December 14, 2006

Curious George: online encyclopedia for kids My Kids are driving me crazy with their homework! What they need is a good (free) online knowledge base aka. encylopedia. History, maths and science espcially for 12-16 year olds. F'rinstance - "Daddy, was the Roman empire cruel and civilisied at the same time? If so can you give me 10 examples of each?" Tempted not to quote the Life of Brian's immortal "What have the Romans ever done for us?" I decided to turn to the interweb thingy for ideas. Aaaargh! Where do you start? Help from simians greatly appreciated
  • Wikipedia. Fact Monster. Kids' Stuff suggested by refdesk. /shrug That stuff about 'was the Roman Empire cruel & civilized at the same time?' you gotta throw them at the encyclopedia & let them figure that stuff out for themselves, AFAIC. Otherwise, no learnie.
  • Like the FactMonster site. Agreed - Kids should be a'learnin' by themselves but you've gotta point them in the right direction! This is all new to the kids - so far they have been spoon fed. Welcome to the real world I say!
  • Right on. When I was a kid my gran got me these pretty good book type encyclopedias, with great illustrations & whatnot. A lot of it was simplified but pretty detailed, I used to spend a lot of time looking over those just because they were interesting. I have no idea really if there is something like that these days or the equivalent on the interwebs.
  • What are the magic keys to unlock the Internet's secrets? I for one have found that really good language skills are the best tools to have on hand when mining for information. Example: your question on the Roman Empire suggests a paradox. So, I tried Googling "Roman Empire paradox" and right off came up with a BBC article that at least started to answer that very question. Teach your child to value precise and inventive language, and they will be equipped to go searching on his/her own.
  • It wouldn't hurt to send them to the Library once in a while.
  • All good stuff so far. However excellent HuronBobs answer was, this is no help when the child decides to ask at 9pm in the evening the day before the homework is due in!! D'oh! Lesson learned so far: 1. Teach children to use Google with appropriate keywords 2. Teach children to learn by themselves 3. Teach children to do homework during hours of library opening! 4. Bookmark Fact Monster
  • When I would have questions like this, my grandmother and I would always try to figure them out together. We'd start off with her Encyclopedia Brittanica from the 1950s, and then move on to an equally old copy of the World Book Encyclopedia (their site has a kid's site as well, but there's a subscription fee). If neither offered enough information, off to the library we'd go! (The reference librarian was a kid I went to school with's mom, and she was always great about taking the time to help me learn how to research questions -- sometimes I doubt I'd be an academic today without her help!) My grandmother never spoon-fed me an answer, and her "going to the books" with me helped me learn how to research, and also gave me a great love of what books could do for me. I know that doesn't answer your question completely, and I'm sure you're already doing something like this :) I think it's great to give kids good internet research skills, but they also need to figure out how to use the library (I say this as someone who teaches college freshmen, many of whom think going into a library is akin to cheating on Google.)
  • Yeah, don't trust Wikipedia too much. It's a good starting point -- and ancient history probably isn't going to cause too much dispute between WP editors, but you never know who's vindictively throwing in random false points of data. That Fact Monster site is cool! I'd never seen it before. We always rely on the library when our preschooler has a weird question, but yes, 9pm is kind of tricky. Incidentally, it looks like Fact Monster is run by Info Please which is the same but for an older audience. So if you can't find enough on Fact Monster, check there. Sometimes if you're looking for more local information, your library may be a good online source. Ours has all publicly-viewable historic archives and photos scanned, as well as a detailed history of our region, right down to streets and suburbs and individual colonial families. Not so good on Rome, but may be useful for other homework projects.
  • I tend to trust Wikipedia because anything that is maliciously added is removed pretty damn quickly. For accuracy, it's not too bad. You know, the Encyclopedia Britannica isn't all that bloody great for accuracy or cross-references.
  • HuronBob's on the right track. Zaphod, check the website of your nearest library; they most likely subscribes to a variety of databases including online encyclopediae. Also, many libraries have very quick reference service through e-mail or even realtime e-reference via chat (some have 24-hour service, but they have to be members of special consortia). Worth a look.
  • 9pm in the evening issue still holds.
  • I searched google for "online encyclopedia for kids" and there were several results in the first page that looked promising -- including Fact Monster as the first link.
  • Yeah, I ran into the problems with the Encyclopedia Britannica a couple of times when I wrote school papers based on it -- particularly since the set my grandparents had was about 40 years old. I think it's a good thing that the print encyclopedia is dead, though it sure is a lot more fun to flip through the pages as a kid -- that sense of "browsing" gets kind of lost online.
  • If it comes up at 9pm, then it's a learning opportunity for next time - not to wait until the last minute. Old encyclopedias (book format!) sell for cheap these days. I bought a set of Britannicas for $10, 1995 version last year. A set of old World Books would a) be a lot more fun to leaf through than mousing online b) help get kids into books c) is just all around good to have around the house d) cultivates anti-truthiness e) looks great.
  • I think it's a good thing that the print encyclopedia is dead A lot of people agree, which is why you can get Britannicas for $10. But you know what? I don't think these prices will last (for the reasons stated above). So grab 'em while you still can. Check your local libraries. These are beautiful books.