Every two-year-old attending nursery is to undergo a progress check to identify any learning problems, the Government is set to announce.
The move is intended to engage parents more with their children's development and ensure any special needs are picked up at an early age.
It will be accompanied by a dramatic reduction in the number of pre-school learning goals - from 69 to 17 - and a new focus on three main areas seen as the foundation for basic literacy skills.
The reforms implement the central recommendations of a government-commissioned review which found that the so-called "nappy curriculum" was currently too bureaucratic and repetitive.
The Department for Education said it agreed with the commission - led by Dame Clare Tickell - and that the new slimmed-down system would provide more scope to ensure children developed to their potential.
The new progress reports will be required from providers of early years learning such as nurseries or childminders. The streamlined curriculum will focus on personal, social and emotional development, physical development, and communication and language.
Assessments for five-year-olds will remain.
Children's Minister Sarah Teather said: "If we are to tackle the attainment gap and raise life chances, we must start in the earliest years. We know experiences in these first years have the biggest impact on how a child's brain develops. It's when children grasp the fundamental skills needed to do well at school and develop as happy, confident individuals.
"That's why I am today setting out a much slimmer, easier to understand early years curriculum. It will give professionals more freedom in how they work with children, and will involve parents more in their child's learning.
"Fundamentally, it will make sure we are preparing our children for the challenges of school and beyond. This isn't just about making sure they can hold a pencil, children need the resilience, confidence and personal skills to be able to learn."