To say I'm not a fan of structured academics for young children would be an understatement (those "teach your baby to read" commercials make me throw up in my mouth a little).
But that doesn't mean I'm not in favor of learning. Following a child's lead and introducing basic concepts into favorite playtime activities can be a great way to to learn at home.
I have a 2 1/2 year old and right now it's all about trucks, diggers and dumpers in our house. Scooping up letters and transporting them all over the house is an easy, no-pressure way to introduce the alphabet. My son is currently very interested in the sounds and names for letters so we send his trucks out on special jobs to pick up an "F' or a "P".
Even just playing with letters (without naming them or practicing the sounds they make) is a good way to get very young kids interested in reading and writing. Let them use the letters however they like and they'll take an interest in the phonetics when they're ready.
Along with working with the alphabet, we also use truck play to introduce concepts such as numbers, colors, shapes and sizes. One of my son's favorite games to play right now is "recycling center"- inspired by a video we have at home explaining how materials are sorted at recycling centers.
We start with a big pile of various colored building blocks. Then we use a dump truck to take small loads of blocks over to the recycling center where they are reused to create new towers. This activity is great for practicing sorting. We talk about what color towers we're building, how many blocks are in each, which towers are narrow vs. wide, and etc.
These are only two examples but I hope they demonstrate that there are lots of ways you can incorporate learning into your playtime. Do you have any favorite activities that also teach your kiddo something? I'd love it if you'd share with us in the comments below.