Online Dictionaries and Encyclopedias Kids Can Use

Children need dictionaries just like adults—perhaps even more so. As they learn the English language and are exposed to new words and concepts, having a reliable resource that can present the meanings of new words in a way that is appropriate for their age is a must.

Not only will they learn new words, but online dictionaries also help kids to develop research skills and confidence in their ability to comprehend the world. Encyclopedias play off this as well, giving kids 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 ones are age-appropriate and use language accessible to younger readers. Here are a few that fit the bill.

Word Central Student Dictionary

Students using dictionary in classroom
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Merriam-Webster's Word Central uses the Merriam-Webster dictionary to provide results and it is filled with features to keep kids engaged, such as Alpha-bot, a robotic word-selling whiz.

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 practice the proper pronunciation.

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

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

Little Explorers Picture Dictionary

On the surface, this dictionary may look a little antiquated or clunky compared to newer websites, but Little Explorers Picture Dictionary is very useful and geared towards 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 storytime to learn new words. Each of the thousands of entries has an illustration and a definition or explanation of the word. Many entries 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 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-featured 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 3rd-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 your search by filtering out entries that don't fit certain criteria, reverse search, and explore A to Z word parts by roots and affixes. The site also hosts a few different types of quizzes, which kids can use as a practice tool as well.

Wordsmyth offers a subscription option, and some features of the site are restricted to subscribers.

Fact Monster

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

In the dictionary, kids can search for a particular word and receive a very comprehensive definition ("apple" produces eight definitions). They can also learn how to use a traditional pronunciation key. You'll find many daily challenges as well, 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. It's 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 we had 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. The latter is geared more for middle and high school students. Each includes articles, media libraries, an interactive world atlas, speech-to-text functionality, and age-appropriate reading levels for kids from kindergarten on up.

The catch here is that, like the encyclopedia 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, it can be accessed from multiple devices. This is handy if you're out on an educational field trip and want to bring up background information on your phone or tablet.

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