5 Reasons Why Your Child Needs a Dictionary

In this era of technological advancement, our children are being raised in a time and place where books are being shelved for good, printing presses have gone out of business, and our 2-year-olds have the ability to work a cell phone (i.e. mini-computer because let’s be honest these aren’t just phones we carry anymore). By the pre-school years the majority of children have at least one electronic device or tablet. In elementary school, not only do the students all own personal devices of some sort, most of the schools are feeling it necessary to keep up with the technology trend providing one-to-one tech, meaning they have enough computers, iPads, or tablets to cover every student in their school. And finally, by middle school, virtually every student has a cellphone (i.e. mini-computer), tablet, game system, or laptop computer.

Although there is a plethora of information on the pros and cons of technology in the classroom and the home and how it is affecting the world’s youth, whether we like it or not, it is here to stay. Businesses are becoming home based, interpersonal communication skills are being lost, and kids are reading from a Kindle, never knowing the touch and smell of a well-worn text.

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“As an avid reader myself, I have raised my children among piles and piles and piles of books, but as they went off to school even I found myself referring them to Google when they had questions about anything… especially my 5-year-old who has questions about EVERYTHING. Mind you, I don’t even know how they actually learned to work the computer, much less the internet, but since my one-year-old can play Pokemon Go like a pro without any assistance and Facetimes my mother regularly, these things apparently just happen. That said, the day my 1st grader came home and excitedly asked me for a dictionary was a game-changer, and it really got me thinking about all the reasons why we need to keep our kids connected to the pen and paper world of tangible, touchable books.” – Kristin

Here are just a few reasons why your child needs a dictionary (and maybe a set of encyclopedias too)…

1. Alphabetical Order

Although the computer and the internet may be able to teach us a lot, Alphabetical Order is not necessarily one of those things. The computer can spellcheck itself and will even replace words for you, providing you with synonyms, antonyms, and everything in between, but because it does this automatically it does not challenge the young user to put any thought into the order of the words. When thesaurus.com provides you with a list of words it does place them in alphabetical order, but without ever teaching the developing brain this skill, most children do not even notice or recognize it. With an actual 3D, handheld dictionary, our children begin to recognize and utilize alphabetical order to assist them in finding whatever word they are seeking.

2. Spelling Skills

Going hand-in-hand with alphabetical order, a dictionary teaches our children spelling skills for the obvious reason that it is filled with words all correctly spelled and our children are “reading” it. More than this however is that with a tablet or computer you can oftentimes type a word incorrectly and the device will autocorrect, never forcing the child to learn the correct spelling or even recognize that the device has done this for them. Simply put, our children can be lazy, type a word incorrectly, obtain their desired result and never have to learn the correct spelling of words. This is not education, this is not teaching our children, but rather hindering them from obtaining the necessary and proper language skills.

3. Research Skills

“The day I toured a private school for my son and learned there was no library was a disappointing one, the day I realized the Media Center at the school I chose was a library/computer lab was a disheartening one, and the day I walked into the children’s section of my public library and literally had to ask “Where are all the books?” was a sad one.” – Kristin

More and more school and public libraries are being converted to media centers where there are some (and we mean few) actual paper/hard copy books alongside a lot of computers. Research and reading are both becoming tasks to be completed on an electronic device, not from looking at a tangible, touchable book or paper. With the touch of a button or the click of a mouse the world is at our fingertips, so it is understandable that books are going by the wayside, however the useful skills acquired by researching in books should not be lost.

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The ability to look up a word, phrase, concept, or idea using alphabetical order and then build upon what you’ve found is a developmental milestone that our children still need to learn and reach. Researching in a text versus online provides the reader with additional information that may not be specific to what they are looking for, but may be somewhat related and lead them to other avenues and ideas. The concept of research is that it broadens one’s thoughts and perspective which books compiling a variety of words or ideas such as a dictionary or encyclopedia does. In opposition to that, the computer is so precise in its discernment of information that it usually provides exactly what the user is looking for, but nothing more.

4. Patience

In this internet savvy era our children are all about instant gratification. There is no delay between wanting to know something or wanting to do something and having that desire fulfilled. This is a problem many of us as parents are realizing as our children are impatient and impulsive, putting little thought into many of their decisions or choices. Along with the idea of a dictionary teaching your children to research is that it teaches your child to have the patience to spend some time working or looking for what he or she wants.

There is no quick answer with a book usually containing 3,000+ words and definitions. Your child will learn to be patient and skillful while having to determine the correct spelling of their word, think about the alphabetical order in which it is placed, and eventually discovering exactly what he or she is looking for. This will further lead to an internal sense of accomplishment that all of our children deserve to feel. They will feel smart, they will feel that they did something important, i.e. they will feel accomplished and fulfilled by the personal completion of their task.

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Instant gratification may seem like what we want at the time, but the lack of actual effort it takes for us to obtain what we want doesn’t really make us respect or appreciate it. Further, your child will continue to amaze both you and him or herself as they become more and more proficient at using all the skills mentioned above, both with their newly beloved dictionary and in other areas of life. The seemingly small achievements of our children are simply building blocks teaching them that they are capable of doing anything they set their mind to.

5. Respect for Books

Finally, and not the last bit least, teaching your child to use a dictionary will help foster the lifelong love of books that we should all aspire to instill in our children. Books are our past, present, and future; they contain a myriad of information on every topic one could ever wish to know. The tombs of written word contain the symbolic writing of our creation all the way to the paths we will forge into the great new technological era we are a part of. There are simply some things, ideas, and inspirations that will never be computerized or able to be properly conveyed on an iPad, tablet, or cellphone. The ability to lose oneself in a great book and come out on the other side feeling smarter and braver has just as much to do with the written words as the pages turned. Think about it, children just learning to read LOVE to be able to see how many pages they’ve read, not how many times they’ve swiped left. In order to preserve our history, as families, as people, and as a nation, we need to teach our children to value the very objects that contain all of that information.

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Like it or not computers crash, internet signals fade, and data plans delay, but books will always be there. From a middle school research project to those late nights in the college library, we have all been there and done that when it comes to last minute research and writing. So let us not hinder our children’s ability to do the very same. Prepare them now, set them up for success, and do it at a time when their developing brains are so eager for information that they will grasp on and hold tight until the enjoyment of the task becomes natural to them and there is no apprehension. Go out today and find your child a dictionary to pave their way to prosperity. From word/picture editions for pre-schoolers to the obvious standard and even advanced/specialized dictionaries for adults, there will be one perfect for your little learner.

Since we know our children are going to be researching on a tablet, iPad, or computer at one time or another, see The Mom’s Guide to Kids and Technology for some safe practice tips.

Photo Credit: Kristin dePaula

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Kristin dePaula
Kristin dePaula
Kristin is a Montessori Mama who spends her days working as a lawyer with at-risk youth and her nights chasing her 4 boys on their latest adventure. She spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen creating healthy, organic, and delicious meals for her family, reading books with her boys, and at the soccer fields. Aspiring to make a difference in lives of others one child at a time, Kristin is passionate about social justice, early literacy, and early childhood education. While she loves scarves and boots, Kristin lives at the world's most famous beach with her husband, kids, extended family, and enough pets to open a zoo.