This is the first in a four-part guest series on reference skills by Jimmie from Jimmie’s Collage. Make sure to check back for part two next Tuesday.
Being an educated person today is more about knowing where to find information and how to evaluate that information that it is about knowing large quantities of facts. As a result, one of our primary tasks as homeschooling parents is to teach our children to learn independently through reference tools.
In fact, reference skills are cross-curricular skills that are part of the scope and sequence of many academic areas – language arts, science, history, and math. You really could call them learning skills.
In the upper elementary years and certainly by middle school, you will want to introduce these three essential tools:
1. The index and table of contents
2. The atlas
3. The dictionary
(Throughout this series, I will be assuming the use of physical books instead of “googling” the answer to your question. Although using the Internet to answer questions is a valid way to research, my focus is going to be on using the traditional forms of printed reference books. Both avenues, printed and electronic, are critical for our children to understand.)
Studying a unit where you focus in-depth on the specific skills, say a dictionary unit, for example, is effective. But most effective is integrating these skills into your existing curriculum. The beauty of this approach is that you don’t have to design a special unit or add onto your already busy homeschool day. Instead, you simply need to be deliberate about taking the naturally occurring opportunities to use the reference tools.
Those natural opportunities arise when
- BEST CASE SCENARIO–Your children ask questions about what you’re studying.
- SECOND BEST –You think of questions about what you’re studying.
- STILL A NATURAL OPPORTUNITY –You realize there are things related to what you’re studying that your children don’t know.
The first occurrence is the best because you can build on a child’s own curiosity. The other two, although less motivating for the child, do give you a chance to model curiosity and to pull out the reference tools in a natural way that flows into your curriculum.
Let me give an example to help you understand. Imagine you’re reading a novel aloud to your children and the book references the swamp harrier, a bird on the island of Tonga.
- BEST CASE SCENARIO –Your child asks, “What does a swamp harrier bird look like?”
- SECOND BEST —You ask, “I wonder where Tonga is? Is that in the Caribbean or in the Pacific?”
- STILL A NATURAL OPPORTUNITY –You know that your child has never heard of Tonga, so you suggest you both look it up in the atlas.
Whatever the situation, you can pull out a reference book and look up the answer alongside your child.
Jimmie is the mother of one creative eleven-year-old daughter. Living in China adds a unique dimension to their Charlotte Mason styled homeschool. Besides reading and writing, Jimmie enjoys photography, traveling, Chinese watercolor painting, and cooking from scratch. Jimmie blogs at Jimmie’s Collage.