Here's a beautiful moment my 3 year old was having when we were taking a leisurely walk together with none of his siblings.
We were walking at his pace, looking at what he wanted to look at, and stopping wherever he wanted to stop.
And he stopped at this sign.
And ran his fingers over each of the letters and said, "You say it." He knew they were letters, and he knew that put together they would say a word. How did he know that?! A natural learning lifestyle continues to amaze and delight me!
So I said each letter for him, then told him what the whole sign said.
Then he was satisfied and we walked on a bit.
I would certainly do this for an older child too, if they asked me. There wouldn't be any "You know that letter - you try ..." and then sounding out the word waiting for the child to put it together. He asked me, and I told him.
I often pause a bit if a child asks me something, just in case they want to figure it out themselves - sometimes a child will ask something, but if you know the child well enough, you will begin to understand when they really need the answer immediately, if the lack of a clear and honest answer would anger/frustrate/disappoint them (ALWAYS PLEASE BE HONEST!!), or when it would be best to leave a small space for them to do some figuring out.
We don't need to measure moments like this, compartmentalize how much learning happened, and in what area the learning was stored in their brain.
Moments like these are beautiful interludes in their lives that add precious pieces to their storehouse of knowledge. SO much more effective than forced learning, because when a child's interest has been captured on it's own, there is sure to be a higher level of engagement and memory retention.