I have come to the conclusion that my son W is a whole-language reader. This is very new for me, since I, myself learned to read using mainly phonics - as did my girls. K learned to read by 4 and has always been a voracious reader - she preferred only Newberry Award winners all through grammar school. J learned to read at almost-3, was into picture books at 4, and chapter books by 5. Although I blame school for killing her love of reading, she is still an excellent reader. They learned mostly on their own with educational tv, CD Roms, electronic games, and a great supply of books. I am used to the phonics approach that leads to the whole language approach. W does better with it the other way around.
I started researching whole-language learning and it's tricky. Since this method is based on mainly memorizing what words look like in their entirety instead of sounding them out in pieces, it's taking him a long time to learn to read well. He wants to read and wants my help. I am slowly changing my approach to helping him. I think that's why he likes the Writing Words and Sight Words books so much. He gets to write out entire words over and over instead of focusing on individual sounds. A main way to foster this type of learning is to keep reading to him. I figure it'll help to see the words as I read them. I remember the games he used to initiate when we read together. I would pick a word like "what" or "plant" and he would find it as many times as he could throughout the story. One day he read the word "Tommy" so easily because he saw it was made of most of the letters in "mommy". I have to keep reminding myself of these things.
Schools here in NYC are phonics-based (as far as I can remember). W would probably have been labeled and put into a slow-learner pullout group. That's so great for a child's self-esteem, isn't it? I probably would not even have realized that he just needs a different approach to learning and would have certainly gone along with what the school recommended. Since he's home with me, I can give him 1-on-1 attention, understand his learning style, and keep his self-esteem intact.
Once I realized how he learns best, things around here are changing. W has been reading and writing so much more. He does at least 4-6 pages of words in his workbooks, reads repetitive-word books (like Dick and Jane) to me, and has started writing letters to his friends and lists of things he wants or to help me with grocery shopping. I can see he is more "into" it now. Mother Goose rhymes are great for this. He already knows many of them and can read along with book we have. Books on tape are great, too. The key for him is linking what the word sounds like the what the word looks like. I'm getting it.
Not to say that phonics is non-existant for him. I think letter sounds and blends can sometimes give him a kick-start on what the word is. Surprisingly, he's not just decoding words, he's got full comprehension with this method as well. It's so interesting for me to see this. I have always been such a phonics advocate and could never understand how any child could learn with whole-language. Life loves throwing some irony my way as if to say to stop being so closed minded about things. My mind has truly become wide open to anything, lol.