Sure, the internet can be a diverting time-waster, but it can also be an invaluable resource for research. The only problem is, it can be sometimes difficult to know how credible an online source is. This guide will point you to some of the best places to find good, accurate and easy-to-understand homework help for kids.
Most people turn to Dictionary.com for word spellings and definitions, but Onelook.com is a much more powerful and versatile tool. Instead of listing the definition of a word, it links to the definitions on various dictionary sites; word buffs can pick the source best suited to your project, be it Dictionary.com, the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the 1913 edition of Websters, or the Online Etymology Dictionary.
Better yet, if you can’t remember the word you’re looking for, advanced searching allows you to specify, among other things, what letters it starts with, or what it means. For example, typing in ‘bl*:snow’ brings up all words that start with ‘bl’ and relate to ‘snow’ (returning ‘blanket’ and ‘blizzard’).
Sure, with its ‘anyone can edit’ philosophy, there are credibility issues with Wikipedia. But because so many people use it, the information is generally very accurate – at least, it’s not much less accurate than other sources.
In 2005, the science journal Nature compared errors in Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica and found approximately 4 mistakes per article on Wikipedia – compared to 3 mistakes per article in the Britannica.
Because of its controversial authorship, it’s worth consulting with the teacher assigning the homework to find out if Wikipedia can be used as a source. Regardless, it’s one of the best launching points for information on any topic.
Libraries have traditionally been where school kids go to research projects. In the digital age, that’s still true, even if it means never leaving your home. The Toronto Public Library has put together a great site for children, with educational games and stories, and dozens of ‘pathfinders’ – collections of links to kid-friendly resources on everything from ancient Rome to Canada’s trading partners to math and music.
National Geographic publishes a magazine for kids, so it’s no surprise that their kids website is top-notch. Its pictures and quick facts are great for stimulating interest in animals and places. The drawback: The interface cuts content up into tiny chunks. If you find yourself getting impatient as you scan for information you’re looking for, the ‘Print this feature’ button will display all the content on one page (no need to actually print).
Sometimes you just can’t find the answer to something on your own. K12science.org’s Ask An Expert page lists a surprising number of places you can go to ask a real-live scientist questions, from NASA researchers to dietitians to SeaWorld’s Shamu (although we’re pretty sure Shamu has help typing in those answers).
Don’t expect this to be a shortcut to doing your own research, though: Because of the large number of questions, many of these services won’t respond to questions that have already been answered, and it may take a few weeks to get a response. Still, there’s nothing more satisfying (and more impressive to teachers) than getting a response from an actual expert.
One of the BBC website’s strengths—for kids and adults—is its overview information. News articles on the BBC site all list links for more background information: For example, a recent article on Honduras lifting its overnight curfew was accompanied by info on “Why the Crisis Erupted” and a country profile, so anyone can get up to speed. The same smart attention to detail characterizes their kids news site, where articles are shortened and rewritten in simpler language. TimeForKids.com is another great kids’ news source; unfortunately the CBC’s kids site is mostly games-based.
FactMonster is a popular one-stop information resource for kids. Its reference section boasts bundles of easy-to-read timelines, almanacs of all kinds, a colorful atlas, and over 57,000 short articles from the Columbia Encyclopedia. Its Homework Center further breaks information down into subjects (geography, math, social studies) and skills (writing, speaking and listening, studying). The only disadvantage is that certain subjects are pretty U.S.-centric; try KidsSpace.TorontoPublicLibrary.ca for help with Canadian subjects.
Shmoop brings a new-generation web aesthetic to literary studies. Its no-nonsense interface and plain-speak write-ups of classic books make it a serious contender to SparkNotes.com (which is another great resource): Each book intro starts off with “In a Nutshell” and “Why Should I Care?” You can also ask other users questions in the discussion area, or attach sticky notes to the page you’re reading. While kids sometimes turn to study guides instead of reading a text, Shmoop makes clear its policy on plagiarism, and provides the tools that make sure it’s used for learning, not copying.
Don’t be fooled if you see this site in your child’s browsing history. It’s actually a sneakily-named site for playing online video games. Tricky!