Although I did not home school my children, I did make sure they all learned to read at home, at a very early age. All six of them were reading by the age of four, and all six of them are still readers. As a matter of fact, fully half the weight of our cross-country move was books - and that was after we sold around 100 books and donated several packing boxes (a mini-van full) to the Eugene Public Library.
Mark Shea, Chris, Lane Core are among many bloggers who have linked to and commented on this item about how the brain processes written English. Go ahead, click over and read it - it should only take you a moment. Anyhow, it got me to thinking about the differences in how we expect our children to acquire read/written language as opposed to heard/oral language.
I confess that I have a few handicaps in this discussion. One is that my grandmother was a first grade teacher and reading specialist. Another is that my sister is a speech and language therapist who worked her way through her masters degree by substitute teaching in special education classrooms. I guess the final handicap is that I have never ever taken any courses in pedagogy - I am considered expert in adult education and have been teaching adults for 20 plus years now - but have never even tried to formally teach children other than my own. So I have never learned 'ed-speak', and have probably been immunized against it.
When I was a child, I read several books about the treatment of brain-injured children using techniques that included patterning and multiple sensory input. Much of what I read made sense to me not only for brain-injured children but also for 'normal' children. When I had a baby of my own (and then several others!) I tried to apply much of what I had learned about normal brain development to help my children to reach the potential that God had put into them. For example - I breast fed them, and tried to be sure that they had sensory input from both the right and left side (most people hold babies on their left only - have you noticed?). I put them down on the floor on their tummies -where I could see them - for their waking time. I did not use a playpen other than as a big toybox or for very occasional naps. I used a front-pack, back-pack, or sling preferentially to a stroller.
I did not generally spoon feed them solid foods. I figured that if they were mature enough to eat solids, they could feed themselves, so I put the food in front of them and let them finger feed. Yes, it did get messy sometimes, but I've noticed that kids are washable. And I talked to the kids from infancy on - I gave them the names of objects in their environment, I would hand them a toy and say, "Here is your blue block", or whatever it was I was handing them. I would sit on the floor with them and help them put the shapes into the Shape-O ball and label the shapes (this is a triangle, see, it has 1,2,3 sides, now this is a star, good, hand me the circle). These are all language skills that I worry kids aren't getting between day care and TV.
How to Teach Your Baby to Read by Glenn Doman and Janet Doman is a book I read when my first child was a few months old. Doman was one of the proponents of patterning. His book talks about using environmental cues to teach your child a few basic things. One is the semantic concept that this visual cue (ink on paper) represents a spoken word AND a physical concept. Very young children are concrete thinkers. So they learn spoken language as words and phrases, and ideally should also learn written language the same way. Doman advocates putting big signs up all over the house that have labels for the words you want your child to learn. I never went that far, but what I did was to use visual cues already in our environment to get that concept through to the kids. My favorite reading cues were the paper grocery store bags with the name/logo of the store on it. I taught my kids to read while on the road and in the car. We started with grocery stores and gas stations, and moved on to the signs on the side of the L.A. freeways. Call box. Right lane must exit. Oh, - can you find me the word 'exit' in another place? What is that store? Mind you, this was being done to the 2 year olds.
I rarely read out loud to the children, but their dad did. And they memorized their books (as children do) but I would then write them stories and print them in large block print, using the words in their books, so they could get the idea that you can move the words around and they still make sense.
Much later, about the time they really got the concept of reading for meaning and pleasure, I would introduce the concept of phonics - the sounds made by letters and combinations of letters - so that they would then have a tool to learn unfamiliar words through reading them. Given the illogic of most of written English, I felt that phonics would be an advanced but necessary tool, especially given the need to deal with homophones and spelling.
It worked for us, six times over. It worked with my 2 'normal' children, my 2 severe ADHD children, my (probably) Asperger syndrome child, my 'quiet' ADD child. I dread to think what might have happened had I left teaching them reading to the schools and their fads and fashions. I only wish that I had been able to teach them math with the same facility.