S recently turned 4 and has expressed a growing wish to participate in more formal "school" activities, so I suppose it is time to start!
Thus far we have been playing and reading and doing artsy craftsy stuff, and cooking and exploring nature, but mostly just playing and enjoying being little. S has memorized several of her favorite books and likes to read them aloud to M (20 months) and knows all the letters by name from periodic viewings of Super Why and Sesame Street presumably (I haven't done any specific "alphabet learning" regimen other than singing it in the car and making the letter's sounds and so forth when she asks.) and asking to see her name printed often (and then copying the letters) so I do think that if she wants to learn to read formally that this is an appropriate time. I do not subscribe to the notion that making information available to children that enables them to learn reading or other skills before a certain age is necessarily pushing them or damaging per se.
Today we played with pattern blocks and picture boards which were a huge hit! S loved getting to sit together at the big table making shapes out of other shapes (how many green triangles does it take to make a trapezoid? And a hexagon? etc...) and placing the shapes on the wooden boards with pictures painted on them. I was surprised at how coordinated she was at placing the blocks on the slippery wood and how quickly she put everything together. I had dithered a bit about weather to buy the wooden set or the magnetic one since I have heard of many kids getting frustrated by the blocks slipping around and having to put the pictures away until they get a bit older.
The Three R's" by Ruth Beechick which I am enjoying. It talks about how play and basic phonics introduction can happen with little pressure and some practical ways to integrate sounding words out in the most efficient manner. IE, use "a" as the first vowel sound once the child knows a a few consonants and teach them the short "a" b/c it appears this way 70% of the time. Try games and books like "Cat in the Hat" for practicing blending these basic sounds. I am looking forward to trying some of these ideas with S. She already spots letter shapes several times per day and excitedly says "look, that's like an "S"! My names has an "S"! sssss, sssss, ssssnake!" for example, so I hope adding a single vowel sound that appears often will be a rewarding and motivating experience for her. I can imagine how excited she will be when she can start spotting words and reading them on her own.