Phonics and Reading With McGuffey App Review

App Name: Phonics and Reading With McGuffey

Apps for Homeschooling 4/5Overall Rating: 4/5

Mom’s Rating: 4/5

Kids’ Rating: 4/5

Recommended Grades/Ages: Kindergarten, Grade 1

Skills Developed: Phonics, Reading, Spelling

Available On/Price: Universal (iPhone/iPod/iPad) – $19.99

A generous free lite version (the first ten lessons) is also available to preview this app before buying it.

Also available for PC and Mac as a free trial download with a purchase cost to unlock the full version.

Reviewed on: iPad

App Description:

McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer has long been considered a ‘classic’ of education – the first stepping stone many children have used on the road to reading success.  Many homeschooling parents may have purchased it and had a hard time figuring out how to actually USE the primer with their child – it is fairly simple after all, a chart of the letters, a list of words, some short sentences, all with wood-cut drawings.

Phonics and Reading With McGuffey takes the scope of the Primer and converts it into a straightforward, step-by-step progression through the material that you can easily take your child through to learn the phonograms, reading of words and sentences, spelling, and reading fluency.

The app includes 52 lessons (44 phonograms and over 400 words) and moves through the content of the Primer in a similar, repeating pattern.  Four lessons provide active teaching, and the fifth provides review.

The lessons generally open with a teaching of the letter sounds, digraphs, and other phonemes that will be needed to read the material given in the lesson.  In later lessons (after the phonograms have already been taught) the lessons open with word practice instead of letter sounds.  Each phonogram is like an animated flashcard when tapped, the phonetic sound is made, a sample word is given, and a descriptive animation plays illustrating the sample word before the sound and word are repeated at the end.   The app does use the phonetic marking of letters, and even if you don’t know them yourself (I’m not familiar with most of them), because the app is loaded with sound, it’s easy to pick up on the marking differentiations – just tap the phonogram to hear the right sound pronounced.

Children then move to a screen where they can tap words to hear and watch as they are blended and read aloud – each letter changes color as it is being read.  It is here that phonics rules will also be stated as they apply to each word (unless this option is turned off in the user settings, or the child indicates that he knows this rule by tapping a button).

The next screen tests children on their knowledge of the phonograms presented so far by showing two of them and asking the child to tap the one that corresponds to the spoken sound.  Light bulbs light up in sequence as correct answers are given, and a brief, zany animation plays after each correct choice.

The phonics word blender screen appears next, allowing your child to choose from any of the vowels/vowel pairs in the top box to put in the middle of the word blender, and any of the consonants in the bottom box to put on either side of the vowel.  Whether the word created is real or not, the blender will do its job and sound out/blend the word first (if this option is turned on in the settings) and then read it in its entirety.

Each lesson also includes an illustration that corresponds to the original text of the McGuffey’s readings that children can study before moving to their reading practice.  In the reading practice screen children can receive early reading support by tapping the words themselves to hear them sounded out and read, or tap on the boxes beneath the words to hear them read without blending.

A simple phonogram quiz is then presented – a screen of phonograms is shown and your child is asked to tap the correct one.  If the quiz isn’t passed it asks your child to complete the lesson again, if it is passed your child moves on to the spelling activity.

In the spelling activity a row of letters/phonograms appears at the top of the screen.  A word is given and your child is asked to tap and drag the letters onto the boxes on the back of a truck that appears at the bottom of the screen.  If the initial attempt to spell the word is incorrect any wrong letters will be removed and the word will be sounded out letter by letter as a clue.  Once the word is successfully completed the truck drives away and a new one arrives.

The last activity in each lesson is a fluency activity where a word is given and your child must select it from a list of three words.  As the words are tapped correctly the steam train at the bottom of the screen accelerates.  After a series of correct answers the train whistle will sound, and after four whistles this activity is complete.

This general lesson pattern is repeated throughout the app, providing for multiple approaches to practicing emerging reading skills.  The app begins with simple CVC words in sentences such as, “A rat and a cat.”  And progresses through to, “When to him you tell your woes, Know the Lord will hear.”

The app supports up to ten individual users and will remember the user’s previous lesson when re-opening that profile.  Individual user settings include the options to hide previous and next lesson arrows, skip phonics rule explanations, turn off sounding out words in the phonics blender, choosing more conservative flash card sound effects, and choosing monochrome letter presentation (instead of each letter being a different color when words are sounded out, all the letters will be the same color as they sound out – you can choose the color yourself).

Other Notes: This app does not include in-app purchases or advertising.  It does include links to email, social media and external links on the support screen.

What We Liked:

The app translates McGuffey’s time-tested reading method into a solid, electronic medium that helps parents know when their children are ready to move on or if they need to repeat a lesson and that provides integral review as the lessons progress.

Some personal advice – although it might be tempting to leave your child alone with a  learning to read app, parental involvement is SO important so you can really have a feel for where your child is struggling and how he’s progressing.  Take your child on your knee like you would in a regular reading lesson and go through the app together.  It will make recommendations on when to progress and when to repeat, but as the parent you can also manually decide to repeat certain parts and jump around as the lesson navigation controls are mostly manual.

The phonogram sounds are dead-on, as I’d expect from an app that so strongly supports intensive phonics and my girls are always excited to see the animations on the flashcards. The app is rich in audio, and every phonogram and word is clearly read when tapped in any of the teaching screens (it is repeated in the quizzes after a letter is selected, but letters and words are silent in the spelling and fluency screens).

When phonics rules are left turned on there is a wealth of review on rules for decoding during the word practice, and there is plenty of support for children who struggle to blend as this is modeled for them time and again (they can even play with the concept in the phonics blender and see it demonstrated for them).

What I’m most excited about is the variety of angles the app includes for building a strong foundation in reading – not only phonogram sounds, but blending modeling, asking children to spell out words they’ve previously read, and fluency practice.  While the app touts a no-frills sort of philosophy the animated transportation-themed spelling and fluency activities will really appeal to young truck and train lovers.

What We Didn’t Like:

With 52 lessons in total it would be very helpful to have an index or navigational tool for parents that is faster than clicking through lesson by lesson using the previous and next buttons.  A page navigator with some sort of scope and sequence would be a nice time saver.  It would also be great to have the animated flashcards accessible in a deck that could easily be accessed without paging through the lessons.

Compared to many of the apps in the App Store, the production values in this app are lower than many.  The narrator doesn’t sound too enthusiastic when offering praise, and some of the reward animations are frankly – cheesy (think grainy, mismatched, animated emoticons) – though my children do think these are really fun.  The graphics are really a mixed bag – some are nice and look custom done, others look like they were just grabbed somewhere else and stuffed in.


I’m confident that if you sit down with your child and patiently work at his own pace through the 52 lessons in Phonics and Reading With McGuffey you’ll be able to form a very firm phonetic foundation that goes far beyond the CVC level that so many apps stop at.  Moving from CVC words all the way into vowel pairs and digraphs (44 phonemes in all) this app provides the backbone and a variety of supportive techniques to launch well grounded early readers.

Buy this universal (iPhone/iPod/iPad) app now for $19.99!
Phonics and Reading With McGuffey - Software For a Better World

Have you downloaded this app?  Let us know what you and your children thought – leave a comment!