Being with younger children every day fills my heart with warm moments
Both of my kids have learned to read early. I haven't pushed it, but went along with their natural curiosity. Teaching has not been hard. When they are two or so, and fascinated with the alphabet, I also teach them the sounds that the letter makes. This saves both of us time and effort. It is as simple as sitting down and cuddling with an alphabet book and saying "This is F....F says 'fuh'." So both get learned, and as they get older and start recognizing sight words, they start putting it together. They start asking questions, so the simple board books are brought back out and we work on sounding out words.
My actual preference would be to wait until they are seven or eight. I believe it is better for their eyes, and that there is nothing in their lives that is critically important for them to read at six that will damage them if they wait until they are seven or eight.
However, the reverse is not true. Children are constantly inundated with information from billboards, t.v. (yes, they do use words on t.v., and some that aren't pleasant to explain), and graffiti (also, generally not pleasant), etc.
Chris learned to read not long after his 3rd birthday. When he was 2 1/2, he was saying "what does this word say?" He understood the concept of a word. That is one of the first signs of reading readiness....so we worked on it a little. Not much. Then after his 3rd birthday, he picked up a Bob Book and started reading it. I still remember the look on my sister's face, a 2nd grade teacher, when he opened up the Winnie the Pooh board book she gave him for Christmas and started reading it. "I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen it." She couldn't say he memorized it. He'd never seen the book before.
But for all of that, there definitely was a lot of information out there that he wasn't ready for...billboards would provoke curous questions "Mommy, what's a gentleman's club?" He also hated driving in cars. The road noise bothered him, and I had to admit, it was louder in the back seat...but we'd be not five minutes from home, and he'd see the sign "Pasadena, Next 9 Exits" and start crying "I can't handle nine more exits!!!" Developmentally, he could not process the idea that it wasn't nine exits until we got home. We were getting off at the first one.
Maggie is almost five, and her process has been much more gradual, but this week, it has really taken off. She is looking at books, reading signs, etc. It really is amazing (just in time for the library reading program). I can tell that there is a logic difference, too, and it has changed the dynamic between her and her brother. Two weeks ago, whenever Chris requested "can I go outside and play?" I had to force him to take his sister with him.
Now, all of a sudden, she seems to have more of a function in life, from his perspective. I also have been amazed at the number of board games they are playing together. Monopoly, Connect 4, Bird Bingo, (and she's even beat him a few times)He's the one reading to her for the reading program (I think he figured out that the minutes count for both of them). After months of these little battles, she finally seems useful to him again...and not in a babyish, amusing way.