"My child can count up to 20 and write her name and she's only three."

Does this sound familiar? But for all you competitive parents, there are many more important lessons to be learned in the early years.

Just as children learn to crawl before they can walk, children need to develop many other skills before progressing to the three Rs and formal education.

When your child goes to nursery or playgroup, the emphasis will be on developing a broad range of underpinning skills.

It is for this reason that the early years curriculum your child will follow at nursery is called the foundation stage.

On a practical level, before children can learn to read and write, they need to develop other skills: from the manual dexterity needed to control a crayon to communication skills (how can you read without a vocabulary?)and, crucially, the ability to concentrate.

Small children have a short concentration span and need stimulation and variety. (Come to that, so do I). So, what's the best way to prepare a three or four-year-old for nursery?

First, trust your instincts and your memories of what was best in your own childhood.

Remember bedtime stories; singing, counting, songs on granny's knee, helping to cook dinner or (joy of joys) baking your own cakes, playing with water or sand, painting on large pieces of paper with big pots of paint.

My favourite was growing cornflowers in my own little garden. What's the common element? They are all highly-enjoyable learning experiences.

That, alone, is vital if you want your child to succeed. Learning should be fun and fulfilling.

Also,very often,it is a social process (if not in the activity,in the your child feedback from the proud adult), involving working and playing with others, be that the parent, grandparent or other children.

Finally, it should instill a sense of achievement and sense of self-worth in your child.

Otherwise, forget it and sadly all too many children do by the time they reach adolescence. But not yours, if you help them to develop at the appropriate ate.