A happy childhood is the best present parents can give a child, but that depends on more than any one or even two individuals.

As social animals, we thrive on the whole "busyness" of being, learning and sharing with others.

This is even more true of three to five-year-olds, who learn prodigiously from everything and everyone around them.

Imagine, then, a situation where children, regardless of background, benefit from a learning environment designed by childcare specialists to draw on a child's voracious appetite for new experiences.

Cloud cuckoo land? No, that is exactly what every three to four- year-old is entitled to: four terms of subsidised early education starting from the term in which he or she is four.

Most early years settings, whether they are open for two hours a week or 40, will follow the early education curriculum, but , for a subsidised place, which means five half-day sessions a week, your child must attend a nursery or playgroup that receives nursery grant funding and is, accordingly, Ofsted inspected.

Kites can provide a list of eligible settings. First, visit a few, take a good look around and ask for a copy of their latest Ofsted report.

Apart from clarifying the setting's various strengths and weaknesses, it describes what and how children learn from structured play.

It is important to remember that this is the foundation stage for all future learning.

You will find a vibrant, fun and noisy place where children are enjoying themselves and developing skills through play.

You are just as likely to see children sitting on the floor and putting up their hands to answer questions as you are to see others playing with sand or cutting and sticking with intense concentration.

And all of this, particularly developing the ability to concentrate, is what it is about. When your child starts early education, he or she will be reaching the early learning goals: Personal, social and emotional development; communication and literacy; numeracy; knowledge and understanding of the world; physical development and creative development.