School nurseries are being encouraged to accept children as young as two, under a Government childcare drive.
But one stay-at-home mum says Whitehall is “again ignoring the relationship that mothers have with very young children”.
The Government is introducing legislation to make it easier for school nurseries to take in children under three.
Liz Truss – an education minister – is writing to every council in England to suggest school nurseries increase their opening hours.
The Government has already begun a pilot programme giving 49 schools £10,000 each to investigate childcare for toddlers.
Free childcare places are currently available to 130,000 two-year-olds from poorer families, in a variety of settings, including with childminders.
Truss said: “Schools have excellent facilities.
“It is age appropriate, so what you are doing with two-year-olds in terms of singing, reading stories, playing with paint is very different from what you do with a seven-year-old.”
“If you have a really high quality school nursery, children who are behind can catch up with their peers by the time they start school”, she added.
The minister would like to see nurseries open during the whole working day, rather than 9am to 3pm as many are at present.
However, Laura Perrins, who campaigns for Mothers at Home Matter, criticised the idea of a whole day at nursery for toddlers.
“There is no evidence to say that this is going to benefit two-year-olds. It’s not going to improve cognitive outcomes for them, but it probably will have an emotional impact”, she said.
“It is putting more pressure to get mums back to work, probably too soon for them or their children.
“The Government is again ignoring the relationship that mothers have with very young children.”
The Pre-school Learning Alliance also criticised the Government’s moves, saying: “From our perspective there is very little talk of what’s right for the child in this – it’s just an attempt to get cheap childcare.”
Last month it was revealed that more than a third of working mothers would give up their jobs and stay at home to look after their children if they could afford it.