Q&A: How are you using the McGuffey Readers?

Q: You mentioned that you are using the McGuffey Readers. Can you tell me more about how you are using them?

A: Before I can really answer this well, let me start with how I came to using them and why. 

We started with the McGuffey Readers – the second reader actually – at the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year and are now about 3/4 the way through the second reader.  I had heard of them before but at that time wasn’t interested in using any type of reader, much less one that was over a 100 years old.

But each child is different and my investigation into using public domain materials, stemming from my research into the Robinson Curriculum and then subsequently into the Accelerated Achievement (aka A-squared) and Old Fashioned Education curriculums, was enough for me to give it a try with my 9 year old.

Right now I’m only using the McGuffey Readers with my 9 year old, though my 11 year old has asked to do readings from the 2nd reader and I’m considering having her do some reading from the 3rd  reader next year or over the summer.  

I started teaching my son to read later than most, having learned a hard lesson with my oldest.  We waited until he was asking to learn to read, until he showed that he was ready.  When he was 7 ½, we started with the “at” family and the first couple Bob Books. When he proved that he was indeed ready developmentally to learn to read, we progressed with Reading Reflex.

He went from nothing to a strong 2nd grade reading level in less than a year. And now at 9 ½, two years after he started learning to read, he is reading 4th and 5th grade reading level books with no problem at all.

BUT…since most of his personal reading and assigned reading is to his self, I wanted to know for certain that he was understanding what he was reading and not just skipping over words he didn’t know or filling in his own versions.  So, this past year, part of his reading has been to read aloud to me from the McGuffey Reader.

So, to answer the real question, how am I using the McGuffey Readers…
As with anything I use, I decided to just start with it and see how it works out, knowing that I could always scrap it if it wasn’t going to work. But it really surprised me.  My son likes the stories – they appeal to him and his sense of justice and right and wrong. 

Each story is only a page or two long, with new vocabulary listed at the beginning of the story. We don’t use the vocabulary section. Instead, as we run across words that he doesn’t know (like “foe”) or have changed over time (like “gay”), I ask him what he thinks they mean or clarify the meaning for him.  This actually has been a bonus, as we’ve been able to talk about different words and how they might fall in or out of fashion over the years and how language may change.

We keep the reading light. Sometimes he’ll want to re-read a story he has read before, and that’s okay as long as he reads a new story as well. Sometimes, he’ll struggle with the pacing of a story or poem, so we’ll read it once and then maybe I’ll read it to give him an idea of how the pacing should sound, but then we’ll put it away and read it again on another day.

Primarily, when he’s reading, I’m listening for:

Is he really reading the words on the page?
I try to catch when he guesses at a word, or fills a word  in based on what he thinks it is going to say. I’m also listening for when he changes words with another word with a like meaning (he has the tendency to do this when he is reading ahead silently.) (

Is he reading quickly just to get through it, or reading for the benefit of others?
I’m not tolerating reading just to read it fast and get it done.  He needs to read for the benefit of sharing the story with others, so they can enjoy while they are listening to him read it.  So we work on pacing and inflection.

We talk about using punctuation as clues for “taking a breath”, reading with inflection, enunciating, and projecting his voice. 

Are there articulation issues we need to deal with?
My son (actually both of them) needed speech therapy. And so I’m also listening for articulation errors, where he might be getting lazy and that affects the ability for the listener (me) to understand the words he is saying.  Recently, it became evident that he needed to work on the “th” sound again; and we identified it through these reading aloud sessions.

Does he understand/comprehend what he is reading?
There’s no use in reading if he doesn’t understand what he is reading. And so, periodically, especially on the poetry or sentences he struggles with, I’ll ask him what it means. And then I’ll share what I think it means. Again, this is really low key, not coming across as a test, but as a discussion of the literature and the use of words.

Could I use other readers? Probably. But the McGuffey Readers are free for download from Project Gutenberg. Or in my case, the version I’m using (1879 edition) came with my copy of the Robinson Curriculum.  We just print it out and 3 hole punch it and keep it in a binder. No big deal.  

I really like the values projected in the edition of the McGuffey readers we’re using. The stories in the 2nd reader relate to interactions between children and their parents, their friends, birds, and the natural world.  And do so in a way that promotes courage, bravery, honesty, and caring for others. There’s two stories that are my 9 year old’s favorites that I think talk to this point well:

Henry, the Bootblack
This is a  brief story about an impoverished boy, who wanted to help his mother and little sister. One day he was rewarded with his honesty with $1, which he used to buy the equipment he needed to shine boots. The story tells how he captured customer with his politeness, and how he helped his family by working during the day shining boots and went to school at night.

In course of the story we have been able to talk about how much $1 would have been at the time, what a bootblack boy was, and how even though he was helping his family, he still went to school.  The story talks about the choice the boy made, to be honest and how he was rewarded for that honesty. Values I want enforced.

The Kingbird
This is a quick little story about the Kingbird and why it is named the Kingbird. It tells of how it uses cunning and quickness to protect the nest from much larger birds.  Not only is this a science lesson, and talks about birds, which my son loves, but it also appeals to his desire to protect those he cares about and talks to the warrior within him.

At this point I’m planning to continue with the McGuffey Readers, for my 9 year old and for the others when they are ready – at least as long as I find value in using them.

If you are considering them, know that, like with all books, there are differences between editions. And I suggest reading a little about those differences to see if matters to you.  Again I’m using the 1879 version that comes with the Robinson Curriculum, but others are available.  Free versions are available online through Project Gutenberg and other public domain repositories.

If you don’t want to print out your own versions, you can also buy them used or new, they often come as a boxed set but can be purchased individually as well. Again, watch for what version it might be (if that matters to you).  Amazon.com carries a couple different sets.  HSTreasures carries the 1879 version as does Mcguffeyreaders.com and a few other sources online.

Also use the McGuffey Readers? Please share your experiences!

This entry was posted in Curriculum, Free Resources, Homeschool FAQs, On Homeschooling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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