at least the beginnings of a sea-change in attitudes to the overbearing intrusion of the Government into the very being of our young children. It might also be that the Government has – albeit unwittingly – given a major boost to the home education and stay-at-home parenting movements, as families refuse to allow their youngest of children to be subjected to this normalising regime. Perhaps such small mercies amidst all this madness is something for which we might even end up being grateful.Further ReadingAlexandra Blair, ‘Toddlers to have their own lessons’, The Times, 9th November 2005Alexandra Blair, ‘Nursery teachers fear curriculum will kill creativity’, The Times, 10th November 2005, p. 23Sarah Boseley, ‘One in 10 pre-schoolers may be suffering from mental illness’, the Guardian, 29th November 2005, p. 6Alan A. Block, I’m Only Bleeding: Education as the Practice of Social Violence against Children, Peter Lang, New York, 1997James Nolan, The Therapeutic State: Justifying Government at Century’s End, New York University Press, New York, 1998Robert Sardello, Freeing the Soul from Fear, Riverhead Books, New York, 1999Miriam Stoppard, ‘Give babies time, not targets’, Daily Telegraph, 10th November 2005, p. 22Richard House has a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences (UEA), and is a trained Steiner Class Teacher and Kindergarten teacher and founder-member of the Norfolk Initiative Steiner School in Norwich, England. He is Senior Lecturer in Psychotherapy and Counselling at Roehampton University’s Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, and writes regularly on educational and psychotherapeutic issues for various professional journals and magazines. Correspondence: richardahouse@hotmail.comFrom the press – further relevant articles and letters:letters@tes.co.ukAlong with education minister Beverley Hughes and Janet Street-Porter, Helen Ward must be one of the very few commentators who does not view the latest Childcare Bill as one (giant) step too far in over-centralised State diktat, and a disaster-in-the-making for a generation of young children (“Toddlers learning their times tables? Get real”, November 18).  The problem with all overbearing central State policy-making, from the National Curriculum onwards, is that it has necessarily stifled creativity and innovation, encouraged normalisation and uniformity, and disempowered and infantilised teachers. It mortifies me to begin to imagine what an often ill- and under-trained, inexperienced early-years workforce will do with these statutory guidelines when working with our youngest children.  Moreover, history is littered with examples of scientifically based “certainties” that subsequent discoveries have completely overturned. Given such a possibility, it is potentially catastrophic that the government dictate its own narrow view of healthy development when the model they are imposing (with its “earlier is better”, prematurely intellectual ideology) is highly contestable – and from the standpoint of Steiner developmental theory, just plain wrong.  Finally, this kind of pathologically intrusive legislation cannot but exacerbate precisely what it is claiming to alleviate – that is, inadequate parenting – through the pervasively disabling effect it will have on parenting capabilities right across modern culture. The sight of an arrogantly omnipotent State increasingly taking over the role of parenting is a chillingly disturbing one.Yours sincerely,(Dr) Richard HouseResearch Centre for Therapeutic EducationRoehampton University; Steiner Kindergarten teachereducation@independent.co.uk21st November 2005Dear Letters Editor,Your editorial in qualified support of the government’s new Childcare Bill (“Why toddlers need a curriculum”, 17 November) fails to address the central problem with this proposed legislation – that is, its self-fulfillingly disabling nature. Ivan Illich wrote tellingly many years ago about how the professions and their ideology of expertise routinely infantilise and disempower the citizenry; and in assuming that parenting should increasingly be taken over by the central State laying down mandatory developmental guidelines for our youngest children, precisely the same effect will ensue, with parents increasingly giving over the responsibility of parenting and child-rearing to government-controlled early-years settings. In short, this legislation will only accelerate that which it is (allegedly) aimed at alleviating – i.e. inadequate parenting. For this reason alone, this proposed “curriculum” for very young children is a disaster-in-the-making – and that’s without even mentioning all the other cogent and convincing arguments against it with which the media has been awash in the past 10 days.Yours sincerely,(Dr) Richard HouseResearch Centre for Therapeutic EducationRoehampton UniversityLETTER, THE INDEPENDENT, 16TH NOVEMBER 2005TEACH CHILDREN HOW TO LEARNSir: What blinkered vision Tony Blair has. He recognises the need to improve our children’s literacy skills, but his solution is to spend even longer making the same mistakes by starting when they are younger! Sue Palmer (letter, 11 November) has expressed very clearly the common-sense approach needed, which is to look at the more successful education systems of other countries and learn from them. Surely this should be obvious?  Our schools are full of unwilling pupils discouraged and disillusioned by our present system. Even those who wish to learn find themselves in classes where it is impossible to do so because too often teachers are unable to make themselves heard. What an appalling situation. The early years need to be spent preparing for formal learning so that when it begins children are all confident, receptive, and therefore able to enjoy the process.DEANNA HUMPHRIESBRADFORD ON AVON, WILTSHIRECurriculum for toddlers typifies government interferenceDaily Telegraph letters, 10th November 2005-11-13Sir – If it will be compulsory for nurseries and childminders to teach a national curriculum to the under-fives, what will be done about those kids unfortunate enough to have only their mothers to look after them?Ken Stevens, Sonning Common South, OxonSir – What do you call a government that sets a curriculum for under-threes?Greg Slaughter, St Annes, LancsSir – Working as a teacher in early-years settings, I was horrified to see that a formal curriculum is now about to be governmentally imposed on children from birth to three.We already in this country begin formal, full-time education at four: far younger than most countries. Teachers have long since seen the difficulties encountered by children because formal education is started too soon and not nearly enough time is given to unstructured, untarget-led play.Eleanor Collar, NorthamptonSir – With this step the Government is proposing to take responsibility away from parents for the upbringing of their children. Like many of its other policies, it erodes accountability of individuals for their own actions. I would much rather have read about a framework of support to help parents bring up their children in a secure, loving family unit.Jim Osborne, Holmfirth, W YorksSir – When the Government completes its Big Brother programme and everyone is an employee of the state, dictating to us all how to live from birth to death and all that entails, the economy will collapse. No one will be producing any goods for profit.(Mrs) Thelma Huggett, Tunbridge Wells, KentSir – What about a portrait of Our Beloved Leader in every classroom and a compulsory hymn of praise for his creation of a Brave New Britain?Anne Allan, Colchester, EssexSir – The vast sums spent on such ridiculous initiatives as the national curriculum for babies and the campaign for “respect” should be spent on encouraging mothers of newborn children to stay at home and look after them. We have got what we have asked for by voting for a true Nanny State – a young generation which does not know how to behave.SM Lupton, Bardsey, LeedsSir – Inspectors seeking to see evidence of ability to express “joy, sadness, frustration and fear” in day nurseries will not be disappointed. I can assure these Blairite busybodies that sadness, frustration and fear will be the immediate consequence of their arrival in any establishment, and that intense jubilation will ensue as soon as they choose to depart.Sue Gedge, Woodford Green, EssexSir – It will be intriguing to discover what inspectors will recommend to day-nursery workers and childminders, when they judge that babies are not expressing sufficient degrees of “sadness” and “fear” while in their care.David Wigley, Beverley, E YorksSir – Does a national curriculum for babies include potty-training?Robert Hall, Little Bookham, SurreySir – Will there be a three-plus examination?David Ayres, Harpenden, HertsThe Times November 09, 2005BABIES are to be taught a “national curriculum” devised by Whitehall… Childminders and nurseries will be under a legal duty to teach the Early Years Foundation Stage to children from birth until the age of 3.They will be taught mathematics, reading and writing, according to Beverley Hughes, the Children’s Minister. She argued that research showed that earlier education helped children to develop faster both socially and intellectually.Ofsted will police the new curriculum with its inspectors checking that children are developing in four distinct headings. The children will be expected to have mastered skills such as comparing, categorising and recognising symbols and marks.Ms Hughes said yesterday that the Bill was a bold move, adding that it would provide a “coherent framework that defines progression for young children from nought to five”.The Government also pledged yesterday that by 2010 all parents of children aged between 3 and 14 should have access to year-round childcare places from 8am to 6pm.Ms Hughes said: “It is a truly radical Bill enshrining in law the duty of local authorities to reduce inequalities amongst the youngest children and improve outcomes for all.Labour’s plan to educate toddlersLucy Ward, social affairs correspondentWednesday November 9, 2005The GuardianThe government is planning to extend the principle of standardised education from the school classroom to the very youngest infants in England and Wales, it announced yesterday.The new framework for nought to five-year-olds will have the same legal force as the school national curriculum and will introduce a simplified inspection system to assess care and education for babies and toddlers in all nurseries, playgroups and for those looked after by childminders.The children and families minister, Beverley Hughes, said the scheme, the “early years foundation stage”, would “establish a coherent framework that defines progression for young children from nought to five … We are not talking about sitting very young children in chairs and making them learn numbers and letters where that is inappropriate”.Care and education for young children would be indistinguishable and should be delivered and inspected together. She said the new system would carry the same status – “parity of esteem” – as the national curriculum.However, the new scheme could draw accusations of over-prescription in play and learning similar to those levelled at the national curriculum. Critics say that leaves too little time for creativity and reduces the ability of teachers to be flexible.Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, last night condemned the new plan, warning: “We are in danger of taking away children’s childhood when they leave the maternity ward.”From the minute you are born and your parents go back to work, as the government has encouraged them to do, you are going to be ruled by the Department for Education. It is absolute madness.”However, childcare campaigners said they detected no sign that the government wanted to over-regulate.Anne Longfield, chief executive of 4Children, said: “I don’t think the intention is to have a very detailed framework. If it is about squeezing very young children into various tubes and testing them from early days then we would have some concerns, but I think the spirit is about aiming for quality and consistency.”The Pre-School Learning Alliance also played down concerns, saying it did not believe children would be “rote learning Latin by two-and-a-half”.The alliance, the largest voluntary provider of early years education and care in England, joined the National Day Nurseries Association in warning that local authorities must not drive out private, voluntary and community childcare. Parents would then be left with less, rather than more, choice, the alliance chief executive, Steve Alexander, said.The government says the new standardised approach, which will see literacy and numeracy teaching at age three, was intended to strengthen children’s development in all areas. A Department for Education spokesman said the element of the framework for under-threes, all of which will be open to consultation in the new year, was meant to be flexible.It would be based on “common-sense ways of observing and encouraging a young child’s development through play, songs, reading stories, drawing etc taking into account their age and stage of development”. Practitioners will then be able to “observe a child’s development and discuss this with parents”.There was no plan to test those aged under three and the curriculum for three and four-year-olds would change little. The bill will also impose a duty on local authorities to ensure working parents have access to local childcare. But there were concerns expressed by childcare campaigners that, because there is still no guaranteed right to childcare, some parents could miss out, particularly where authorities claim they lack the cash to back up the new duty. The Local Government Association claims £200m extra is needed.A national curriculum for babiesBy Sarah Womack and Liz Lightfoot(Filed: Daily Telegraph, 09/11/2005)Every baby attending a day nursery or who is in the care of a childminder will be taught a new national curriculum devised by Whitehall, it was announced yesterday.Childminders and nurseries will be under a legal duty to teach the Early Years Foundation Stage to children “from birth” until the age of three.The four stages of babies’development, according to the Whitehall curriculum [detail]Inspectors from Ofsted will check that the children are developing in four “distinct curriculum headings”. This will include becoming “competent learners”, for which they will be expected to have mastered such skills as comparing, categorising and recognising symbols and marks.It is the first time that the Government has prescribed what children should learn under the age of three, when they enter the Foundation Stage of learning which lasts until the end of their first year at school.Teachers and parents expressed alarm at the regulation of child development. One group called the new curriculum “absolute madness”.The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said: “We are in danger of taking away children’s childhood when they leave the maternity ward.”Margaret Morrissey, its spokesman, said: “From the minute you are born and your parents go back to work, as the Government has encouraged them to do, you are going to be ruled by the Department for Education.”The plan was announced by Beverley Hughes, the children’s minister, as the department published its Childcare Bill. She said it would provide “a coherent framework that defines progression for young children from nought to five”.The curriculum had been drawn up after research showed that education at an early age helped children develop faster socially and intellectually, she said.”We are not talking about sitting very young children in chairs and making them learn numbers and letters where that is inappropriate.”The framework will have the same compulsory force as the national curriculum, which lays down what children learn at school.Miss Hughes said that young children’s learning deserved “parity” with that at primary and secondary level but denied that this would be at the expense of play.The department said the curriculum would be based on the four stages of development contained in Birth to Three Matters, an advisory document published two years ago which nurseries and child minders are not required to follow.”It contains commonsense ways to observe a young child’s development, not saying that babies should learn maths,” a spokesman said. “It is just good practice to say that nurseries should be observant to how the children are forming words and make sure that they are developing as they should.”The curriculum will divide a baby’s development into four broad areas: heads up, lookers and communicators; sitters, standers and explorers; movers, shakers and players; and walkers, talkers and pretenders.There will be four aspects, each containing a check list of components: a strong child, a skilful communicator, a competent learner and a healthy child.Competent learners must be able to make patterns, compare, categorise and clasify. They should be able to imitate, play imaginatively with all the senses, make their own symbols and marks and recognise that others might use them differently.The guidance on which the curriculum will be based says: “Creativity, imagination and representation allow children to share their thoughts, feelings, understanding and identities with others, using drawings, words, movement, music, dance and imaginative play.”Inspectors will want to see if pupils are meeting the four components of “a healthy child”, including being able to express “joy, sadness, frustration and fear, leading to the development of strategies to cope with new, challenging or stressful situations”.The Professional Association of Nursery Nurses said the new curriculum, which aims to integrate child care and education, must be flexible.Under the Childcare Bill, local authorities will also have a legal duty to ensure that there is enough child care in the private, voluntary and maintained sector to meet the needs of working parents, particularly low-income families.However, councils will not receive any more than the present £600 million.Toddlers need play, not gym(Filed: Daily Telegraph, 07/11/2005)Are exercise classes aimed at young children doing more harm than good, asks Lucie HoeAmong the most fashionable of gym classes are those that aim to get babies fit before they can walk. As the country’s population of overweight children swells, well-meaning parents are flocking to baby yoga and swimming, mini-aerobics and “toddlercise” classes where tots as young as one day old can start getting into shape.Focus on fun, not ‘exercise’But are they really beneficial in the fight against childhood obesity? Many experts think not and suggest some of the classes may even be harmful to the growing bones and joints of young bodies.Baby fitness proponents say getting infants involved in exercise can set them up for a life of good health and improve motor skills and parent-child bonding. With one in five children in Britain now overweight or obese, and with unhealthy diets and a lack of exercise being blamed, starting a fitness regimen as young as possible sounds like a good idea.But while such classes may be fun, do they have any real physical benefit? Not according to Professor Eric Small, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) committee on sports medicine and fitness. “Very young children aren’t capable of the sustained exercise needed to improve cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility,” he says. “Fitness is an adult concept.”What most concerns experts is that children’s skeletons simply aren’t equipped to cope with the sometimes demanding forms of exercise in infant classes.”Young bodies aren’t capable of the sustained activity required to improve cardiovascular health, strength and flexibility,” Prof Small says, adding that “the fragility of a child’s bones can set them up for injury” when they are forced into unnatural positions.Louise Sutton, principal lecturer in health and exercise science at Leeds Metropolitan University, adds that “normal play is enough to get kids’ bodies strong. They should move in an uninhibited way. Subjecting them to additional stress in classes like yoga or aerobics could cause uneven growth rates and anatomical imbalances which may affect their posture and growth.”Swimming classes for infants are popular and may seem like a safe and sensible option for parents concerned about water safety.However, in a special report by the AAP, Prof Small and his colleagues recommend that parents don’t enrol children under the age of four for swimming and aquatic lessons.Prof Small says: “Generally, children aren’t ready, developmentally, for swimming lessons until after their fourth birthday, and toddlers are limited by their physical capacity in the water.”However, plenty of studies show that children who are active from a young age maintain similar patterns throughout adulthood.If classes are not such a good idea, how can parents instil the physical activity habit from day one? One of the best and easiest forms of mother-baby exercise is walking.”Mother-and-baby exercise classes have varying age requirements for infants. But newborns can be taken outside for a walk as soon as they come home from the hospital,” says Prof Small.Before you step outside to start exercising with your baby, remember that climate control is extremely important during the baby’s first three months.”Babies can get cold pretty easily, but can’t verbalise their feelings,” he says.Prof Jane Clark, head of the University of Maryland’s department of kinesiology, who has carried out research into getting children more active, says: “When your child is just an infant, you can still encourage physical movement.”Take time to rock your baby in your arms and, when he is older, encourage him to crawl through a living room obstacle course. Just make activity enjoyable and encourage them to play using all the major muscle groups.” When dealing with older children, “forget the word exercise,” says Prof Clark.”Focus on fun instead. Rather than asking, ‘Want to go and exercise?’, try something like, ‘Want to go outside and kick the ball around?'” she says.Sutton agrees. “There is no need for formalised activity for pre-school age children,” she says. “The normal demands of play and moderate activity are plenty.”Above all else, try to become a good role model, Prof Clark says. “If a mother and father both exercise, compared with those who don’t, their children are six times more likely to exercise,” she says.”If one parent exercises, their child is three times more likely to be active.”

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