Perhaps it is the word, education, that causes problems with those who persist in wilfully misunderstanding what happens in playgroups, nurseries and pre-schools.

There is no doubt that, for some people including the writer of a recent article in one of the heavier Sunday papers "education" is a dirty word, a catch-all for everything that is unimaginative, backward-looking and constricting of young minds.

But education literally means "drawing out" in other words, encouraging young minds to develop and flower, enabling all children to develop the skills they need for life, while nurturing the special talents they have as individuals.

And that is what happens in the settings where three and four-years olds learn by doing , exploring and experimenting under skilled supervision.

So what's the problem?

Well, according to the article, under-fives are being pushed into learning to read and write before they have the maturity or the skills to do so.

Small children, so it goes, are thrust into formal education before they have the fine motor skills, listening skills and concentration required and they are losing out.

Highly unlikely , as settings offering early education follow the early education curriculum, based on the belief that children learn actively through play.

This is well documented and deeply felt by early education professionals, from the academics down to the most recent recruit with an NVQ in early education.

What's more, even a cursory look at an Ofsted early education report reveals the emphasis is on children developing skills, knowledge and experience through play.

And, contrary to the views expressed by that newspaper critic, this includes sand and water, finger-painting, cutting and pasting, dressing up all activities most parents believe in but often do not have the time to initiate at home.

Play is a genuine starting point for learning but there are at least two types of play, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

Take free play, where children are completely in control.

It's exhilarating and empowering but it is also short-lived and, because children have limited experience to draw on role-playing, in particular often peters out.

The other type of play is guided by an adult acting as a facilitator.

This will often include term-long projects to encourage children to develop a range of skills while playing, experimenting and enjoying themselves.

They don't know they're developing fine motor skills and why should they?

Nor do they realise that, doing a project on, say, McDonald's, they are developing socially and learning to concentrate and to count, while playing cashiers and so on.

One of the points urged long and hard by early education specialists is that children cannot start formal education until they are ripe for it.

They need to develop as human beings and we, as professionals, must encourage their enthusiasm, energy and curiosity and channel it so they gain the skills and confidence their lives literally depend on.