Elaine Bennett, a leading early years specialist, rebuked current government policy for ‘damaging our children’ and claimed, ‘Our children’s right to play is under attack.’
Describing the apparent eagerness of signatories, she said, ‘One week to get to 10,000 – it’s not surprised me at all, because teachers and parents have had enough.
‘The sky’s the limit.’
Ms Bennett, who is an author, teacher and trainer, said she has already written to the Petitions Committee to ask for a meeting with early years minister Sam Gyimah.
Because the number of signatures has passed the 10,000 mark, she is entitled to a response from the Government. At 100,000 the subject will be considered for parliamentary debate.
The petition, entitled Extend the Early Years Foundation Stage from "birth to 5" to "birth to 7", states, ‘The news is full of concerns over children's mental health, their illiteracy, their behaviour, and teachers leaving in droves.
‘The EYFS curriculum which applies from birth to five, should be extended to birth to 7 to enable schools to focus on the essential skills, knowledge and attitudes for life!’
Ms Bennett said her ideas drew on similar evidence to that in the ‘Cambridge review’ published in 2009 just before the election of the coalition, which recommended an EYFS extension to age six.
She added, ‘All the research is telling us how children learn best but this Government is ignoring that research at the expense of children’s wellbeing.
‘EYFS means more child-centred learning. In a lot of schools it has become very formal, it’s almost as if people think children leave Reception and they will become totally different learners.
‘Of course literacy and maths are important, but they should be part of a broad balanced curriculum and embedded, so children build learning for life not just learning lots of technical jargon.’
As an alternative to testing she suggested, ‘Assessment should be by teacher judgements.'
The campaign echoes calls in Scotland by author and former head teacher Sue Palmer, to establish a kindergarten stage to age seven, as reported in Nursery World earlier this month.
Ms Bennett said she was inspired to highlight the need for what she admitted would be a ‘massive change’ and ‘culture shift’, but she added, ‘I believe it will have better academic results in the long term and children will want to learn.’
While it was not directly Government policy to erode EYFS, KS1 pressures were being felt in Reception classes, she said.
She continued, ‘What’s happening more and more is that there’s a lot of pressure on Reception teachers to make Reception formal, because of the expectation of Key Stage 1.
‘A lot of sitting at tables and working in books and doing worksheets - not everywhere but in some places that’s happening.
‘Teachers in Reception are being told, "Get ready for key stage one" and being asked to work in a totally anti EYFS way by head teachers and some local authorities.
‘They’re in Reception but they're working like in year one or two. The time they get to learn and think gets cut up with "now literacy" "now maths". It’s not best practice. It takes a very strong teacher to say, “No I’m not doing that.”’
‘Children’s right to play is is really under attack at the moment and it’s very sad.’
Ms Bennett quipped that business leaders like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs were ‘risk takers’ who were not stifled. ‘They try new things, they’re not working out what a subordinate clause is.’
She added: 'It’s time to stand together and reclaim our children’s childhood. Otherwise, in years to come we’re going to pay the price.'