I agree that play based learning is the way to go. The research doesn't lie, and I've seen it in action. Kids learn so much when engaging in play. The skills and lessons are irreplacable. But I also think that kids can gain valuable skills in other ways. Every child is different and what is developmentally appropriate for one may or may not be for another. We, as educators and parents, should stop assuming that we know what is best for all children without actually KNOWING those children.
Recently, I worked with my son (4 years old for those who don't know) on making Christmas gifts for his classmates and teachers. He decided that he wanted to make a card for each of his teachers. As he was designing it, he began phonetically spelling and writing their names.
This is not something I encouraged or discouraged in any way. In fact, I sat back and quietly watched him. He did a really good job and I was thoroughy impressed that he could do it so well! I truly had no idea he was capable of this. Since that day, he has wanted to do this so often! He takes out his notebook and just sounds out people's names to make "lists" like Santa Claus.
We do flash cards sometimes, we read books, and we talk....a lot. All of those things are good, but he would not be the well rounded, socially adjusted, and confident child that he is if it weren't for the high quality preschool program that he has attended for the past 3 years. I believe that attending preschool and daycare has really shaped him into who he is. I try my best to engage him and work with him as much as possible when we are home together having family time, but I know that many people have had a hand in raising him. I may be biased, but I think that we all have done a pretty good job.
My family and I have been so blessed to find caregivers/teachers who have gotten to know who our child is and what he is really and truly capable of. I know that they love him (even when he isn't acting very lovable) and want what is best for him. I hope we continue to be this lucky as he goes into Kindergarten and continues through his education.
The best advice I could give any parent of a young child is to find a preschool program that takes into account your child's special needs and abilities. Search for a mixture of play and academic skills. Don't be afraid to ask questions and advocate for your child's best interests as your search. This will make all the difference.