If there is one subject that frightens potential home educators - it is literacy. How will you teach your child to read? What if you fail? These were questions that kept me awake at night when I was making the choice whether to home educate or send my child to school. We have been conditioned to believe that teaching a child to read is very complicated and requires specialised training. Nothing could be further from the truth. A child who grows up immersed in literature will learn to read, just as they learned to talk. You never worried about teaching your child to speak did you?
That said, I am a great supporter of phonics, not only for reading, but for spelling as well. I would suggest a good phonics programme as the single most important investment for home educators. My personal favourite is Hooked on Phonics which really does give you everything you need for three years of reading tuition which will bring your child up to a level of literacy that makes reading any other childrens books possible.
As much as I love phonics though, it is a long process between sounding out the first simple words like "cat" and "sat" and actually reading a good story. For this reason, we have used a mixed approach. I have taught my son using various phonics programmes and devoted quite a lot of time and money to it. Then I picked up a cheap set of Oxford Reading Tree books, and my son, age 5 , picked them up and taught himself to read them. We then found Oxford Project X and my son raced through the levels to get to the more exciting adventure stories before switching to Young Adult novels and graphic novels at age 7.
All children need to learn to sound out unfamiliar words, but we all reach a point where we read simply by sight as well. I do not believe anyone is reading this blog by sounding out each word. When it comes to the phonics vs whole language debate - I say use both! I think children will benefit from having several tools to decode new reading material - why limit them to only one? Additionally, different children learn best by diofferent methods. Schools swing from one fad to another, and each time parents protest when their child struggles, or rejoice when a new method helps their child. But what works for one child may not work for another. As a parent teaching your child to read - you have the luxury of choosing whatever works best for your own child - not a fictional average child.