This brought to mind an incident my daughter had when she was in kindergarten at The American School in Vienna, Austria. My husband and I constantly exposed our kids to books (reading aloud frequently), played word games, sang songs, and our kids just soaked it up. So, by the time our daughter was in kindergarten, she was beginning to read on her own. She had a large lexicon of sight words (words she could recognize and 'read' just because they were so familiar), and she was beginning to sound words out as she read as well.
She loved her kindergarten teacher, and the teacher loved her. So I was shocked when one day, her teacher came over to me and asked me to stop teaching my daughter to read because the other children weren't ready, and the school could not handle a student who was so ahead of her peers. For one, I wasn't actually teaching my daughter, I was exposing and enriching her world. She was just absorbing it all and moving forward. Second, I don't believe in holding back.
Granted, this was Austria and not the U.S., with its own distinct culture and educational practices, but I was shocked nevertheless. Which brings me to responding to my friend's question.
It is a parent's role to enrich their child's skills and affinities. This should be done through play, reading, singing, and exploring the world around them. Parents should not hover and the only time they should "drill" their kids is when helping them study for tests/quizzes in school or when homeschooling. And even then, the most effective homeschooling is when integrating text books with the real-life experiences and activities.
When it comes to prereaders, it is a parent's role to expose their children to words, to different types of literature and prose, to rhymes and songs and to give them opportunities to use and incorporate language. Here are some things you can do:
1) When going for walks, point out words on signs. Words like "STOP" "STREET" and "EXIT" should become sight words and they will begin to recognize them in movie theaters, on road signs when driving, and when reading together with you.
2) When driving or waiting on line play word games. You can try to think of as many words as you can for the word "stop" or "blue". You can even make up nonsense words - laugh and have some fun. Play 'Mad Lib" games but with young children you can define 'nouns' as names of things, 'verbs' as action words, etc.
3) When reading aloud
- Depart the text. Talk about some neat rhymes, talk about funny sounding words. If you come to words in bubbles, shout them out (bringing attention to them). If your child is really familiar with the story, act out the dialogue.
- Read a lot of different types of books. Expose your child to different styles of writing, different types of books, magazines and different formats of printed entertainment.
In short: surround them with words and language and encourage them to use the words and language around them.
But, to stop a child from learning and growing? Never. I am a teacher and would never hold back a child because it is easier to keep a class of uniform learners. Is there even such a thing?