The McGuffey Readers are an amazing tool for any homeschooling family’s toolbox. Both of my kids learned how to read using the Primer and Pictorial Primer. This timeless series sold over 100 million copies during William H. McGuffey’s lifetime and continues to sell 10’s of thousands of copies per year. They can help your beginner reader or your advanced reader.
I believe the McGuffey Series (McGuffeys Eclectic Readers Series) are the best books for children just learning to read. They start with two letter words and slowly progress to 3 and 4 and eventually 5-letter words. The slow progression of the difficulty of the words helps with two things: fluency and progression.


The difference between these books and other books for young readers is that these stories have no difficult words thrown in. When my daughter was learning to read I made the mistake of letting her read a Strawberry Shortcake books. It was a 1st reader and sure a lot of the words were easy. But, on every page there was at least one word as long strawberry or shortcake. It interrupted the flow and made it not very fun. She came away disappointed and a little discouraged.

You’ll never run into with this with the primers because they don’t even have 5-letter words until the end of the first book. Reading fluently, no matter at what level, is essential for developing confidence and enjoyment in reading.


These readers slowly introduce new and slightly more difficult words.  Combining this technique with the repetition and no random, difficult words allows for steady progression. With these books you can be sure that your child is going to become a better reader with each lesson/story. When reading regular books, at some point you have to decide if your child is ready to move up to the next reading level, but with these books it happens naturally. McGuffey’s advice is to use these books as their instructional level and let them read books that are below that level for enjoyment.

The set that is available for sale on Amazon contains the Primer, Pictorial Primer, Progressive Speller, First Reader, Second Reader, Third Reader, and Fourth Reader. All of the books are broken up into lessons.  You can use them or not depending on whether you choose to use the books as a curriculum or not.


The Primer has 18 lessons and is 59 pages long. As the first book in the series it is designed to be used when first teaching a beginner reader. It starts off with a series of very easy 3-letter words (man, top, rat, etc.), each with a picture of the word. Lesson 4 is sentences with only 2-letter words and each lesson progresses slowly and methodically with increasingly more difficult words. By the end of the Primer the lessons contain some 5-letter words, but still mostly contain 3 and 2-letter words.

Pictorial Primer

The Pictorial Primer starts over with the 2-letter words moves forward quickly into the 3-letters. It progresses similarly to the Primer and has a list of new words at the beginning of each lesson. I had my kids practice reading the words from the list, which helped them read the story more fluently.

Progressive Speller

This is a spelling book like no other. The book starts with an analysis of the English alphabet. It is not comprehensive (for that you’ll want Harvey’s Revised English Grammar), but it is a nice overview for young students. The next and largest section of this book is the spelling words. They are organized in lists and the lists are sorted according to various similarities in the words. For example, vowel sounds, words with silent e in the last syllable, and words with 5 syllables accented on the fourth. There is also a vowel sound guide on each page. There are also several sections at the end of the book that list things like quotations from other languages that are frequently used in English (en masse, ipso facto, etc.) and words with the same pronunciation but different spelling and meaning (air, ere, and heir).

If you’re starting with very young children you can just use the word lists given in the Primers, but once they move into this book they will never need another spelling book.

First and Second Readers

The First and Second Readers each contain a series of short stories written by William H. McGuffey. They have the same slow, methodical progression as the primers and each story has list of new words from the story. By the time a child is done with the Second Reader they’ll be reading fluently on a second or third grade level.   The biggest difference between the First and Second Reader is that in the Second Reader, McGuffey introduces questions at the end of each story. According to McGuffey these are to be used as a guide in engaging your child in a discussion about the topic they just read.

Third and Fourth Readers

These last two readers contain “selections of prose and poetry from the best American and English writers.” The lessons also begin with a rule for reading. Other than that they follow the same model as the First and Second Readers with the questions and spelling/vocabulary words with each lesson.

How to Use The Readers

You can use this set of books in two ways: as an addition to your reading or as a complete curriculum for reading, grammar, spelling and writing. If you decide to use the series as a curriculum you’ll want to purchase the Parent-Teacher Guide and possibly the Phonics Made Plain Wall Chart and Flashcards.

Parent Teacher Guide for Original McGuffey Readers
Phonics Made Plain Wall Chart and Flashcards

Original vs. Revised

The series we use is the original McGuffey series. There was a revised version published in 1879. The major differences between these two versions are that the revised series has two extra books (levels 5 and6), William McGuffey did not write the revised version, and the revised version is secularized and the references to God, the Bible and salvation etc. are significantly toned down.

You can buy the original series here.

Or the revised series here.

You can even download a digital version of the revised series here.

Check out my list of reading helps for beginning readers.        

And if you haven’t already- click here to get my free ebook: Teach your Child to Read.

And don’t forget to leave a comment and  let me know what you think.           


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge