A dictionary is an essential educational tool. It gives kids a broader understanding of language, while also encouraging them to find out about the meaning of words, teaching them about reference material and prompting them to discover answers for themselves. Once considered boring – a mere spelling tool or a gift from well-meaning grandparents that would invariably gather dust on the bookshelf – they’ve come a long way in recent years. We look at what’s on offer and how to get the most out of them.
Picture dictionaries (age 4+)
Perfect for little wordsmiths just beginning to learn the alphabet, kids will love looking at the illustrations, provided they are active and lively. You may want to check that they accurately support the definitions, too. While your kids will enjoy flicking through on their own, they’ll learn more if you go through it with them.
Collins First Dictionary (Dhs46)
This fun dictionary features amusing cartoons, simple full-sentence definitions plus games, picture pages and a ‘word wizard’, making this a joy to read. Much more than a dictionary, this mini-encyclopedia contains fascinating facts, word families and clear pictures and illustrations.
Oxford First Illustrated Dictionary (Dhs68)
The Usborne Picture Dictionary (Dhs65)
Junior/elementary dictionaries (age 7-9)
These include all the elements of a grown-up dictionary, but limited to the most common words. Simple, child-friendly definitions, large print, some illustrations and clever ways of presenting information will make these less daunting for primary school kids.
Dorling Kindersley Children’s Illustrated Dictionary (Dhs86)
Much more than a dictionary, this mini-encyclopedia contains fascinating facts, word families and clear pictures and illustrations.
Oxford Junior Illustrated Dictionary (Dhs65)
Collins Primary Illustrated Dictionary (Dhs59)
School dictionaries (age 9+)
‘Serious’ dictionaries for the more mature learner, these contain 30,000 words or more and include pronunciation guides, grammar notes, derived words etc.
Macmillan Fully Illustrated Dictionary for Children (Dhs86)
This weighty tome contains 35,000 words with illustrations, word histories and deeper explanations.
Oxford School Dictionary (Dhs72)
Collins Concise School Dictionary (Dhs46)
Tips on using a kids’ dictionary
1 Make it fun! With a little imagination, dictionaries can be a great resource for all sorts of word games:
Think of five or 10 words and get the kids to look them up and then try to make sentences with them.
What comes first?
Put a selection of words in alphabetical order.
True or false?
Make up definitions and get the kids to check if you are pulling their leg.
Misspell a word and get your little clever clogs to tell you where you went wrong.
2 Introduce dictionaries as a reference tool when the kids are young, giving them meaningful opportunities to use it. For example, when little Billy asks what ‘concentrate’ means after he piddles all over the toilet seat, you can whisk him off and look it up in the dictionary and fulfil two important parenting tasks in one fell swoop.
3 Story time is not a time to dig out the dictionary. Make a mental note of words the kids struggle with and perhaps go back to them at a later date, but don’t ruin a good yarn by making them look them up.
4 When kids are writing, don’t use the dictionary as a substitute for parental help. If you can encourage your daughter to spell the word herself, she’s more likely to remember it. If she’s required to look up words in the dictionary, she may avoid using them in the future.
5 Since most kids today are more computer-savvy than their parents, it makes sense to teach them how to use online dictionaries as well.
Dictionaries available from Bookworm (04 394 5770) or Kinokuniya (04 434 0111).