One of my goals for my children is self-sufficiency in their schoolwork. Now, many things we do together. I am also always available if a child is stuck or needs help. Having said that, though, one of my primary goals for my children is to teach them how to find the information they need. As an adult, I know the ability to find the information that you need yourself to solve a problem is an invaluable skill. So, what do I do to encourage self-sufficiency in my children?
One of the best ways I encourage my children to be independent in their schoolwork is to provide a well-stocked reference shelf for them. Last summer, I moved all of the reference books that we own to one location in our schoolroom so that the reference materials are easy to find and use. While our reference materials have certainly grown over the years and will continue to do so, here is a list of the core reference materials to which we refer the most. If you are a new homeschooler and just starting to build your own reference shelf, I would highly recommend the following books:
When choosing a dictionary, the age of the child definitely needs to be taken into consideration. A gigantic dictionary with very small print can be overwhelming for a younger child. On the other hand, as a child gets older, challenging vocabulary words may not be found in a children’s dictionary. With a 3rd, 5th, and 7th grader, I keep two dictionaries handy for them – a children’s dictionary and a college edition.
A thesaurus is very useful for replacing overused words in a child’s writing. While I have several thesauruses, the bigger ones are still overwhelming for my children. Therefore, a children’s thesaurus is most useful for us at this time.
Since we have been studying United States geography for the past two years, I purchased a United States atlas for EACH of my children. I prefer not to have our school days filled with fights over reference materials! I also provide two large maps for my children in our hallway – one of the world and one of the United States.
- Rand McNally Schoolhouse Children’s Illustrated United States Atlas
- Rand McNally Schoolhouse World Atlas Intermediate
While a children’s encyclopedia is quite limited in its scope, I have found a children’s encyclopedia to be very useful for elementary aged children. Of course, older children require a more comprehensive resource.
History Reference Books
I highly recommend both of the following resources for history. Both have been very helpful to me, not only in planning unit studies but as reference resources for our history studies.
- DK Smithsonian Children’s Encyclopedia of American History
- The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of World History
Other Reference Materials
While I have collected lots of reference materials for my children, some incredibly useful and some just plain fun, three reference books stand out as being particularly helpful for my children while completing their schoolwork. I like the “Everything You Need to Know” series so much, I just ordered the other books in the series that we don’t have from PaperBackSwap.
- Everything You Need to Know About English Homework: A Desk Reference for Students and Parents
- Everything You Need to Know About Math Homework: A Desk Reference for Students and Parents
- Essential Facts and Tables, Student Personal Reference Series
Essential Facts and Tables is a small volume (just 64 pages) but it is literally packed with useful information. This small, inexpensive book includes everything from Roman Numerals to Root Words. I highly recommend keeping this little gem on hand! I also think it would be very useful as a reference when setting up mini-offices for one’s children (one of my goals for this summer).
While my children certainly don’t get as excited about looking words up in the dictionary as they do about reading a good book, reference books have an important place in our homeschool.
So, what about you?
What reference books have you found to be particularly helpful for your children? Do you have a specific dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, etc. that you recommend? How do you incorporate reference materials into your school day?
Samantha writes about homeschooling and family life at To Be Busy at Home.