The Great Saltmine and Hifwip program back when Layla was 3 years old. She already knew her letters, so I started working with her on the Penny Primer portion of this reading program. For a year, I was frustrated. She made very slow progress and was not very interested. By the time she was well over the age of four, and after a summer break of no reading work, I started again. This time she was easily comprehending the phonic sounds and memorizing them. She made very fast work of the Penny Primer and we quickly moved on in the phonics program. What a difference a year made! I should have taken a hint from my frustration and her lack of progress and interest and backed off. But, you live and learn.
Layla is now a very fluent reader. I am amazed at how well she reads, with very little work or credit on my part. We just walk through each phonics section and stay with that section until she can remember most of the sounds and can easily read all of the words. Now Layla's face can always be found in a book. Many times I will send her upstairs to get something and she doesn't come back because she stops by the book shelf and gets lost in reading.
Julius just turned four and I am taking a more relaxed approach with him. Layla early on learned her alphabet on her own by the age of two. This past fall, at 3 1/2 Julius didn't know his alphabet. But with some work this fall and winter, he now knows his letters and is beginning to write his letters (capital and lowercase) and his numbers. I haven't decided yet when to start the Penny Primer with him. I may start this spring and see how he does. If it doesn't go well, then I will wait until next fall to begin to work on phonics with him.
I love The Great Saltmine and Hifwip because it is a vertical phonics program. Rather than teaching a child just the main phonic sound of a letter first, vertical phonics teaches the child all of the phonic sounds for each letter or letter grouping. That way you don't have to come back and teach the child other phonic sounds later. I think this difference helped Layla become an excellent reader in such a short period of time. Now, even if you have no plans of homeschooling, I would recommend looking into the program. It was actually designed to teach kids to read before they were in school full-time to ensure a certain level of reading confidence before being in a classroom setting all day.
I was very overwhelmed when I first received the program. I had no idea how or where to begin, but the program includes a DVD that walks you through all the steps of the program. Once I watched that I felt so much better and more confident about using it to teach my kids. Best of all, if you really get confused or stumble on a problem, the creator of the program is available by phone! That is unheard of nowadays! This has been our first main purchase of homeschooling material, and I have been very pleased. It was worth the small investment and I look forward to teaching Julius, Gunnar and the new baby how to read in the future.