A+ Advice for Parents

Kids Need to Learn How to Use Reference Materials

Q: My 12-year-old is part of the "Google it" generation when she has to research reports. Some of the stuff she finds (and thinks is true) is just goofy. Should we invest in an encyclopedia for her? What kinds of reference materials should parents provide for kids?

A: There is an assumption among digital natives that a quick Google search and a Wikipedia entry will give them all the information they need, says Carl Harvey, library media specialist at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana.

"It can be a start," he says, "but educators work hard to teach students to take the next step -- verify that the information is accurate. It's an important skill. We want students to learn that not everything you read on the Internet is true and that good researchers check multiple sources. We love it when parents reinforce this at home."

Students should have access to a reputable encyclopedia for homework. Before you purchase a set or a digital subscription, check with your school librarian, suggests Harvey.

"Many schools allow students to log in to digital encyclopedias and other online databases from home with their passwords," he says. "For example, Indiana provides access to an encyclopedia and many other online databases in their INSPIRE database. Any resident has access."

Many public libraries provide members with access to online encyclopedias with login/passwords for accessing them from home as well, says Harvey.

"We are open for homework hours," says Blanche Warner, a library manager in Naples, New York. "We work closely with our schools to have resources available to students. If seventh-graders are researching the local ecosystem, we are ready with maps, charts, books, photos and digital resources."

If you're thinking of purchasing an encyclopedia, look at World Book and Britannica, suggests Harvey. He leans toward digital subscriptions because they're less expensive and "information is updated as the need arises, where a book is only updated at the next printing."

Your choice -- digital or paper -- depends on your budget and your objective, says Mike Ross, an executive at Encyclopaedia Britannica.

"Some parents purchase a digital subscription to Britannica, along with a print set of Britannica Kids," he says. "The digital multimedia products are easy to search and always current. But those enticing volumes on the shelf invite browsing and kick-start a kid's curiosity when she pulls one out to read."

Every child should have a print children's dictionary, says El Paso, Texas, elementary educator Lisa Schoenbrun.

"Children learn more about words and their histories when they look them up in a dictionary than when they simply type the word into a database," she says. "Look up 'handbag' and on the pages your daughter will also discover 'handball,' 'handbook,' 'handcuffs,' 'handful,' 'handicap,' 'handicraft,' 'hand-me-down,' 'handstand.' Having a dictionary on hand helps build vocabulary."

Other reference books such as almanacs and atlases are inexpensive, motivating resources that add knowledge in bits, says Harvey.

"TIME For Kids, National Geographic and World Almanac publish annually," he says. "A series like the 'TIME For Kids Big Book of Why' is fun reading. Put these books where the whole family can browse and start conversations that lead to new learning."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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