I also think Zipworth's description of preschool is wonderful. I attended a wonderful preschool that definitely supported my ability to learn instead of TEACHING. One of the things about it that I appreciate most in retrospect is that the unstructured part of each session, between the structured activities at beginning and end, was called Work Time. We could work at drawing pictures, running, observing the gerbils, doing puzzles, dressing dolls--the work of children.
I was a precocious reader, too. I think my parents did a good job of encouraging my interest without pressuring me. One of my earliest clear memories is learning to read, when I was 3. I had figured out that the words on the page somehow told the adults what the story said, but it hadn't occurred to me that I could learn that ability (I thought it was one of those things that would show up when I became an adult, like breasts) until we were at a yard sale and I asked my dad about a particular book, and he said, "That's a book that's used to teach children to read." I then insisted on having this book. My dad told me the title, Tip
(which turned out to be the name of the dog featured in the book), and I guess the fact that it was just one word and the fact that I knew a book's title was printed on the cover combined so that I suddenly understood that the word on the cover of this book was the word Tip
. I was enthralled! I went thru the whole book, finding Tip
every time it appeared. I wouldn't let my parents read me the book; I insisted I was going to read it myself, and they humored me; every so often I would ask them to identify another word, and then I would go thru the book again with one more word I could read. I remember being so pleased to realize that the capital letter I when used all by itself was the word "I"! After a few days of being obsessed with this project, totally self-motivated, I could read that whole little book, and I just kept going from there. My parents claim (I don't remember this) that they came home from something once and found the babysitter struggling to respond to my demand that she spell "bicentennial" with the fridge magnets.
Not only did my parents not make a big deal of my learning to read, but they discouraged me from being stuck-up about it. Whenever I was acting superior to a kid who couldn't read, they would point out something the other kid could do that I couldn't, like jump rope. "Everyone is really good at something," they said. It was a much better attitude than that of one friend's mother, who seemed to take her daughter's athletic prowess for granted but was constantly raving about my reading. Not only did she say to her daughter, "Why don't you have Becca teach YOU to read?" but once she called me into the living room when they had guests and showed me off to the guests by having me read from her much-older daughter's textbook. (I didn't understand what I was reading, but I did my best to pronounce the words.) That hardly boosted my self-esteem, because although the adults were impressed, they were looking at me as if I were in a side-show! Ironically, what I'd been doing when my friend's mother had summoned me for this performance was reading a story to my friend, who loved it because her parents and siblings never read to her....
Anyway, I think it's important to provide resources for kids to explore their interests and to give them help when they ask for it ("What's this word?") but refrain from making a big deal out of it. Let them know you're proud of what they've learned, but don't suggest what they should tackle next; just let it come naturally. Sounds like all of you with precocious kids are doing well at that so far!