I sat down today to plan Oscar's first grade curriculum --- just the preliminary stages.
After many, many hours of drill and practice, mainly from lists of words I drew up, Oscar can recognize many different spellings for many different sounds and has developed a decoding strategy. I tried giving him sentences and little stories a long time ago, but he found them frustrating --- it was pretty obvious that he needed to be able to decode words reasonably rapidly before he could see through the text to the content. So, I abandoned the whole idea of "stories" and just did drill and one-word-at-a-time practice. I introduced sounds and spellings systematically and slowly, trying never to give him a word he couldn't decode by calling on the knowledge he had, and avoiding all "sight words." This seems to have worked really well for him.
Just last week I decided to try stories again. I chose the Bob Books for his very first readers. The first books are written at a level far below the level of the wordlists that Oscar is reading right now. Yesterday his wordlist was cutting, poked, bumped, ate, off, different, laugh, and the next one will be tried, size, July, might, use, count, pound, powers, wow. But the Bob Books he read this week included, for example:
Mac had a bag. The bag had a dog. Mac had a bag and a dog. Mag had a rag. Mac can tag Mag. Mac got the rag. Mac sat on the rag. Mag sat on the bag.
There's no difficulty there for him to read the words, not at all, though he still reads most of them drawn-out --- "Maaaaa... c.... Mac... had... a.... baaaag." I can practically watch his confidence grow on every page. He's just flown through them, and he has been begging me to sit and listen to him read more of them. Granted, this is partly because I promised him a sticker for each one --- but if he wasn't enjoying the work, he wouldn't do it for a paltry little sticker.
I'm hoping that once we've gone through them all, maybe repeated a few of them to help build fluency, he'll be ready to tackle readers and "real" books. And then, we can stop all this phonics business and simply start reading.