Aimless toddlers?

Submitted by Matthew on 23 April, 2013 - 8:35

Elizabeth Truss, Tory Childcare Minster, says toddlers in nurseries “run around aimlessly”. She says they should be in a more structured environment, learning the skills they will need when they get to “big school” (i.e. reception class).

Who is this woman? Has she ever met a toddler and what is she going on about?

Elizabeth Truss employs a nanny to look after her two children. Possibly the only context she’s ever met a toddler is one in which they are fed, watered, shiny from the bath, and ready for bed. Many toddlers do indeed like to run around. But the activity is not pointless. Give them enough stimulating stuff to bump into, and you can relabel this activity experimental learning. Truss is either a fool or she is putting a Tory line.

It is not clear whether Truss is talking about Foundation level nursery education (free for all pre-school children between three and a half and rising five), or day-care for younger children (real toddlers). It seems the Tories would like to emulate some things about the French pre-school École Maternelle system of highly structured nursery education, usually attached to primary schools, though not the fact that places are free from the age of two years upwards.

In those schools the staff are graduates and there is a high child to staff ratio. Already the Tories have given the green light to higher ratios in nurseries.

In the UK a lot of pre-school education is already attached to schools and can be similar to the French system. In private nurseries the set-up may be different.

But what is so dispiriting about this story is the emphasis on regimenting very young children — demanding they sit up straight, don’t fidget, listen attentively etc. when they are not developmentally ready to do so. Such “skills” are only really necessary if one teacher has to look after 20-plus children.

So it’s another cost-cutting exercise, where toddlers pay the price. How low can they go?