Teach Your Child to Read for FREE

Yes, that’s right. You can teach your child to read for free with this post. No gimmicks, not sign-ups required. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of this post and click to download your free reading program.

This is something I’ve been working on for the past few months, at least I was working on it until we made an interstate move and had to rearrange almost every part of my life…I’m sure there isn’t any reason to explain further…ahem…but here is a sort of “forward” to the program (which you can read again if you print out the entire pdf at the bottom of the page):

Do you have a child ready to climb the mountain of reading?

That’s what we call it around here; a mountain. For some of our children, especially, climbing that mountain has been quite the trek!

As a homeschooling mom of 15, I’ve had some who taught themselves to read by the age of six, and others who struggled until they were in their teens.

A few only needed a few phonics directions and they took off, but most had lesson after lesson after lesson and they still couldn’t get but a few inches off of the ground.

For years this puzzled me. What was the key to helping the strugglers take flight? Dyslexia is one of those words that is bantered about as a catch-all to these problems, but that all seemed like educational gobbledygook to me.

After all, I had some knowledge that gave me power over dyslexia: I knew the literacy rate of our country way before the word was ever used. During the times when there weren’t any public schools, when children scraped together what they could to learn with, our country enjoyed a 90% literacy rate!

You read that right. Somehow children learned to read and write with things like hornbooks, and oftentimes without proper pencil or pen.

Being a great fan of classic books and old-time learning materials, I came across a common theme:  Every child had to learn their “lessons.” This meant they were given certain rules to memorize so they could read and write with proper diction, grammar, and spelling.

Then I started noticing my own children. They stuttered and sputtered over simple sentences, but they easily rattled off ad slogans. Why? Because they heard these slogans repeated over, and over, and over again.

Yes, this was the “rote learning” I was taught to shy away from. True, there are times when rote learning can be stultifying, but there are other times when rote learning  is the ticket to more freedom. Kids who can’t read or write can’t experienced the delights of immersing themselves deeply into the areas of their interests.

And here is the key to the whole castle; while some children are fliers, others are climbers. Some take off into the great, blue yonder, others have to wear hiking boots and take the arduous way to the top.

To the Top is dedicated to the children who must carefully and systematically hike their way up the mountain of literacy. For these reading isn’t a breeze, it’s hard work.

Those who climb the big boys like Everest will tell you it takes training and planning. You have to pack your supplies carefully and make sure you have loads of energy-filled snacks for the trek.

You also need good equipment like ropes and pitons and carabiners.

Reading for climbers is just like that. Training is paramount. Sometimes it takes practicing three or more times a day. As I have told my children, each letter sound they master is like adding granola bars to their rucksacks. Each skill is like another foot added to their ropes.

However, before a child takes the first step up the mountain, he must grow into his hiking shoes!

We often hear the stories of kids learning to read at the ages of three or four and we feel concerned our child is behind. Most little ones are not ready to begin close book reading by those ages, but they can begin preparing for reading later on.

Here are some ways you can begin to prepare them:

First of all, talk, talk, talk with your child. Tell him stories about your childhood, ask him open-ended questions (the ones with answers that require more than “yes” or “no”).

Next, read aloud to him. Picture books are a great start, but don’t miss out on some of the most important ways to build reading readiness:

  • · Nursery rhymes
  • · Folk and fairy tales

These have been around for ages for a reason. Besides being interesting to little ears and hearts, they follow patterns that aid them in understanding the English language.

Rhymes introduce word families through the rhyming lines. They also help children associate rhythm with language.

Folk and fairly tales teach children about the narrative. After a number of these stories they intuitively understand there must be a beginning, middle, and end.

These important prerequisites give children an intimate relationship with the written word and help them anticipate words in sentences based on their familiarity with well-written language.

There is usually a point when your child will not be satisfied with being read to. They will want to try it out for themselves. This is when you will know your child is ready to take on the big climb to the top of Reading Mountain.

Remember, the main principle of To the Top is:

Over familiarity builds confidence.

This is so simple, but so important.

Children who struggle do not do well with just a few minutes a day. In order to obtain satisfactory results, they must be totally immersed in the first part of this program for a number of weeks.

When I started with this plan I took index cards and made decks like the ones I suggest here. I began showing them and repeating the sounds not once, but at least three times a day.

Then I went on to develop games with the cards so that  things would not become monotonous. We practiced and practiced and practiced together until they knew each deck backwards and forwards and upside-down. I did this by putting reading instruction as a priority for a number of weeks and months.

I took these decks of cards with us when we ran errands, at the park, while we were sitting and watching a movie and there was a commercial break.

Yes, there were groans, but I reminded of our goals and how we were helping ourselves by gaining skills and energy to make it to the top.

The enthusiasm I showed helped them over the hump and gave them a vision so that they were willing to continue.

Within six months they were able to read their lessons on their own, and a year later they were reading chapter books with little or no difficulty.

Amazing? It seemed so to me! But it truly isn’t, it’s simply the outcome of a systematic program based on centuries of proven methods.

You can take advantage of these proven methods by using the program created for you here.

On the following pages you will find lists and suggestions. These should give you enough material to keep you busy teaching your child(ren) basic reading for a number of months.

The lists have been turned into If you don’t want to print them out you can make them manually (this is what I did) by taking some index cards and writing on them with a permanent marker (a regular Sharpie works fine).

I found that my children had problems in specific areas, such as differentiating between the digraphs sh, ch, th, and ck. I also found they repeatedly mistook d for b.  This is why I made specific decks targeting these areas.

Another shaky spot was switching between the short and long vowel sounds (especially the sound differences between i and e). Hence the deck for these.

The alphabet deck is  very basic. I actually think it is best to begin with a deck that includes pictures representing the sounds (found easily at a dollar store or other inexpensive outlet).

The “say it slow, say it fast” (incorrect grammar, I know) exercises are an absolute MUST! The idea for these is not original, but found in the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. (I think this exercise is almost the only reason I put up with the silliness of 100 Easy Lessons, although the left-right arrow is also a great idea. The pages are also filled with a lot of extra text and other distracting information, which is another reason I abandoned this as a tool for my struggling readers.)

Part 2 is where we start reading actual words. The first set is made up of “training wheels” words that use specific letters and follow a specific pattern. This helps a child practice sounding out without making him remember too much else at the same time.

For instance, the first card is a list of short-voweled words that begin with d and end with either d or b. Familiarity with these sounds makes it easier to concentrate on saying each sound separately and then blending them together.

The second set is a collection of words which start with d and end with d or b, and the rest of the cards go along gradually introducing more sounds until the end of the alphabet is reached.

If your child is doing pretty well in sounding out, you can go faster and faster, or even skip a few and move on…

Next, we encounter cards which include words seen in everyday reading that follow similar patterns. These cards are bigger because they include a number of words on each. There is actually a rule for these that can be read aloud over and over again.

After this we come to the introduction of long vowel words. In keeping with the theme of simplification (which struggling readers need so much at first) we are keeping to only  three patterns.


A lot of struggling readers tend to be “guessers.” Oftentimes they are in a hurry to learn to read so they want to brush over important details and move on (which leads to more frustration and discouragement). This is why you MUST make them do the exercise with each and every word even though they may already be able to read the word without sounding out. In this way they will not make the repeated mistake of reading a word as short-voweled when it should be long, and vice-versa.

Part three is when we start introducing patterns of words which are not strictly phonetic but do follow certain patterns. These are helpful in reading actual sentences, and it is at this point that you will want to be introducing the lessons in the McGuffey’s Pictorial Primer or the free primer included in this program.

More on the Pictorial Primer:

There is an excellent pictorial primer written by William Holmes McGuffey and published by Mott Media. If you can get ahold of it, it would be a marvelous addition to this reading program.
However, I have found that many of us either don’t have the time or the extra finances (I know that some of us often struggle to find the extra money for homeschooling materials) to purchase the book. Some of us even live in other parts of the world where purchasing such a book is nearly impossible.

That’s why I sensed the Lord leading me to create a little primer so that children could try out all of the nifty principles they are learning.

Since the original McGuffey’s have been bought up and republished by Mott Media, I had to be a little creative.  The challenge was to find another reader that followed the same, gradual phonetic introductions while being in the public domain.

Finally, I came across The Union Primer. It was actually published around the same time as the McGuffey readers and was written with the same phonetic progression and emphasis.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough to be usable with just a few tweaks. The pictures were pretty awful and I wasn’t sure about the legalities of copying them directly from the Google Books scans to put into my version, but I believed this could be overcome.

All I needed do was search the Net for free vintage images. It ended up that The Graphics Fairy and Clip Art Etc. were the best sites for all of the graphics needed. I tried either to find a picture to fit the words and sentences or changed the words and sentences to fit the most suitable illustration I could find. I used a table in Microsoft Publisher and merged cells where needed to layout the lists and pictures so they fit nicely together.

As you are beginning to read the primer, make sure and do some copywork to go along with it. I have pages for this purpose on my blog, MomDelights.com, or you could purchase The Lesson Book Level One  from Amazon.com. You could even use a composition book or other primary-lined notebook (search on my blog for more ideas concerning this).

One of the best ways to go about this is to use a highlighter and write out the word first so the child can trace it directly on the paper with his pencil. I like to draw a little box next to each word and/or sentence so they can draw pictures to represent what they have written. Some of my most treasured keepsakes are the notebooks my children filled at this stage in their lives.

Please note:

Some of the words in the last deck are what we consider to be “sight words.” This generally means these words are not phonetically read, but they appear quite often in regular speech.

I have found that struggling readers tend to get these words all confused and jumbled up, especially if they look similar to each other, such as where and were or the and they.

If you find your children making these types of mistakes, simply take the word-cards that cause them confusion and drill them over, and over and over again (that’s over breakfast, over lunch, over dinner, and over bedtime).

Teach Your Child to Read for Free graphic


It is not at all wrong to review older cards even after they have been mastered. I have found that a lot of what makes these kids struggle is their lack of ability to memorize letter symbols and patterns. Just keep in mind how easy it is for these same kids to memorize ad slogans and keep at it until it sticks.

You will need some practice books. My recommendation is the Reading-Literature set by Margaret Treadwell and Harriette Free. These books are actually simplified versions of children’s folk tales, such as The Little Red Hen and Three Billy Goats Gruff. This is exciting to young children because 1), they are already familiar with the stories which makes them easier to read, and 2) they know they are actually reading a “real” story and not something  made up that is so dumb and boring they can hardly stand it. 

Thankfully, the Reading-Literature readers are easy to find, both in their free, digital format (via The Baldwin Project and Google Books, which can be read on the Google Books app on any smart phone) and as printed books (the primer through the third reader are available from Yesterday’s Classics).

Our girls have loved them!

Of course, you can also add in Dr. Seuss and books by Roald Dahl, in particular The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

So, here is the link to the reading instruction portion:

This is a graphic showing the cover and sample pages from the pdf for To the Top Free Phonics-based Reading Program

Here is the link to the primer (reader for practice) portion:

Graphic with cover and samples from the free primer for the To the Top free phonics-based reading program from MomDelights.com

Here is a video that will help explain further:

As you are enjoying the primer, whether McGuffey’s or ours, you may like to use some lesson sheets that you can find here for free, or you could purchase a book of these already printed and bound for you.

How to do a language arts lesson using The Lesson Book

31 thoughts on “Teach Your Child to Read for FREE”

  1. You’re back! Yay! Love your helpful posts. Was hoping everything was ok. A big move—that’s a lot of work. Hope you are all settled now.

    • Thank you, Leslie. It’s been a nice break, had time to focus on some other important things, but it’s also nice to be back 🙂

  2. I’m so excited about your new reading program! It came at the perfect time for me as I have an up-and-coming beginning reader this year. We’ve had great success with Gentle Grammar with my older child (we just finished book two and started book three) and all three of my kids love using The Lesson Books with Mcguffey’s. This will be my 6th and last child that I teach to read. I’ve used every approach imaginable and I can honestly say that your program WILL work. I love that you’ve included both the primer and flashcards and also complete instructions on how to use them. This saves so much time and effort. I’ve always found teaching reading to be a fun and memorable phase for both my children and myself and I can’t wait to use your program! Thanks again, Sherry!

    • I am so honored that you have chosen to use this program–prayers for enjoyably great success for you and your young reader–love that it will save you time and effort 🙂

        • Thank you so much for making this program! You put so much effort and thought into what you do, and it shows! My family is blessed to be in a place in our lives to get to homeschool as we are just starting our homeschool journey. I truly feel like the Lord set this site in my path for all the help and encouragement your blog offers! Thank you for all of the inspiration!

      • Update: I used your reading program for five months and the results were fantastic. My son completed every level and is now a confident reader! It was easy to use, he enjoyed it and looked forward to it every day. Some days he would even say, “Mom, don’t forget to do my cards today.” The progression of the flashcards from easier to harder was a real confidence builder. The program was everything I thought it would be and more. Thank you again for such a wonderful resource.

        • Wow! That is so terrific to know, Jill. It makes me so happy to hear this is working and helping your sweet son. Thank you.

  3. I love this so much! It gives me some new ideas to keep learning to read interesting and fun! I recently discovered An Acorn in My Hand, too, and have been using it with my beginning reader. I also decided to go through it with my older kids as a phonics and spelling refresher. Since I teach cursive writing, I combine the instruction in An Acorn In My Hand with Peterson-Directed Handwriting. My kids are ready to read before they have developed the motor skills to write, so I made cursive finger-trace models from An Acorn In My Hand. This way they can learn how to form the letters and make words without actually writing yet. Then when they are ready to write, they already know how!

    There are so many great reading programs out there that a parent can become completely overwhelmed! I’ve taught reading different ways with my kids, but they were all based on the McGuffey readers and so each method seemed to work even though they varied slightly. I think keeping it simple and basic is best. No distracting, colorful, silly graphics and silly stories that don’t make sense.

  4. Have you heard of Wheeler’s Elementary Speller? I just love this book and have been using it along with An Acorn In My Hand. After my kids can write and read well, they begin Wheeler’s Elementary Speller. The lessons correlate well with An Acorn in My Hand. I love the short, simple lessons and poetry by famous authors. I use An Acorn in My Hand to give them the spelling rule aids and a few extra words.

    Again, there are so many great vintage books out there to use for homeschooling that one can find it difficult to make a decision, but this is one I just kept coming back to after looking at other things and even trying a few other things. Here are two web sites that explain the Wheeler’s Speller. After the speller, there is Wheeler’s Graded Studies in English.



    • Thanks for those terrific tips and links, Bonny. I’m sure many will appreciate them (including Yours Truly).

  5. Thank you so much for your hard work and can’t believe it’s all available to us for free! You are such a blessing! I am so thankful to God that our paths crossed and I found your YouTube channel where I first heard about Mcguffeys readers! Can’t wait to start using them with my son! Thank you again!

  6. Blessings to you Sherry. This is an incredible resource. I cannot tell you what a comfort your words have been to me. My son is on the autism spectrum. He has a speech delay. Its been overwhelming to figure out how to help him. Almost every voice out there says unless he gets expensive tutoring or this program there is no hope for him. I am a missionary overseas. I had felt drawn to McGuffey and Treadwell and have 100 lessons. I have a cm kit but the progress is so slow that its hard to see progress. You have combined all the elements that I have been thinking about. What an answer to prayer.

    I have a big question for you. I have developed a Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum for families to use through our church who are starting to homeschool. Teaching reading has been my one blind spot. Would you mind if I use your program as a guide to help me write something for Spanish speakers? I will of course refrence your name and website.

    I can’t thank you enough for putting these tools in my hands. You are like the voice in the wilderness showing me the way to go. God bless you Sherry.

    • Absolutely, Monique, I would be honored 🙂 I think I must have heard from you before and you talked about a reading program, didn’t you? It was this request that inspired me to create this resource and offer it for free.

  7. Oh my goodness…This is such an incredible blessing to me and my family! I am a homeschool mom of 4 boys. Curriculum can be so expensive, but trying to come up with your own can be so daunting. Thank you so very much for giving this for free! It is going to be so so helpful for us!

  8. Would you recommend using the Reading–literature: The Primer instead of the McGuffey readers? Or as extra reading books for he student? Thanks

    • Good question. I use the McG’s for the primary source of learning, then use the Reading-Literature as reinforcement, especially since the lessons are actual stories the child is familiar with and reading them gives them such satisfaction.

  9. Hello there. I am looking at your resource and am loving what I see but was wondering how you put it all together. How do you decide what to do on a daily basis?

    • This is a great question. I think it’s more about how much your child can handle. In other words, just start doing a little bit a day, but make sure and quit before your child starts getting listless or acting distracted or tired. Continue this little tidbit at least three times a week. Don’t go on to the next topic or level until your child feels very confident where he is at. How much time will this take? Every child is different, so some parts may take longer than others. This means your child is absolutely normal, so don’t be tempted to rush ahead. Just keep up, slow and steady, and don’t be afraid to repeat, repeat, repeat until a portion is mastered.

      As he is able to read short words, start working in the primer along-side the other activities. You can repeat the same lesson over and over there, too, or you can use other books that have similar words and use repetition.

      I like to keep these lessons to no more than 15 minutes a day, with perhaps another practice as we find time, such as in the car while waiting for someone or while the dinner is cooking in the oven.

      I hope this helps. It really is free-wheeling and open-ended on purpose. This means there is room for all sorts of abilities.

      • Thank you. That’s very helpful. I’m learning to teach outside of the box. I take a while to catch on but it seems so much simpler

  10. Hello! I’m still wading my way through all of your amazing resources and my focus is currently on reading!!

    I have just ordered the original McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer after watching a video of yours and finding your website. Then last night I saw another video and ordered the Pictorial Eclectic Primer… now I’m here wondering if I also need the Free & Treadwell Primer?!

    I’m a bit lost and not sure how to put all this together to create lessons. I have a 5 yo I’ll be focusing on all of this with in a few months and a 3yo I’ll adapt a bit for if he shows interest…

    But I’m honestly super confused on what exactly I need to get started and how to put it all together.

    What videos and info and resources am I missing? Do I need the McGuffeys parent guide?

    Please help me!! I have found next to nothing for McGuffey resources, I’ve never taught a child to read and I was so encouraged after finding your site initially and how highly you spoke of the original McGuffeys which is what I’m feeling strongly to incorporate into our homeschool. But I’m at a total loss as to HOW!

    • Sorry not to have replied earlier, but my site was hacked and it was hard to get into it for a short time.

      I am so understanding of your problem. I remember well being so clueless, especially since my first daughter was a “late bloomer” and didn’t read for a long time. This is why I developed a free reading program, To the Top, that you can download and print out. Here is the link: Free Reading Program

  11. This video is pretty old but i just found it while struggling to find a free way to teach my 6 year old boy and 8 year old girl to read. My 8 year old struggles to read. Your lesson books were recommended to me too and I didn’t realize you were the same person! I just want to say thank you for doing this. Your whole website is so full of great information! Are you still active on this site? Do you have a youtube account or anything else you are active on? Thank you so much again!

    • Yes, I am actually active on this website, although I only check on it about once a week, usually when I put up a post. I do have an active YouTube channel from which I also have a podcast that is on all the usual apps. The YouTube channel goes by the same name. The reading program was a work of love done out of my own need to teach my children. I’m so glad it has helped you!


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