Books vs the Internet when it comes to children’s non-fiction

posted in: Non-Fiction | 9

Many of you will be familiar with the scenario: your child comes home from school with instructions to research a topic for homework and the question then arises, how and where is this research to be done? More often than not, the school will tell your child to “use the internet”, but as we all know, simply googling something can turn up results that might be:

  • unwanted (those not easily offended could try looking online for a picture of Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s consort) and you’ll see what I mean; I use this example because it is exactly what happened to a friend’s child),
  • indigestible (imagine a 6 year old wanting to learn about solar eclipses, and trying to make sense of the relevant Wikipedia entry),
  • or simply inaccurate because information can be placed online without any editorial process (take a look at some of the articles on MMR inoculation in the US, for example).

  • For all these reasons (and a few more), I prefer to encourage my kids to use books for their research; books can be selected so that I know they have been written with language my children can access, and they have been through a long editorial process to ensure accuracy. No children’s book on Prince Albert would ever include some of the images thrown up by Google.

    However, I was very interested to learn that DK (as Dorling Kindersley prefers to be known), renowned for their quality non-fiction books both for adults and children, recently launched a free, safe website for children (particularly 7-11 year olds), and also their parents and teachers: http://www.dkfindout.com/

    Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 13.03.34

    Drawing on DK’s stunning image library and the wide range of content from its books’ backlist, DK FindOut! is full of potential.

    Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 13.05.15

    DK FindOut! is clean and beautiful, in a way that does make doing your homework a little bit more appealing.

    Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 15.11.46

    The website also offers some ways into knowledge, understanding and sparking curiosity which books can’t: it contains videos, it is fully accessible on all mobile devices and so is instantly available without any planning, and it makes adding visual content to homework projects very easy.

    We’ve used it quite a lot in the past month to support homework and my youngest finds the site easy to navigate and enjoys being on it.

    DKwebsite

    But we’ve not stopped using books…

    DKreferencebook

    Indeed, I personally still prefer to encourage my child to use books for her homework, not least because they are easier to share together, to sit around and discuss as we look at pictures or read text. Whilst the website is free, so too is a visit to the library. Whilst the website is in theory accessible anywhere any time, that’s dependent on your internet connection and any downtime on the site (it is still in beta mode and we have experienced a couple of occasions when, for example, the search function wasn’t available). A book on the other hand, either one you own or have borrowed from the library, is far more reliably accessible. It is not reliant on battery power or happy servers.

    http://www.dkfindout.com/ is, however, an exciting development. We’ve found it a useful place to start our research and I think lots of families and schools will find it interesting and helpful. The website will continue to grow over the course of the coming months. There are already some teachers’ lesson plans available, and there will be a special area for parents later in the year. As more and more content is added I’m sure we’ll be returning to use DK FindOut! again and again. I hope it heralds a new era in visually stunning, factually reliable, child-friendly websites.

    9 Responses

    1. This will be really useful. I prefer books so much more to vague Internet research too, for many reasons, however on occasions there simply isn’t enough time to source the correct books. Thanks for sharing.

    2. I still prefer book research over Internet research as I think that a specific book on a topic gives a better opportunity to focus on what you are looking for (especially for a child learning research skills). It’s easy to spend lots of time looking for what you want to know on the Internet and as you say the information you find hasn’t necessarily been verified. However, DK Findout! does look great and I came up with some interesting information when I did some random searching. I look forward to seeing how it grows. Thanks for a useful blogpost Zoe 🙂
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    3. SIMONE FRASER

      Great post yet again, Zoe.
      I remember once overhearing some university lecturers discussing this point. It was obvious to them that the students did their research online because of the similarities in their writing, i.e. the source material was the same. Understandably, as teachers they found it predictable and not stimulating to read. I still wonder about the credentials of those writing, whether their research and expertise is strong. I’m an ‘oldie’ and enjoyed the physicality of going to different books and articles, et. al. when researching and writing. It’s so satisfying! Ultimately, I think both must and should be used.
      I love that this has been a topic for a post and discussion!

    4. That website looks brilliant.

      Your Prince Albert joke made me laugh!
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    5. Chris Routh

      As a librarian, I’m always pleased when teachers ask children to research using print sources. I think it demands a deeper engagement with the text (can’t cut and paste), it’s usually presented with the actual audience in mind and the students are not going to be overwhelmed by too much information. For all the reasons you give against using the Internet, we subscribe to reliable online resources which are designed to be used by young readers/researchers – schools edition of Britannica Online, for example, presents info at three levels and has many excellent supportive features – but isn’t perfect by any means. As students get older they need to be able to use a variety of sources and also learn how to be critical and selective. Personally I’d always choose a book above a website, but whatever we think, children will want to (and be expected to) use the Internet and need guidance about how to do that safely and effectively. My biggest fear is the desire for a quick fix answer and the loss of the ability to get immersed in (and to enjoy) reading and researching. You are right that we need more quality websites to choose from!

    6. Thanks for this Zoe. As a Children’s librarian I usually direct children who use the library to the online Children’s Encyclopedia Britannica . Most library authorities have online subscriptions to this and as well as children using it in the library most library authorities have the facility for readers to access it from home – or school – as long as they log on via the library website using their library card. The online Britannica has three sections Junior ( for 6 -10 year olds) Student (10 -14) and adult. The material for each section is reliable and age appropriate in terms of language and illustration but users can use more than one entry of course.
      There are always a limited number of books on any topic in the library – especially if there is a rush on something popular on the curriculum – and I have found the Junior/Student Britannica to be a great back up. I will recommend the DK site now too!

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