Online Dictionaries and Encyclopedias for Kids

As children learn to read and are exposed to unfamiliar words and concepts, a reliable, age-appropriate resource that can provide the meanings of new words is a must. Knowing where to find and how to use an online dictionary or encyclopedia will make accomplishing this goal easier.

Online dictionaries help kids learn new words and develop their research skills. They can also help kids gain confidence in their ability to comprehend the world. Encyclopedias give them a chance to explore a subject and develop an understanding of its significance in historical and modern contexts.

You can find all sorts of dictionaries and encyclopedias online, but only a few are structured specifically for children. The best online resources are age-appropriate and use language accessible to younger readers.

Word Central Student Dictionary

A row of children using online dictionaries on school computers

Compassionate Eye Foundation / Chris Ryan / Getty Images

Merriam-Webster's Word Central uses the Merriam-Webster dictionary to provide results for kids' inquiries, so you know you can trust the results. Plus, It is filled with features to keep kids engaged, such as Alpha-bot, a robotic word-spelling robot.

If a user misspells a word, the dictionary offers suggestions for the correct spelling. Each definition also offers a link to an audio file so kids can hear and practice the proper pronunciation.

Additionally, the dictionary suggests words that may have multiple interpretations. For example, a search for "scientist" yields several results, including "earth scientist," "social scientist," and "political science."

Kids can browse the dictionary or find games on the Word Central site that build language and spelling skills. The site also offers a thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary, and a "daily buzzword" that can help expand a child's vocabulary. All of these features make this site very useful—and fun—for students.

Little Explorers Picture Dictionary

On the surface, this online dictionary may look a little antiquated or clunky compared to newer websites, but Little Explorers Picture Dictionary is very useful for young learners.

Little Explorers is designed to be browsed rather than searched, and in this way, it behaves more like an encyclopedia than a dictionary.

Kids can browse different categories, such as plants, furniture, and story time, to learn new words. Each entry has an illustration and a definition or explanation of the word. Many entries also include links to more information.

The words in the Little Explorers dictionary range from extremely common ("hair") to relatively obscure ("Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterfly"—the largest butterfly in the world, according to Little Explorers). The site also offers multi-language versions including English-French, English-Dutch, English-German, English-Spanish, English-Swedish, and English-Japanese, among others.

Kids.Wordsmyth

Kids.Wordsmyth provides the option to search words or concepts—such as the human body, the physical world, or government and law—at different levels.

Kids.Wordsmyth is a full-feature dictionary with entries that include pronunciations, animations, synonyms, photographs, and word etymology.

The beginner's level is the most fundamental, focusing on a simple primary definition. It is called WILD, an acronym for Wordsmyth Illustrated Learner's Dictionary. The animated environment is fun and structured for kindergarten to third-grade readers.

The Word Explorer Children's Dictionary is for the upper elementary grades. The Comprehensive Dictionary-Thesaurus Suite is available in three reading levels, from elementary to advanced.

Wordsmyth also offers several ways to search. You can browse, focus the search by filtering out entries that don't fit certain criteria, reverse search, and explore word parts by roots and affixes. The site also hosts a few different quizzes, which kids can use as a practice tool as well.

While much of the site is free to use, Wordsmyth also offers a subscription option, and some features of the site are restricted to subscribers.

Fact Monster

Fact Monster is a fun website filled with learning opportunities for kids. It is comprehensive and goes far beyond the basic dictionary to include an encyclopedia, almanac, atlas, and historical timelines.

In the dictionary, kids can search for a particular word and receive a very comprehensive definition. For example, the word "apple" produces eight definitions. Kids can also learn how to use a traditional pronunciation key and try daily challenges including a spelling bee, analogies, word quizzes, and crossword puzzles.

Fact Monster is an endless maze for enthusiastic young learners. Kids can study math, science, history, social studies, and language arts.

They can go as deep into a subject as they like. This site is great for homework and special projects that kids need to do research for.

Britannica Kids

In the old days, parents bought a set of encyclopedias that they used to scour for information. Today, kids can get that experience online and one of the best places to do so is on Britannica Kids.

Offered by the biggest name in encyclopedias, this website is an excellent homework resource for kids of all ages.

There are two main levels—kids and students—with the latter geared more for middle and high school students. Each level includes articles, media libraries, an interactive world atlas, speech-to-text functionality, and age-appropriate texts for kids from kindergarten on up.

The catch here is that, like the books, Britannica Kids comes at a cost. There is an annual subscription, but for a trusted source of information your kids can rely on, it may be worth it. This is particularly true for parents who homeschool.

Also, this encyclopedia is accessible from multiple devices. This capability is handy if you are out on an educational field trip and want to bring up background information on your phone or tablet.

Google Dictionary

Google Dictionary is one of the most comprehensive online word directories, but it's not a traditional website. You must access it through a Google Chrome extension (a program that can be installed into Chrome in order to change the functions of the browser). But this means your child can look up words as they browse the web, without heading to a separate dictionary site.

This dictionary, which comes in 13 different languages, allows kids to easily access definitions of words they may not know or understand.

Kids also can use it in the beginning stages of a research project to learn more about a specific topic. Another interesting feature of this dictionary is that it can store a history of all words defined for your child as well as the definitions for those words.

Kids can then download this information as a CSV file. If they want, they can even use other Chrome or Google Drive extensions to make flash cards using this information. Or they can use the information in another project.

A Word From Verywell

Online dictionaries and encyclopedias are great resources for kids. They provide the tools they need to succeed in school. Not only can kids use them to find the information they are looking for, but these resources can double as study tools, via quizzes, flash-card makers, and more.

If you are looking for online educational resources, try out a few of these with your kids. Together you can determine which ones best fit their needs and learning style.

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