Social skills 'key to good start at school'
Childcare workers are calling for more play in the early years after a survey suggested social rather than academic skills were key to school readiness.
The survey of more than 2,000 UK childcare workers, parents and teachers rated social skills and independence more highly than key academic skills.
Childcare group Pacey, which carried out the research, said formalising learning early could hamper success.
The government said "teacher-led" education benefited young children.
The "early years" is a government definition for all education up to the age of five, which includes pre-school and the "reception" year at primary school.
This stage is meant to prepare children for school, and the report by Pacey (the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) examined what it meant to be "school-ready".
As part of its research it asked 1,474 parents, 500 childcare professionals and 160 teachers what skills and qualities children needed to be ready for school.
Overall, 75% of those surveyed said the most important things were confidence to be in school without their parents and strong social skills to interact with children and adults.
Many also cited curiosity and the desire to learn as essential qualities.
The least important elements were found to be basic academic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. A total of 26% - and just 4% of the teachers surveyed - rated these as essential.
Pacey chief executive Liz Bayram said its research showed there was growing concern about the "schoolification" of the early years.
"Whilst no-one would deny that supporting all children to achieve their full potential is critical, Pacey is concerned that educational attainment is becoming the dominant force in early years," she said.
"Our research shows that teachers and childcare professionals are concerned that the importance of play and how it supports children to be confident, communicative, sociable and curious individuals is being lost."
"We want policymakers in England to look to other countries, not just Nordic countries, but closer to home in Wales, to see how a truly play-based approach not only supports children to achieve in their early years but throughout their school life and beyond."
Cathy Ranson, editor-in-chief of parenting site Netmums.com, said: "For parents the term 'school-ready' is not about how proficient their child's handwriting is or what stage reading book they are on.
"It's more about the practical aspects such as whether they can do up their own coat, open their lunchbox easily, or simply have the maturity to be able to listen and understand instructions from teaching staff."
Ministers have published a draft primary curriculum under which subjects such as fractions and computer programming would be taught in primary schools from the age of five.
Liz Truss, the minister responsible for childcare, has also said she wants to see more formal learning in the early years, and has praised the French system where there is a greater focus on teacher-led activities than in England.
The Department for Education said parents should have a "choice of different approaches" include "free-flow play and structured learning".
A spokeswoman added: "The simple fact is that a third of children start school without basic language and communication skills. In poorer areas, this rises to more than a half.
"Good quality early years education, which is teacher-led, has been shown to be beneficial for children, especially those from low income backgrounds."