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The Independant
Thursday, 28 February 2008

'Three-year-olds develop at a very different pace from government documents' At Educare Small School, a tiny independent primary school in Kingston upon Thames, play is firmly on the agenda for its 15 three- and four-year-olds. The school was founded 11 years ago by head Elizabeth Steinthal, who believes in small-scale, holistic-based education.
"I have no problem at all with being given advice," she says, "but it's when it becomes statutory, and they are saying, 'A four-year-old will be like this or that' - then I have a problem. Three- and four-year-olds can develop at a very different pace from government documents.

"Our main aim in this kindergarten is to help them develop social and emotional skills. It is important to get these in place before anything else. "The children do work with letters and numbers, but there is no formal teaching, no recognising of words or trying to write sentences. And when they do start to show an interest, later on, it all falls into place very quickly. I've never known a child here not to be able to read. In fact, they are mostly ahead of where they should be on the curriculum."

Skeena Rathor, whose daughter Zahra, four, is at the kindergarten, says that every stage of life should be valued for what it is and not just seen as a preparation for the next stage. "At this age, teachers should be talking with them and being creative. If it is going to be about ticking boxes, it will be bound to take things in a different direction because children know instantly when an adult is trying to steer play in a particular direction. It has a completely different feel for that child."

Steinthal adds: "They say the framework is all about balance, but you don't need balance at this stage - you just don't need literacy and numeracy." She hopes that, come September, the school will find a way to fit its kindergarten practices into the new statutory framework. She has no intention of letting the framework shape the practice. HW

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