As much as I firmly believe phonics lay foundation for reading fluency, I am not a strict phonics only supporter. Successful readers use a variety of strategies to decode unfamiliar words, but in order to read fluently, we must eventually learn to recognise most words by sight. Whatever method you learned to read by, I am willing to bet you are reading this post by sight reading now. I did originally plan to teach my son using phonics only. The problem is he had other ideas, We had bought a set of Oxford readers when my son was 5, and he sat down and taught himself how to read them. Seeing how much he enjoyed these books, and delighted that he was reading for pleasure, I bought further sets and soon discovered Oxford Project X, designed to encourage boys to read. They did just that and my son quickly moved through the various levels, reaching level 16 at age six, and then moving on to Horrid Henry, Young Adult and now at age seven he prefers graphic novels. I did continue teaching phonics. We are currently using phonics sets to teach spelling, but the simple fact is, some children learn better through whole language immersion, others through phonics, and while my son benefited from phonics instruction, whole language helped him develop into an avid reader.
Whole Language instruction takes many shapes and forms. At one extreme lies the Doman method, which relies primarily on flash cards and has been used to teach even infants to read. There is a some controversy with this though, and I tend to agree with detractors who feel that pushing reading before a child has reached reading readiness can do more harm than good. At the other extreme is a very natural method of reading instruction often popular with unschoolers, although some might resent the word instruction here. This method involves immersing a child in quality literature, frequently reading out loud to them and tracing your finger underneath the words as you read. In many cases children will memorise favourite books and soon come to recognise certain words in these books and this has been the case with both of my sons ( ages 3 & 7).
Once a child has started to pick out a few words, it is easy enough to start with very simple books in which a child can easily memorise the text, such as Where's Spot. In addition to this, many whole language advocates write words of common objects on cards and tape them up around the house. A photo album with familiar pictures and the words labelled beneath each one is also a brilliant resource for this, as are several key word reading schemes.
My son starting reading with the Oxford Reading Tree books. We bought these simply because we were on holiday and desperate for extra story books, and they also happen to have a fun picture search in each book, but level one starts with only a few words which my son was easily able to teach himself, using the pictures as clues. Each progressive level uses many of the same words but adds a few new words. My son found this method of learning to read fun, as opposed to phonics which was work. After going through the books in the ORT set, we moved on to Oxford Project X which uses the same principle of starting with a few simple words and adding a couple of new ones with each new title. We found Oxford Project X especially useful because the stories really did encourage my son to read. As important as it is for a child to learn to read - I feel it is just as important for them to like to read, and Oxford Project X is just the series to show boys that reading is fun and exciting.
If teaching a child to read through whole language, I would recommend: Oxford Reading Tree, Oxford Project X, Brand New Readers ( very simple booklets which will be memorised in no time) and Ladybird's Key Word Reading Scheme. Many simple story books will also be very useful, such as the Spot Books, Even Usborne's "That's Not My....." series. The best resource in whole language reading though is yourself. The more time you can devote to reading your child's favourite stories, the more books your child will be able to memorise, and then follow along picking out familiar words.
Below are links to reviews of some of the books we used:
BRAND NEW READERS:
LADYBIRD KEY WORD SCHEME - LET'S PLAY
OXFORD READING TREE - I CAN TRICK A TIGER
OXFORD PROJECT X - ZAC AND ZEE
OXFORD PROJECT X - THE NOISY DAY
OXFORD PROJECT X - THE SILVER BOX
OXFORD PROJECT X - THE BALLERINA OF DOOM
OXFORD PROJECT X - BEHIND THE SCENES