Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Kids Discover Encyclopedias

My parents made a major investment in the education of myself and two older siblings years ago. It wasn’t a trust fund or science camp, but rather a set of World Book encyclopedias. 

I still remember the day they arrived. Dad gave us a 30-minute tutorial on how to properly utilize the green, white, and gold-foiled volumes and Mom gave us a 20-minute tutorial on all the ways she’d kill us if we touched them with dirty hands. 


It was an intense short course on academia.


We sure got their money’s worth. We leafed through those pre-internet pages to learn about invertebrates, the Kennedy assassination, and the four hemispheres. I still remember sitting on the couch looking at photos of tornado destruction, internal organs, and umbilical cords. Who can forget the countless leaf collection leaves that were pressed between the pages of those books and a sheet of wax paper? We’re still looking for an Acer palmatum (more commonly known as the Japanese maple) which my brother swears he pressed in the letter M.


During pre-school our daughter began to identify letters everywhere we went. One afternoon at her grandparent’s house she became curious about the lettered books on the shelf. I was thrilled to explain to her what encyclopedias are, how they’re used and all the things we could learn by flipping through the pages. She’d recently learned about a set of birds, and we quickly read all that we could about the Blue Jay, Cardinal, and Red-winged Blackbird.


Sometimes when the kids visit, they just enjoy getting out volume F and looking at the graphic of all the feet. This is how kids should learn, I believe. Not by an iPad or screen, but by exploring until you find something that urges that tiny motivator in the mind to know more. 


Encyclopedias were verified, proofread, and authorized. As a parent, I get concerned about the amount of information thrown at early learners that isn’t accurate or even solicited. Heck, I get concerned about the amount of information thrown at educated adults that isn’t accurate or even solicited!


Today, we can enter a question or a word into a search bar and get millions of results. How do you quickly verify what is true? Or, we can talk about needing (ha!) new fall boots and minutes later advertisements for fall footwear begin to appear in the margins of our web pages (quite alarming). 


What might the younger generation see when they don’t even have the desire to learn more? What might show up that will take them down a long, dark path in just a couple clicks?


Goodness, I miss those treasured encyclopedias. 


They taught us how to spell, study, research, and learn based on fact, not opinion. 


Decades following the arrival of the World Books into our homestead, I’m now a parent myself and completely convinced Mom and Dad made the astronomical investment in order to streamline the number of questions coming into the parental call center:


“How are babies born?”


“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”


“Why do moles have pig noses?”


“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”


“Who shot JR?”


“Go look it up in the encyclopedia.”


I never could find the answer to that last one.