McGuffey Readers…Not Just For Sight Reading

After seeing many homeschool parents struggle with understanding how to begin using McGuffey’s Readers I thought I would write a post detailing a little about how I have implemented them in our home. I myself did not feel very comfortable using them at first. I wanted to teach my child to read in the the gentle ways Miss Charlotte Mason wrote about in her book series ‘Home Education’ volume 1. I just could not wrap my head around how that should look after a child has got the sounds down for the letters and simpler words. After all I know sight reading is good to start but phonics is how we learn to read unfamiliar words as we grow in our reading abilities. I felt the McGuffey readers a good starting place to reinforce those first early sight word lessons.

We were cruising along beautifully until…we hit a page with rather a number of unfamiliar words that were just not sticking as sight words and I realized they really were phonics type words and not simple sight words. Actually most sight words are phonetic rather than rule breakers anyway. So I did what I always do when I am stumped, I made a list. I decided to see if my daughter could break down these words into syllables and once she could do that well I could teach her what an open or closed syllable was. From there I showed her how an open syllable produces a long vowel sound and a closed one produces a short vowel sound. I am not a great master of the English language but have learned this by using All About Spelling with my older child a few years ago. I prefer to apply those types of lessons using the readers versus AAS so in order to learn all the rules I think a book like The ABC’s And All Their Tricks would be a great help for those unaware of all the rules like myself.

We are progressing nicely now and while there is still some sticking points she now will attempt to sound things out until she gets the correct pronunciation. Here is how a typical lesson runs:

Using this copy my dd reads each lesson.

When she encounters an unknown word (I follow with my finger and hold at mispronounced or skipped words) I have her attempt to sound it out. If she is not making the proper sounds I tell her the phonemes and why the vowels (long or short) sound that way (closed or open syllables, silent e for example). If she still struggles I sound it out and have her repeat by this time she usually gets it but if not then I say it.


Spelling lessons we spell it, sound it out, say it and spell it again. I have not yet done visualized spelling but think she is ready so may begin next term.

I kept thinking this was all sight work and I must be missing something.

So I began putting the words from the lessons on the board and doing a bit of phonics work (not quite this small but my son rewrote it after we had done the lesson because he was doing a narration).

It seems to be working rather well.  I hope this helps some of you who have been struggling to see the ease of using McGuffey’s and thinking why on earth you’d want to do such a thing. If you have any thoughts I would love to hear them!

Written by A Modern Charlotte Mason mom