Phonics is the word for what most of us remember the learning process to be like: You learn the sounds that each letter makes, then slowly string them together into longer and longer words until you're creating whole sentences. By bringing those letters and sounds together from children's infancy, you create powerful connections in their minds between the sound and the picture.
But learning simply by rote repetition has been debunked pretty thoroughly over the past few decades. Because reading and writing are acts of communication, they involve all the parts of our brains: left, right, intellectual, emotional, intuition and memory. It's not enough to approach writing like codebreaking, because when we write -- just as when we speak -- we're sharing parts of ourselves.
That's why it's so important to bring reading into everyday life. Reading shouldn't be an activity that means sitting inside, bored and forced: It should be an exciting adventure. And for kids who aren't naturally interested in sitting still or reading page after page, that means finding a connection between what they care about and what they're reading.
Imaginative children, for example, will learn about reading much more quickly if allowed to write the books and stories themselves -- first with you taking dictation, and later by illustrating and writing their own scribbled tales. Likewise, a kid with particular interests -- dinosaurs, sports, art or detectives -- can find a personal connection with stories about those things.