Frankly, I think the importance of play is under-valued these days. Play is the work of children; it has huge benefits socially, emotionally, and intellectually. The give-and-take of play helps them interact and get along with peers; learn to stifle or control their impulses; make decisions, brainstorm solutions, and make connections between cause and effect; and learn executive function skills. In other words, it helps them to think critically and logically, setting the path for academic learning, as well. And by path, I don't just mean that figuratively, but literally, as in laying down pathways in the brain.
Should you let him play more? I don't know how much he's playing now, but more can never hurt. Especially, do all you can to encourage imaginative play. Put a big box (from a washer, refrigerator, anything really big) in the middle of the play area. Crawl inside with him and pretend it's a bus, a rocket ship, a boat. Hopefully, before you know it, he (and his friends) will be dragging all sorts of objects inside to pretend they are the other passengers/ astronauts/ sailors, and he's the driver/ captain/ boss.
Should you be teaching him how to read? Do you need to worry that he doesn't know numbers or letters? Imaginative play can help with that, too. With a few simple props -- a pad of paper and crayon -- he can play restaurant and leave a bill for the customers, or play grocery and make signs telling customers how much food costs.
But remember this, too: Should your home be sprinkled with books? Absolutely. Should you read a story book to him at least once a day? For sure. As parents, should you present a model of adults who read books or magazines on a regular basis? Yes, yes, yes.
Just the act of reading to him every day, and placing a value on reading as a source of pleasure as well as information will give him critical pre-literacy skills. Reach Out and Read, a national organization in the US, thinks the early exposure to books is so important, that it distributes free books to young patients through participating pediatricians. Thistab on the Reach Out and Read website offers a great list of books, by age.
* Happy Valentine's Day to all of you, my favorite readers -- parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, hangers-on, and wanna-be's in all those categories!
I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.