September is fast approaching and, for many parents, that means your three or four-year-old may be having his or her first taste of what some call pre-school and others early education.

For working parents, this could mean your child continuing at the day nursery they are used to but with the added benefit that five half-day sessions a week will be subsidised.

For some children, though, this will be a very new experience.

For all children, whether or not they are coming new to nursery or playgroup, it is an opportunity to have a really good start in life and education, as early education represents a hugely enjoyable preparation for formal learning.

And preparation is the key word. Forget the image from the last century (or even the 19th Century) of small children sitting at desks, copying from the blackboard.

We now know that three and four-year-olds learn best by doing through play.

That can mean free play, where they follow their own choices essential if children are to grow into independent, confident and social adults.

But it also means structured play, guided by childcare practitioners who are trained to help them develop across broad learning areas, each with its own Early Learning Goal.

These are measurable levels of achievement in communication, numeracy, knowledge and understanding of the world, physical development, imagination and social and emotional skills.

So, all the time, almost imperceptibly, your child will be developing key skills which must be mastered before they start school and these are acquired through play, stories, songs and books by doing.

In this way, four-year-olds develop manual dexterity, concentration, language skills, a grasp of number and quantity and so on.

Hardly surprising, then, that we call this the foundation stage.

It is a firm foundation on which a love of learning and a richer life is built.

But the children know nothing of education.

They just enjoy developing new skills and the rising self esteem this brings.

Nor will any of this scream education to parents.

What you see is children involved in often noisy and messy play.

Guiding it all, though, is the keyworker.

She or he assumes a special role in the care or education of your child.

They will greet your child, give them a hug when they fall over and, crucially, monitor their progress.

They are your main contact.

It is hardly surprising most children love their first taste of education or positive, active learning what with the wide range of toys, access to outdoor play child get ready to and rich and exciting new experiences.

But the transition from home is still a major one.

If your child is starting from scratch, help them settle in by:

Ensuring they have basic skills, like putting on their coat and gloves
Reading stories in preparation
Staying as long as your child wants on the first day
Not sneaking off but saying goodbye when you leave
Allowing a settling-in period.