Polarmate's Spotlight
Friday, September 24, 2004
  Spotlight: September 2004: Choosing a First Dictionary for Young Children
Looking for the right kind of first Dictionary for a young reader is a task that should not be taken lightly. I embarked on this journey last month.

In April 2004, I was informed that I have a 5 year old kindergartner, who was assessed at having the reading ability and instructional capability of a 2nd grader in the 4th month of the school year. Takes a while to figure out what that means! Well, those were the results that the STAR Accelerated Reader program showed. I guess I was supposed to be thrilled that I had a precocious kindergartner, now 6 years old and a brand new 1st grader.

I hate these tests that try to place a child’s ability by comparing them to other children or national averages. Why? Because it tells me nothing that I did not already know about my child and it certainly does not help me assist my child’s development in any way. What is worse is that those administering these tests leave the future course of action open to you, the parent, to figure out what it is you should do with the information they just presented.

So, I decided that she was ripe for her very first Dictionary because she was asking all the right questions and I was running out of answers that did not require other big words. But, which dictionary should I choose? I went to research source #1 and Googled for “First Dictionary” and I was not surprised when the first result led me to Amazon. At this point, I had no clue what my decision should be based on. As I did more research on Amazon, I slowly formulated my criteria:Notice that price did not figure in the list above. At least, not yet.

My first shortlist looked like this:
Still not sure which dictionary to choose, I went back to Google and found the web site of Charles Harrington Elster, a lexicomane and a logophile. No, he does not have a terrible disease. It just means that he loves dictionaries and words. Charlie’s dictionary recommendations are mainly for older children and adults. Not 6 year olds who are advanced readers. So I wrote to him. And he replied. I could not believe it!! How many people respond to emails written to them by absolute strangers these days? Well, two co-founders of Tripod did, too, but that was another email, another story.

Here’s what Charlie had to say:
I must confess that I'm not as up on dictionaries for children as I should be, but I'll share what I do know. I have two dictionaries for youngsters in my house, Webster's New World Student Dictionary, which may be just a bit too advanced for your daughter--it's more for about ages nine to fourteen--and the fifth edition of the Thorndike Barnhart Beginning Dictionary published by Doubleday in 1964. This was my first dictionary, and I loved it. And look where I am now! You might want to consider getting the Thorndike Barnhart if you can find a decent copy; perhaps there is even a later edition, I don't know. It's old-fashioned, and the pictures are all black-and-white, but so what? It's a solid piece of work that is really well done for kids.

He added a few pearls of wisdom to my existing criteria for choosing a dictionary:
  • plenty of illustrations and photos;
  • typeface that is easy to read and leading that isn't too tight;
  • clarity and simplicity of definitions;
  • plenty of illustrative examples in the definitions;
  • a decipherable pronunciation key;
  • and whether the front matter is useful and interesting to kids.

So which dictionary did I buy? After all this research and thought, I found our dictionary at Sam’s Club quite by mistake. They had the McGraw-Hill Children’s Dictionary with the Thesaurus on display. It was like they knew what I was looking for. I remembered this combination being listed on Amazon for $44.95. I bought it for $14.98. I figured if the dictionary was not good enough, I could always return it. Price was not part of my decision-making criteria but this was a steal at that price.

The The McGraw-Hill Children's Dictionary is a superb resource. It fits Charlie’s description like a glove. It has wonderful illustrations and the definitions are very easy to understand. Each definition is followed by an example of the word used in a sentence. My daughter is enjoying it immensely!! She's diving into it all the time. And very often one word leads to another. I was worried about the pronunciation key but that is fairly simplified, too. It is also a nice thick book, which in it and by itself makes her feel very important!!

Thank you, Charlie!!

I intend to keep a lookout for The Thorndike Barnhart Beginning Dictionary as I am pretty sure we will be needing it within the next year or so, if my daughter continues to progress at the current pace. It is currently out of print and only used copies of this dictionary are available. I am looking for a copy that is from a pet-free home and is reasonably well-used as that means that the pages will not smell musty or stick to one another.

Resources for selecting a Dictionary:
How to Choose a Dictionary from Random House adds a few more criteria to the ones expounded by Charlie.
Charlie’s Dictionary Recommendations features Desk or "College" Dictionaries and unabridged dictionaries, as well as those he does not recommend.

Note: Links to Amazon.com are my affiliate links.

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Hey there! I am a small business strategist and entrepreneur. My food blog, Indian Food Rocks, is about my personal journey through life, spiced by eclectic Indian food and entertaining anecdotes. Apart from cruising the global kitchen,some of my obsessions include gazing at the Rockies, sneaking away on invigorating hikes, wielding my camera, knitting and crocheting, and dabbling in the concept of Voluntary Simplicity. I am also immersed in the challenge of raising a child while straddling two divergent cultures.

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