Posted on October 29, 2012 by Terry Doherty in Reading Lists.
This is an updated version of a post I wrote for the PBS Parents blog Booklights as part of my “Bookworm Basics” series. The original article appeared in July 2010. Although geared toward parents, teachers and librarians may find these posts valuable as hand-outs on back-to-school nights or for sharing in parent-teacher conferences, or even on their classroom blogs!
When I was growing up, my brothers and I shared a set of World Book encyclopedias. Remember them? By Grad School we were all relying on Microsoft Encarta … 20+ volumes condensed to a pair of compact discs (CDs).
Now, you don’t even need that! Data reliability not withstanding, anything you want to know about can be found with just a few clicks of the keyboard. My now 10-year-old thinks that every answer in the Universe comes from a computer screen. I love to surf the Net as much as the next person, and I have been known to send a query into the Interwebs when a question pops into my mind.
That said, I still love having a reference book close by. There is something fun about turning pages to find things. Holding a picture of a big hairy spider is completely different than staring at one on the screen. You can’t put a price on “ew, yuck!”
Hands-on exploring is also more likely to lead to new discoveries – and more concrete recognition – than following a search path on the Worldwide Web. That’s why its helpful to have books that have answers close at hand, for homework and recreational learning alike.
Here are several references are important to your child’s bookshelf that will grow with them as they learn. First you’ll be guiding them, but soon they’ll be finding things – and randomly exploring images – by themselves.
Pictures and large fonts make an illustrated dictionary an accessible tool for elementary-aged students. Because of their versatility, dictionaries are natural first research books for emerging and newly independent readers alike.
Not long after readers start putting words together, they learn how to sort them alphabetically. As readers become more experienced and their content learning expands, the dictionary will also help them find the meaning of words, as well as learn parts of speech, word origins, and pronunciation, too.
Although we may not need (or have room for) that 20-volume set of books anymore, kids still have lots of questions. It’s nice to have a go-to reference that covers the basics of the history, science, geography, and social studies they will be learning about in those early elementary years.
Even when school’s not in session, that one-volume illustrated encyclopedia can answer basic questions or whet their appetite to learn more and lead them to other subject-specific nonfiction books. Many books often have links to additional tools that go with the particular product at the back.
As early as first grade students are learning about the world around them. Sometimes its as simple as knowing where a place is (or was) on a map, and sometimes its about the culture.
A multi-faceted atlas or gazetteer not only has maps with geographic boundaries and terrain features, but also adds context to who the people are, their cultural identity, and political features.
Illustrated reference books are designed for exploring. Because there is no worry about reading everything cover to cover, your kids may be more likely to pick up the book “just because.” They can start with an idea and begin research or just pick a page and go.
Having a reference book handy is also a great way to encourage kids to find the answer themselves, rather than ask you to define a word, tell them if there really is a Transylvania, etc. Just watch out for spiders!
World Book photo by TreeWhisperer on Flickr.
The cover images for the encyclopedia and dictionary link to the Cybils affiliate via Amazon.com; the atlas links to the Reading Tub affiliate. Purchases made through these links may benefit the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Awards program or The Reading Tub. They are provided for convenience only and do not constitute a purchase requirement or recommendation.