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Thursday, March 28, 2013

How You Can Teach Your Children Reading with the Revised McGuffey Readers

One room school-house

Someone on the CMOMB (Christian Moms of Many Blessings) message group recently asked me to give some examples of how a typical schedule or routine of someone using the revised McGuffey series could look like, so I thought I would post a few ideas here so that others might gain some insight from them as well.

Here is how we typically go about things:

Each child is assigned a McGuffey's Reader. I have chosen these, not only according to their reading abilities, but their writing, spelling and grammar abilities as well. Some of my children are actually reading a bit better than their McGuffey's level, but are not as confident when they are creating original sentences, etc.

I do not feel strange about starting a child in the middle of a reader, if that is his/her level.

Those that are at the middle of the second  reader level and above are required to read their lessons to themselves. Next, they are required to copy one paragraph from a prose lesson, and each lesson that includes poetry in its entirety (very often these will not include words lists, hence the extra work). They also must write the gist of the lesson in their own words (narration). When all of these tasks are completed, I might ask them to extend their lessons by creating a notebooking page suggested by a subject from their lesson, such as a biography of the author or a page on a bird mentioned in a poem, etc. (when they complete these assignments they are to hand their work to me and I then go over them for neatness, accuracy, interest, and correctness).

While these older children are working independently, I take time with the pre-readers. I try and keep their lessons as short and sweet as possible, and we usually sit on a couch together and snuggle a bit. This is precious time that I really enjoy.

I like to use the alphabets printed at the beginning of the Primer and the 1st reader for some general practice, just to get my youngster familiar with all of the symbols and what they are supposed to do for us. I might sing the "ABC Song" while I touch each letter, then hold her finger and help her to touch each letter while we sing together. I might continue this practice off-and-on for many days, or even weeks if the child is very immature.

A sample of my flashcards

I also love to introduce the sounds of each letter using phonics flash cards ( I have created my own set, which can be bought along with my entire guide for a minimal fee, downloaded and printed on card stock). At first I will use the whole deck and rely on the pictures to add clues as to the sound of each letter, but after a time I will cover up the pictures and concentrate on about four of these at a time until they are mastered.  Also during this time I might play "find it" with the different alphabet symbols on the first pages of the Primer.

Also, especially with those who are very new to reading, I will go over at least the first few lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This usually breaks them into the idea of "sounding out." But I have also learned over the years that total reliance on sounding out each and every word is not only cumbersome, but it is also unnatural. Most of us sound out some, anticipate (make a guess based on context) some, and memorize some of the words when we are beginning to read. I allow the use of all these three strategies when I am teaching a beginner.

This is how a typical week might look:
Day one--sing the alphabet song while pointing to the letters. Have the tiny one sing with me as I point.

Day two--repeat the same lesson--keep it short but fun.

Day three--the same, only this time ask if the tiny one would like to sing along.

Day four--this time we are both singing, and I am helping my child point to each word.

Repeat the same for a few more days.

Day ten or so--take out the phonics flash cards and lay them all on the floor in a "train" fashion. Walk along the train and sing the ABC song. Have the child pick up the cards as you sing the name.

Day 11--lay the cards out in a train, only this time call out the name of a letter and have the child pick it up and hand it to you.
Play this game for a few more days.
Day 13--Begin to use the flash cards to practice the sounds. You can use or omit the "ch," "sh" and "th" cards as you wish.
* If you are not well-acquainted with the sounds yourself, try watching this series of videos with your child from Super Simple Songs (there is one instance of a which on a broom, so be prepared to explain). 
Days 13 through 20--continue to use the flash cards each of these days. This may sound too simple, but the simple repetition of this exercise in its consistency will help the child more than drills that take an excessive amount of time and tend to burn you both out.
Of course, throughout this process have your child color with color crayons, paint, sculpt with play dough, cut with scissors, etc. so that she can build the skills necessary to eventually be able to write, which makes reading fun, too.

Here it may be good to insert a few lessons, I would try and go through at least until lesson 10, from the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons book.

* A word of caution here; not all children are automatically ready to take the next step. Some, especially boys, are just not capable of processing for reading yet. Don't push if you sense a lot of resistance, or if he/she does not seem to be able to remember sounds and words from one day to the next. The best remedy for this is not "therapy," but time! You can either give the child a break for a few months, or continue with your simple lessons until he/she is more mature (be careful not to leave a bitter taste in your child's mouth through prodding and scolding, or you might be postponing reading for longer than you realize--keep things light and happy and trust God).

If your child is eager and capable, then it is time to continue with the first lesson in the Primer.

First, take time to examine the book together. Discuss how it is bound, how old it is, how nice the pictures are, etc. Show her how the lessons are set up.

The first lesson is about a rat, which is a common creature which can be fascinating, distasteful or even scary to some children. Nevertheless, it is an easy word to understand. Take time to go over each of the sound presented. If you have used the "100 Lessons" book mentioned earlier, these sounds should not be foreign at all.

For the first days, I would read the letter sounds and the words while pointing to them in front of the child. At the second or third day, I would have the child read them after me. On about the fourth day, I would expect the child to be able to pick out the different sounds or words as I called them out.

I would also have a chalkboard or whiteboard handy, on which we could practice drawing rats and the child could watch me write the letters and the words as I said them. She should also be given the opportunity to practice these things on the board for herself. This is a method that was highly recommended in the McGuffey's teachers manuals I found on the Dollar Homeschool collection for the EES.

On the fourth day, I would have the child attempt to read the lesson for him/herself, with help, of course.

To keep things fresh, I would then move on to the next lesson, and proceed much in the same fashion as for the first lesson.

As the lessons progress, I would encourage lively discussions about the illustrations. Language arts is about communicating with language, and oral expression is one of the ways we communicate with each other. Instead of asking questions such as, "Do you like this picture," I would ask questions like, "What are the children in this picture doing?" and, "What do you think will happen next?"

Having the child create a notebooking page with their own drawing of the illustration in the book and a few letters underneath may be another way to reinforce what is being learned. 

* When you come to the review lesson V, you may notice some cursive writing at the bottom of the page. This is included because children were taught to write in cursive script from the very beginning. There are those that still swear by it, but we must keep in mind that most of the students of the past did not enter formal schooling until the ages of seven or eight. The find motor control necessary to produce script might be beyond most 5-7 year-old of today. However, it may be of great benefit to your child to teach him/her how to read simple script from the beginning, and if a child wanted to practice copying such writing you could definitely help him/her. 

It is very important to keep in mind that mastery is more important than progress. In other words, if a child is having difficulty with a lesson, it is better to take the time to master that lesson than to move on. Keeping the lessons short and sweet will help you to keep the frustration level down for both of you. Don't fall into the temptation to "drill 'til you drop"--this can prove disastrous! Don't let your pride or frustration get in the way of ministering to your child's heart.

I hope this helps, and I hope that it will give someone a leg-up. I have gleaned these ideas mostly from my own experience teaching 13 of my children to read so far (two more to go!).

If you are interested in finding out more, you can purchase my book, Homeschool Sanity, and/or go to my other blog, Large Family Mothering

The McGuffey readers and more can be found on DVD from Dollar Homeschool.


  1. Thanks! This was extremely helpful.

    1. To help make learning to read fun and engaging, our reading program includes lesson stories that are matched to the progress of your child's reading abilities.

      These lessons stories are part of the learning program, and comes with colorful illustrations to make learning reading fun and engaging for you and your child.

      These are the exact same stories and step-by-step lessons that we used to teach our own children to read!

      Find out here: Teach Your Child To Read?

      Best rgs

  2. It was just the question I wanted to ask you! Thank you very much.
    Patricia, Canada

  3. Thank you so much for this advice!

    I have a 3yo boy who has been eagerly learning his numbers and alphabet for the past few weeks. He's pretty much mastered those, so I'm starting to think about where to go next. We will be using McGuffey when we start "doing school" more formally, so I'm trying to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, he's eager to learn but understanding the concepts is a little beyond him at the moment (the connection between the letter he can identify and the sound it represents, for example)--he is only 3, after all.

    On a side note, I learned cursive first. My parents always write in cursive, so that was my understanding of what handwriting was, and I thought it was pretty. At 4, around the same time I learned to read, I taught myself how to write using the copywork exercises in the McG. Primer. Since my pretend "writing" was intended to mimic cursive (I'd draw corkscrew loops similar to the lowercase cursive E), learning cursive first was very doable. And since McGuffey was what I was using as a learning guide, the printed alphabet was too difficult to copy.

    However, learning cursive first does not work well if the child is going to go into the public school environment. When I entered kindergarten, I promptly got in trouble with the teacher for a) being literate already and b)writing wrong.

    1. Dear Harper,

      Interesting you should mention getting in trouble in Kindergarten--my daddy taught me how to read and my Mom taught me how to write, but in all caps, so the teacher scolded them about that! I loved your story about how you learned cursive as a tiny tot on your own--very precious!

  4. Extremely helpful! Thanks so much. We just purchased the Dollar Homeschool materials and are looking forward to using them this summer.

  5. Love this! =)
    I just love the McGuffey Readers and your flashcards are beautiful!!!

  6. Sherry,
    Sometimes I think you're reading my mind! I have been reading your blog -Large Family Mothering for about a year and your words and teachings have been such a blessing. I took my oldest son out of kindergarten this year and started homeschooling him. He's a fast learner and is easy to teach, however, my youngest boy, now 4, is not as interested in academics. I have had some trepidation in the thought of teaching him to read and this article of yours gives me a lot of encouragement. Thank you so much!

    1. I am glad you are encouraged, just keep in mind that your 4yo is still very tiny and give him lots of room to mature if he does not take to things immediately.

  7. Very interesting. I taught my oldest to read using the McGuffy's primer shortly before he turned 5. He wanted to learn. It took him six weeks and he was reading everything. Now he's eight and loves to read. He borrowed all of the Narnia books from the library and read them all in just a couple weeks earlier this year. The only drawback is he never learned many of the rules for reading, so often he will pronounce words phonetically, which then then aren't pronounced correctly. It's quite funny sounding sometimes. Now I use The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading and it helps get the rules for reading a little better. It's not a Christian book so there are discussions about some of the words used in the book and why we don't use them in our home. My second oldest has checked out the McGuffy's readers on her own to "play school" and try to teach her younger siblings to read. I had tried using them with her and it wasn't working. She has her own unique learning style.

    1. I am sure your son will begin to correct his own reading, too. I am still correcting some of mine! Always good to read of someone who has used the McG's successfully.

  8. Hey, I am following you now...or I should - but any way. I was wondering if you know of anyone who could use the workbooks that were designed to go with the McGuffey Readers? I have some I need to off load. Unfortunately, I won't be able to off load them until my things make it to VA from Poland. Let me know. You can find me at ladybugsabode at netzero dot com

  9. Thanks for the post. I use the McGuffey Primer with my 3 yr old son. We started learning letter (and letter combination) sounds at the beginning of the year and he really took to it, so then we moved to reading out of the primer. I need to remember what you said about mastery being more important than progress. I am one who feels more comfortable sticking to a schedule, but that is not always best for the child! I think I'll take some time this summer to go through the primer with him again as review and to master some of the words he struggled with before. Thanks for the encouragement!