National Dictionary Day is observed every October 16th, but are folks still pulling out a hard copy of a dictionary to look up the definition of a word? With all the apps and virtual assistants we have at our fingertips to find word meanings, one could assume that in the 21st century dictionary skills are no longer important. However, learning to use the dictionary creates an important foundation for understanding alphabetic principles and exposes young people to early research skills. So should we still be teaching our kiddos how to use the dictionary? I think so!
An obvious benefit of learning to use a hard copy of the dictionary is that it strengthens knowledge of alphabetical order and spelling. Finding a word in the dictionary takes a methodical approach. The searcher has to first flip to the right beginning letter, then use the guide words at the top of each page to zero in on the word they’re looking for. So, if a child wants to find the definition of the word gong they know that it will come after the word gape, but before the word growth, because the letter o comes between the letters a and r in the alphabet. This is an important foundation for using other reference materials that list entries in alphabetical order. Children do not need to have this understanding to use an online dictionary in which they just enter the word to find the definition.
Exposure to Other Words
An unintended benefit of using a hard copy of the dictionary is that it exposes the searcher to other words. When a person uses an online dictionary to find a definition, usually just the sole word appears as a result. However, when using a physical copy, the user encounters a number of other words before finding the word they’re searching for. This exposure increases a person’s vocabulary and understanding of word meanings.
Great Children's Dictionaries
Though I’m a fan of hard copies of big beautiful children’s dictionaries like the Merriam Webster Children’s Dictionary, they can be expensive. I regularly use online dictionaries, too, because they are free and convenient. Below are some great sites to help young ones find the definitions of words.
Are you looking for ways to celebrate National Dictionary Day?
On Saturday, October 14th, and Sunday, October 15th I’ll be at the Louisiana Children’s Museum leading a fun literacy activity for National Dictionary Day. Young wordsmiths will create their own words and definitions to contribute to a community kids’ dictionary. Come join the convivial merrymaking! If you’re not sure what that means, you can look it up. 🙂
*Please note tickets must be purchased to enter the children's museum.