A new national curriculum for all under-5s will cause untold damage to the development of young children, a powerful lobby of academics says today. The highly prescriptive regime for pre-school children, which is due to become law next year, has been introduced by stealth, they say. It will induce needless anxiety and dent children’s enthusiasm for learning, according to the group of experts in childhood development. They say that the severity of the compulsory measures, which will apply to an estimated 25,000 nurseries across the private and state sectors, has gone virtually unnoticed and risks an array of educational and behavioural problems for the country’s children. A letter signed by the group, and seen by The Times, is highly critical of the Government’s drive to make children aged 3 and 4 write simple sentences using punctuation, interpret phonic methods to read complex words and use mathematical ideas to solve practical problems. The group, including the leading child psychologists Richard House, Dorothy Rowe and Penelope Leach, and Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, are today launching a campaign called Open Eye to promote the message that babies and young children learn most naturally and effectively through free play, movement and imitation, rather than formal teaching. “An overly formal, academic and/or cognitively biased ‘curriculum’, however carefully camouflaged, distorts this learning experience,” they say.