The other day I was reminded about the fear I felt when challenged with the daunting task of teaching my son to read. While I have a teaching degree, it was for grades 4-8, so early education was not really covered. I was terrified. When I was speaking with a new homeschooler who said, "I was so scared of teaching her to read, but I got Hooked on Phonics and it is no big deal," I laughed, because I remember being right there just a year before.
Since then, a lot has changed. At the end of his kindergarten year, my son was reading on at least a first grade level, probably closer to second. Having just turned 6, this was right on track. This year, my four year-old is using the same program as my son- Hooked on Phonics- and is doing beautifully. Since she is already a year ahead, we are taking it slowly and she is so excited to learn reading! And I am excited about teaching her.
I can't speak of other reading programs, but I can tell you that it's very important to select one that works for you and your child. When I look at other phonics programs, they don't seem very appealing to me, but I know that's only because I have used one method that makes a lot of sense, and anything else seems foreign. Yes, it seems like phonics would be phonics and they all would work the same. But they don't. Phonics programs teach letter sounds in different orders, which makes it hard to leave one program for another once you are into it. But the most important thing is to USE phonics, regardless of the program you select. In the 80's and 90's, many schools ditched their phonics programs in favor of "whole language." This concept didn't last long, as reading abilities in first graders quickly diminished. I believe some schools still use whole language but I'm not sure how many are using phonics in conjunction with it.
Many homeschooling parents have said, "my child will learn to read when she's ready; we're not pushing her." Some parents are perfectly happy when their child learns to read at age 9. I have a problem with that. My son learned to read at age 5. Between ages 5 and 6, he has learned a vast amount of information because of the simple fact that he can read. The ability to read also offers a sense of independence. He can now learn what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants because he has a tool that doesn't require anyone else's help. I am teaching a girl who is seven years old. She entered school a year late, didn't learn to read in the public school kindergarten program, and her ability to learn right now is severely limited. I can't imagine a child not knowing how to read after age seven! Of course this is due to the fact that I refuse to sit and spoon feed information to a child all day. The school system was set up this way; my school is not. Of course, we do activities that don't require reading. But as it stands, I have to read every single piece of instruction to this seven year-old, while my six year-old does it all on his own. Outside of the frustration I feel about this, imagine how she feels!
While I certainly don't think all kids are ready to read at age four or even five, if your child is ready, you need to take this seriously. Missing the window could affect future learning, as the brain needs stimulation when it is ready for it and not when it is convenient for us. Children with September, October, and November birthdays who are put on the school's schedule for learning are being let down when parents don't take the initiative at home to teach what their child is ready for. And even if your child doesn't have to wait an extra year before starting school, do you really think he or she is learning to read effectively in a school setting? I can tell you this. My son ended kindergarten at home with the ability to read as well as most first graders. Our little seven year old friend came out of public school kindergarten and still couldn't read. These are just two kids, but a pretty clear picture of what happens more often than not. (And without going into this little girl's history, it makes a huge difference what parents do with their children when they're home, whether they are home all day or just after school).