Maria Montessori observed that some children write before they read. After reading this, I began to observe the same thing with children. Some children, not all, love making lists and menus, writing rules for games and creating their own money, copying sentences from books, and they do this long before they begin to read.
The process of learning to read can be a predictable one, a bit like a child learning to walk. First crawling, then standing, taking stumbling steps then running full out. Reading can be like that. You see her looking at letters, recognising bits of words here and there, sounding out short words, writing her name, realising that the sign over the door says Exit, reading three letter words, then short sentences and she's off! Ready for Harry Potter!
Occasionally, this is not the case. For a child learning to read in his second language, for a child who had many early ear infections, for a child who does not learn phonetically or for a child who was pushed before he was ready, the path to reading might not be a smooth or predictable one. If a child is pushed before he is ready to read, he may retreat a bit. He may decide that reading is difficult or something he is not capable of grasping. Then is the time to back off. Read tons of great stories to him, but don't insist that he read to you or sound out words and letters. Given time, the desire will return and the confidence will build and he will start reading. If a child does not learn phonetically it is no good to continue teaching phonics. It is like trying to make a fish climb a tree. The child will fail. A dad came to me one year asking to borrow a phonics manual. He never understood phonics and thought, for his child's sake he should try to 'get it'. As far as I know, he still does not understand phonetic reading. This man didn't learn to read until he was 11. This man is a barrister in London.
I think it would be best if we thought of learning to read as a skill that children will acquire in their own time, the same way that they learn to walk. If we did, we would enjoy their efforts without much comment, we wouldn't try to get them reading before they were ready. When a child is learning to walk we don't insist that she bend her knees in a certain way or run by a certain age. If a child is still crawling at 13 months there's no need to panic. We recognise that children learn to walk at different ages, anywhere from 10 months to 16 months would not be considered outside the norm. No one would be overly concerned if an active child was a 'late' walker, preferring to crawl until 14 or 15 months.
Children generally learn to read at any point between the age of 4 and 9. Studies have shown that 'late' readers are actually good readers, often taking greater pleasure in reading then their friends who started reading at 4. A child who has had a setback of some sort, an illness, the early loss of a parent, a move, a child learning to read in a second language or a child dealing with emotional upheaval, may take longer to learn to read. Allow for this. Don't push, as this just creates barriers. At Small Acres, there are some children who, in other settings, would be labeled 'reluctant readers', 'late readers', 'dyslexic'. I see these children as children who have been busy learning loads of other amazing things and have not yet found the time to learn to read, some are children who are bilingual, some are children who were just not ready at the typical age considered to be the 'right' age in this country. Studies have shown that one of the most important factors in a child becoming a good reader (and writer, for that matter) is having good role models. Seeing the adults in her life enjoying reading, having great stories read aloud, having access to books and loads of them, going to the library, snuggling up for a story on a rainy day; these are the activities and experiences that lead to reading and writing.
When a child says "I want to learn to read", look for the best way for THAT child to learn to read. It may be a series of short phonics lessons (Toe By Toe, may be a decent approach for an older, 'reluctant' reader who wants to learn) it may be silly books that are read over and over 'til you just can't stand it. It may be just back off and wait until they ask for Shakespeare. Whatever you do, don't push them past their comfort level. This can cause a sense of failure and a feeling of being unable to learn.
Enjoy reading to your child, go to the library, read some great books yourself, this is the way to help your child learn to read.