Best Way to Teach a child to Read
What's the best way to teach children to read? Do you teach them sight words, teach letters and sounds, or use different phonics learning methods? Teaching sight words is a rather poor and inadequate method of learning to read. In fact, the whole language method of learning produces poor readers, and can actually lead to reading difficulties. At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have phonemic awareness and phonics instructions, which have been proven to be far superior for helping kids learn to read.
The National Reading Panel had stated "teaching children to manipulate phonemes in words was highly effective under a variety of teaching conditions with a variety of learners across a range of grade and age levels and that teaching phonemic awareness to children significantly improves their reading more than instruction that lacks any attention to Phonemic Awareness." 
Phonemic Awareness instruction was selected for review by the NRP in their report because studies have identified phonemic awareness and letter knowledge as two of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read in their first 2 years of entering school. There is strong Scientific evidence to suggest that phonemic awareness instructions are an important part in helping children develop reading skills.
From my experience, having developed a complete reading program, and having helped thousands of other parents teach their children to read, I can say definitively that applying phonemic awareness teachings along with phonics instructions is the best combination for teaching a child to read. I have gone through this countless times - having taught all of my own children to read well before 3 years old, and having helped other parents and grandparents teach their children to read - these are young children of varying ages between 2 to 8 years old. I've had parents with kindergartners that were going to be held back because the child could not read, and after a summer of reading instructions with our program, the child excelled at reading. I've had parents with grade one children who could not read at grade level, and after completing our program, was able to read at or above their grade level. I've also had parents with 2 or 3 years olds, telling me how thrilled they are when their tiny toddler was reading, phonetically.
Because of the extensive experience we've had in teaching children to read, we can say that a combination of teaching phonemic awareness and phonics produces the best results.
What is Phonemic Awareness and Phonics?
I won't go into great details about phonemic awareness (PA) here as we have a few good articles about it here:
What is Phonemic Awareness - This is an article that explains exactly what phonemic awareness is, and why it is important in teaching a child to read.
Research on PA - This article summarized various interesting scientific research done on phonemic awareness.
Teaching PA Skills - This article discusses some of the fundamental differences between teaching children to read through phonics and phonemic awareness versus whole language methods.
A Simple Tip to Teaching Phonemic Awareness - A simple tip that you can easily use to help your child develop phonemic awareness.
3 Tips to teaching Children Reading - This page contains 3 very simple, but very important tips on teaching children reading.
Here's a short video showing our 2 year 11 months old daughter reading - demonstrating a clear grasp of letter sound relations and phonetic and decoding skills.
It really is through the development of PA in combination with synthetic phonics that makes it possible to teach very young children to read as seen here. There are various different phonics types and instruction methods, and the best method is systematic synthetic phonics. I won't discuss it here as that's an entire topic on its own, and we explore it in detail here.
In the National Reading Panel report, they also determined that the beneficial effects of phonemic awareness on reading lasts well beyond the period of training. The NRP analysis also showed that phonics instructions produces significant benefits for students from kindergarten through grade 6, and is also helpful for children with learning to read difficulties.
Children who are taught with phonics and phonemic awareness instructions are consistently able to decode, read, and spell, and even demonstrated significant improvement in their ability to comprehend text. Even older children who receive these similar teachings improved their ability to decode and spell. The NRP made a key statement saying that "conventional wisdom has suggested that kindergarten students might not be ready for phonics instruction, this assumption was not supported by the data. The effects of systematic early phonics instruction were significant and substantial in kindergarten and the 1st grade, indicating that systematic phonics programs should be implemented at those age and grade levels." I can take this a step further and say that it could be applied successfully with even 2 and 3 year old toddlers to successfully teach them to read, as we have demonstrated.
Indeed, the great benefits of PA training lasts well beyond the period of training - by the time our daughter was 4 years 2 months old, she had achieved a reading age of about 9 years and was reading at the 70th percentile of grade 3 level.
1. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.