I may be one of these “simply sight readers”. I supposedly taught myself to read at an alarmingly, insufferably young age. I have no memory of learning to read whatsoever, only the before and the after. We had a complete set of McGuffey readers lying around (thanks for mentioning these, brought back memories!) but by the time I was looking at them I could already sight read and thought the phonics stuff seemed somewhere between too obvious, too detailed, and too boring. The first word my parents noticed me identify was a pretty bizarre proper noun and not phonics-friendly at all.
My best guess is that since everyone in my house could read, and clearly enjoyed it, and did it all the time, I had plenty of readers to study in action and lots of motivation to watch them. Kind of like when you see a little crawling toddler staring at an older kid who’s running, totally stunned with jealousy... calculating, calculating... From before I could read, I remember asking “what does that say?” a lot. Making them read me sentences on demand. I’m a very fortunate person.
I’d be interested to know how network effects helped your six children and many siblings, on top of the dedicated instruction. Seeing you reading casually, knowing you enjoyed it, seeing their peers do it.
When trying to prove any technique, a teacher will grab one of these kids and show off how good they are and say it’s due to (insert any technique here).
I had one kid like this. As parents we patted ourselves on the back and thought we’d done something right.
My other kid is more typical or below typical and the style of learning makes a huge difference. Without that high articulation, they need a lot of work to understand phonics. Any system that leaves this out will only work for the kids who would’ve mastered reading anyway.
Not all children learn the same way. Some are more visual. Some are more abstract thinkers. Some want to rush ahead and learn more from context, and you have to push them to slow down and pay attention to what they are reading or they make serious mistakes. Some naturally take to phonics. Others don't. But I would argue that the ones who became excellent readers without any formal phonics training have an intrinsic understanding of phonics in the same way that some people have an intrinsic understanding of mathematics.
I would venture to bet that even though you were not taught phonics and taught yourself to read at an early age, that today you are perfectly capable of sounding out a word you have never seen before.
My little sister is the baby of the family out of 4 and is excellent at everything to do with words. My mom's favorite story is when my sister was very young (I think 3 or 4) asked if the woods near our house had brambles.
No one had ever said that word to her... she read it from a book and figured out what it was by herself.