Kal-El announced that he wanted to learn "how to research." It took me about a week to pull everything together for him and every day I heard, "Are we ready to start learning how to research yet today?" Basically Kal-El wants to know how to answer his own questions. Whenever he asks me a question and I don't know the answer (and sometimes when I do) I say "I don't know, we'll have to research that." He was ready to start answering some of those questions himself.
One of my first jobs was to provide him a safe place to do his research without running to the library every day (We were at the library every day last week. Phew!). Look what I found!
I have been watching Craigslist for encyclopedias on and off for the past year. For those of you who are wondering what is typical, I usually saw sets from the 60's and 70's going for about $40. When Kal-El started pestering me about doing "research" I looked again and was thrilled to find a fresh listing of 1993 World Books for FREE. They are like new! If you bought a new set of these it would run $1200. I was a little deflated when my husband laughed at me and said that was irrelevant because nobody buys encyclopedias anymore. The woman who gave them to me did ask me if I was cutting them up for some kind of project and wondered what I would be making. She was super surprised when I told her we planned on using them.
I will say this, if we had paid $40 for them we would have easily gotten our money's worth out of them in just the first week. Sitting around and reading the encyclopedia is a new favorite pastime around here.
The next order of business was to procure a dictionary. This was tricky. I put ten different dictionaries (several levels across several brands) to try to find the right type. Most "beginner" or "primary" dictionaries are formated perfectly but have too few words in them. Most of the words in them were words the boys already know and wouldn't need to look up. I don't know what kind of kid those dictionaries are for really. The vocabulary is too limited for Kal-El's needs already but at any point before this he didn't have need of a dictionary...if that makes any sense.
At any rate, I have a used dictionary ordered based on a friend's recommendation and won't be here for a few weeks. In the meantime, the DK/Merriam-Webster Children's Dictionary was the clear winner and the library copy has a place on our bookshelf for now.
The long-term goal, of course, is for Kal-El to start with a topic and end with some kind of visible evidence of what he learned. One my albums has a "Library Research Strategies" chart in the back that he will eventually be able to use. It delineates six steps and many questions to ask yourself for each step to help with the process. When Kal-El gets to that stage I will make him a chart or something that boils that information down to these beginner steps:
Task Definition. What needs to be done?
Information Seeking Strategies. What resources will I use?
Location and Access. Where can I find the resources?
Use of Information. What and how will I use the information I find?
Synthesis. What can I make to finish the job?
Evaluation. How will I know I did my job well?
However, there is definitely a road to be traveled before we get to that point. Fortunately, Jessica wrote a couple of pages to add to her Keys of the Universe theory album that does a good job of drawing a picture of what a self-directed and creative young researcher will look like in the end and of summarizing the skills the child needs to acquire in order to get there. Before he can start turning out fabulous, deep, creative, multi-material presentations on a topic he needs to learn simple things like "how to use a dictionary," "how to use an encyclopedia," and "how to use a library." To do any of those things he has to have a deeper understanding of alphabetization.
Another set of albums I have had a few really great pages in the language arts section that focuses on these fundamental skills. There is a great "Dewey Decimal System Story" that ties the Dewey categories to the "fundamental needs of man" work in a memorable way. There are also great Montessori presentations for alphabetizing, guide words (in dictionaries and encyclopedias), encyclopedia work, and a page of dictionary command card suggestions. These are all great and very traditional mostly involving the sorting of cards and recording work in the child's language journal.
I also have the disc of NAMC blackline masters for lower elementary. Those materials include 27 pages of research skills works in more of a worksheet format. If you don't wish to use anything looking like a worksheet, the works could easily be copied onto cards. These worksheets are a good example of the fact that sometimes the only difference between a worksheet and a "Montessori work" is how much work Mom has to do to make it, LOL! You'll see what I mean. Anyway, I avoid worksheets like the plague but left these works as is...except binding them into a book of course.
The 27 NAMC pages are in the front. I put in a colored divider and put copies of the album pages from the albums I mentioned earlier in the back so I could find the work quickly.
Kal-El loves to lounge around working on his "research skills."
Some of the pages work on deepening understanding of the alphabetic principle.
There are a lot of pages that have short lists of words to number according to alphabetical order. It took him through alphabetizing by only first letter, then by second, and eventually by third letter and a MIX of these.
For the easy steps it didn't matter what format the work was in. For the harder ones, cards that can be manually sorted on a mat really are better than numbering words or writing a list on a worksheet. After he mangled writing the days of the week in alphabetical order I borrowed our "days of the week" cards from the history basket and had him do the work on the mat. As you can see that went well.
There is a lot more work to do. I'll continue to share as he continues this work and I'll show you the more traditional Montessori presentations I make/give on this topic as I work through the album pages.