When I was growing up, my brothers and I shared a set of World Book encyclopedias. Remember them?
When I got my first desktop computer it came with Microsoft Encarta ... 20+ volumes condensed to a compact disc. 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.
I love to surf the Net as much as the next person, but 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.
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. One or both of these references are important to your child's bookshelf.
An illustrated dictionary. Pictures and large fonts make the 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.
A Big Book of Answers. Although we may not need (or have room for) that 20-volume set of books anymore, kids still have lots of questions, and it is nice to have a go-to reference that covers the basics of the history, science, geography, and social studies concepts 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.
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. Copyright - all rights reserved.
The cover images for the encyclopedia and dictionary link to the Cybils affiliate via Amazon.com. Purchases made through these links may benefit the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Awards program. From the website: "All Cybils proceeds go to a non-cheesy award for our winners."