Remember what research used to be like? From the mind numbing process of searching card catalogs, to the back breaking effort of carrying one hundred pound encyclopedias, to the finger aching toll of putting pen to actual paper, we had to work hard for every paragraph of information we could gather. Never mind the inevitable fact that the paragraph we toiled for was, in fact, useless. Now, it is all too easy.
Partially because my husband is a college professor and I used to teach elementary school and partially because we care about the future of humanity, we decided early on that our children would understand the concept of actual look-it-up-in-a-book research. And so, every summer each child is able to pick something they would like to research and the beautiful process begins. Some years they all decide to study the same thing, like the years we moved back to back summers. The kids decided to research the new states we were moving to. Then there was the bee year. Generally speaking, though, they pick different subjects. This year, we have cheetah, sea turtle, basketball, and panda research going on.
The younger kids choose four books on their topic. As I read to them, I try to find out what they would like to learn about,specifically. When we get to the parts of the books that discuss those specifics, we talk about what they are learning and how that fits or conflicts with what they expected. The goal at this stage is to get them familiar with the idea of looking up information in a book and finding answers to questions they have.
The older ones pick four books that they can read on their own about their topic. They then come up with five questions they would like answered by their research and I add five questions. Once they have read their books, they write up a “report” answering the questions in essay form. Writing is as much a part of research as reading and needs to be taught; that is the goal at this stage.
Over the years, we have come across a few authors and series that we always begin with when teaching children to research. This list is by no means exhaustive but these particular authors should be your first line of reference.
Steve Jenkins – Jenkins’ books are ideal for younger children wanting to research animals. His illustrations are very interesting and his content is short but informative. The end of each book gives a more detailed account of the animal featured in the book.
Jim Arnosky – These books would be a natural follow up to Jenkins’ books, for the slightly older kids. Arnosky’s fantastic illustrations are a large part of what makes his books so compelling. The information he provides is very helpful and will be read again and again.
Gail Gibbons – Gail Gibbons should be your number one stop for all things science with children. Her content language is geared toward older children, but she keeps each page short and heavily illustrated making her books accessible to all ages. We have read a great many of her books in our house and we have found them all helpful.
Magic School Bus – Ms. Frizzle! Does there need to be any enticement beyond her? She is the dream science teacher (well, maybe tied with Bill Nye the Science Guy) and for good reason. She’s punny, smart, and fearless. A lot can be learned from field trips in a magic school bus.
National Geographic Little Kid First Big books – A cross between a National Geographic magazine and an encyclopedia, these books are are wonderful. They are excellent for research with the younger kids. I regularly find my youngest “reading” through the Big Book of Animals lost in all the pictures.
Explore and Learn series – These are basically mini encyclopedias with each book focusing on a different aspect of science. For example, the series includes Science and Technology, Earth and Space, Me and My Body, just to name a few. They are full of interesting and useful information.
Here’s to reclaiming the art of research! Enjoy and please let me know which authors or series you would add to the list.