Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"Look it Up!"

When we were growing up, my mother somehow came up with the money to buy us a set of World Book encyclopedias. I seriously don't know how she did it, since feeding and clothing the six of us kids had to be a challenge day in and day out. I suspect we ate a few more meals of potato soup and such. I do know it spoke volumes (good pun, huh?) about how she valued education. The books were kept on the bookshelf in our living room, one my father had built if I remember correctly. They also came with a set of Childcraft books, and I spent hours and hours within the pages.

A dictionary also came with the set. Not just any ole dictionary, but rather a huge, two volume set. At the back of the second volume was a list, by grade, of words a child should be able to spell, pronounce and use in a sentence. Summers were spent working on those lists, as Mom was quite serious that we needed to be able to not only spell these words, but use them. I've always been a voracious (mom would love me using that word!) reader, and often read books that were a bit beyond my grade level. When I'd come to a word I didn't know, I'd ask her what it was, calling out the letters across the room as she was busy at the sink or washer.

She never told me, not one single time. She'd just say, "look it up." Which meant I had to go get one of the two big volumes of the dictionary, and then I'd have to report back to her what it meant. There was no worming out of it - just skimming over that sentence in the book. Once I'd told her I didn't know, she expected me to look it up, and come back with a report.

It made for a lifelong habit. Now when I come to a word in a book that I don't know, if the book belongs to me I put an asterisk by it, then look up the word, and write the definition across the top of the page. But you can't go around writing in library or loaned books. So I came up with a solution that will work well with my self-education plans.

I made a vocabulary book. It's a simple composition book, with a cheery cover. I printed out four sets of the alphabet on tiny labels and affixed them to the top right of the pages. Each letter of the alphabet gets about four pages (3.8 each, so X and V and a couple others got short-changed a bit, but how many X words can there be?)

Last night while I was reading "Nefertiti", I came across this sentence:

Obeisance? What does that mean? I grabbed the dictionary I keep by my bedside (you can't own too many pocket dictionaries, BTW), and looked it up.

Then I grabbed my new vocab book and made the first entry:

Then for posterity's sake, and to please my mother, I went to Amazon and ordered an old set of the World Book encyclopedia dictionaries for a whopping $18.00. What a steal! Of course I haven't seen yet what the shipping will be - those two books would make for pretty hefty door stops. It's going to please me immensely to have them sitting on my own bookshelves, 40+ years later. Maybe this idea will be of use to someone else out there - mother or child - who has a love for learning. I'm blessed my mom did and that she passed it on to me.


Sandy said...

My parents purchased the same set of encyclopedias, dictionaries and childcraft books for me and my sister. How I loved the arts and craft book and the short stories, poems and fables. Many a school project used those books and I always thought that if I was allowed to cut out their pictures, instead of creating my own copy, my projects would have be stellar! My father lived by "look it up" :) Thanks for the great memory reminder!

Becky said...

We just gave our World Book encyclopedias away to a homeschooling family. Ours were well worn too. I used to hate to go into a home to see a beautiful red leather bound set of World Books on a top shelf, far from sticky hands. What's the point in that???

I kept our Childcraft Books though. I used them in my classroom for many, many years, and now they await a grandchild who will read the same lovely poems and stories.

Kay said...

What a great idea! I loved looking things up in my old World Books as there were so many other interesting entries found along the way. As much as I love to google for information, it is too direct for the "pathway" of learning I enjoyed. One way to mark new words in borrowed books is to use sticky note tabs?

You are taking this project very seriously and having just seen the "Julia/ Julie" movie, I'm thinking your new adventure has similar potential?

Linda said...

What a good idea Bev. I'm going to do that too. I often look up the word, but not writing it down means I'm liable to forget what it means the next time I come across it. Often just the act of writing something down sort of secures it in my little mind.
I'm happy I have an excuse to buy a little notebook. I love notebooks, pens - all that writing stuff! I envy school children their lists of things they have to buy for school :-) Yippee!

Sarah said...

That pronunciation guide is your new best friend. Be sure to look up diva, gyro, and ginormous. And, possibly, smart-aleck daughter. :)

Susanne said...

I remember the World Book salesman being at my house when I was a kid. But my mom and dad just couldn't afford them and I know it really bothered them. But God worked it out because when I was in grade 7 I won a set of Merit Students Encyclopedias. I loved them. I actually read a couple of them almost cover to cover. I used them for looking up everything. I still have them today and can't bear to get rid of them. Unfortunately not one of my children picked up my quirk of reading an encyclopedia cover to cover. LOL.

Judith said...

Never considered I would feel it a compliment for insisting on "Look it up". But I am popping even more buttons off my chest about your getting your very own World Books. How much fun it must be to remember your growing up days, as you turn those pages.

dianne - bunny trails said...

I love this!! I'm such a word-holic. What a very fun idea. We have friends who have a GINORMOUS old unabridged dictionary. I think when it's laying on a table, it's pro ably 7-8" tall! I would totally dig having one like that.

I guess it's carried over (with some variation) to my youngest son. He loves to carry a pocket dictionary around with him. In his pocket, of course. Sometimes he reads it at bedtime. Then he enjoys using new words.

Words are a very good thing. :D

Gretchen said...

We just purchased net nanny for our children b/c they ,too are wanting to "look it up". No, not in the WBE, but still, the learning is happening. Personally, I like the feeling of the pages in my fingers.