The early period in children’s lives prior to formal schooling, commonly referred to as the ‘early years’, has come under increasing scrutiny as a time when children’s development and learning can be supported through the provision of care and education services. This chapter aims to explore a range of historical, political and theoretical perspectives of the purpose of early years provisions and their relevance to young children’s play and learning relationships. It focuses on England as a context in which government intervention through curriculum guidance impacts upon children’s provisions for play, but reflects a broader international debate about what it means to get ready for school. Challenges to play-based learning as the dominant pedagogy in early years settings originate with a standards and accountability movement of the latter half of the twenty-first century. The chapter considers the implications of these challenges to play-based pedagogies for young children’s experiences, learning and relationships.