5 Best Free Online Encyclopedias for Tweens and Teens: Detailed Reviews
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For many of us, fact-finding and research works on an SOS basis. Our kids need a fact for homework or ask a question that needs an answer. We at once ‘google’ it, scarcely even noticing the site that's providing the answer. We switch off the moment we get the info we need.
While search has its uses, it’s not contributing to our child’s learning process.
It’s only about the ‘what’, not the ‘how’, as we always say here at Polymath Parenting.
Instead, using encyclopedias to do research offers our teens and tween so many more benefits than just building knowledge about a particular topic. Learning how to use them and actually using them to find information helps build effective learning skills, as covered in the post: Effective Learning Benefits of Online Encyclopedias. Since even the best online tools can turn into mindless browsing sessions if not used well, we also shared 5 tried and tested ways to get the most out of using online encyclopedias.
The resources reviewed in this post, along with the 5 best ways to use online encyclopedias as learning resources, will set you up to help your child not just collect wide knowledge, but also build effective learning skills such as research, connection, documentation, summarization, and articulation. Together, it’s a powerful way to build compound knowledge.
In this post, we have reviewed sites using the following filters:
- Content quality
- Neutrality (not overly skewed to one country, culture, politics or religion)
- Ease of use and navigation
- Other benefits and features specific to the site
- All the resources are free
- This is a review of general knowledge encyclopedias covering most of the major subjects and fields, not of subject-specific encyclopedias. For subject-specific resource reviews, check out our full list on the Reviews page.
- All the reviews have been conducted anonymously and no payment has been received for any mentions
Top 5 Online Encyclopedias for Teens and Tweens: Reviewed
(In no particular order)
Think of Encyclopedia.com as a ‘meta-encyclopedia’ which sources content from other encyclopedias and resources that may be more subject-specific, so you can find everything on one portal. It is a vast repository of credible content across most subject areas - from Earth Sciences to History, Literature and People sourced from 200 individual encyclopedias and reference books, from the world’s most trusted publishers like Columbia press and Oxford University Press.
Great for: teens (and us parents!)
Because it combines information from multiple sources, it does need a slightly higher level of navigation skills. The way the information is presented (mostly text with photos) it’s just more set-up for the older reader.
- Because it sources from well-recognized encyclopedias and resources, the information is credible and can be cited in homework and papers.
- Though it gets content from multiple other sources, it doesn’t take your child out of the site environment to external sites
- It is safe and easy to use, with the secure lock symbol on the browser tab.
- It is free - they use an ad-supported model.
- It is easy to find what you are looking for, especially if you know what you are looking for. It does auto-suggest a few items when you land on a category page. Categories are clearly and cleanly laid out so it does help you follow a track.
- Additional benefits and features: the site offers a one-click print for any article, as well as a one-click citation link.
- There are ads for things like video games and theme parks but I am guessing they will not serve up any highly inappropriate ads. That said, unlike many sites, the ads are pretty unobtrusive and the navigation doesn't become a nightmare of flashing display banners.
- It’s neutral content and tells us about the world, but you will definitely find richer results for western skewed topics than very specific Indian topics.
- Some of the video ad pop-ups are really annoying, but since it’s a free service with high-quality citable content, one makes peace with them.
DKFindOut! is a popular resource in my house of under tens, because it's highly visual and covers almost all the basic curriculum subjects. It is full of color, pictures, fun facts, and activities. It comes from DK Publishers, which also gives us high quality books on a range of topics, that are easily available in India and reasonably priced for the high quality.
Great for: tweens and all kids between 6 and 13
Because it is very visual and offers additional interactive activities for kids like quizzes and videos.
- It is a safe, secure, and reliable site for your child, so you do not need to supervise use
- Its laid out in a very user friendly manner and is great to encourage young learners to exercise their research skills without you needing to help them
- It is entirely free, and there are NO ads - both major pluses for me. However, they do advertise all their books on the site so your kid may just start pestering you for some of them
- All the content are expert-approved and credible, though not citable
- There are additional videos, short quizzes with just 10 questions and fun fact cards for each topic on the site
- None that I could come up with. They do have some downloadable teaching resources for pre-school teachers (age 3 to 5), but access to that requires a sign-up process.
3. Academic Kids
Despite looking around, we couldn’t make out who’s the force behind this pretty great kids research resource! That said, despite its somewhat Wikipedia-like UX, it still covers a huge set of topics and subjects.
Great for: teens
Because of the higher number of ads, less friendly UX and text-heavy content, I would not suggest this for tweens.
- Covers a wide range of topics
- The information seems factually correct although it’s not peer reviewed and in many cases I could not make out the source.
- That said, it goes deep and would make a great resource for teens needing facts to back up their homework.
- At the end of each article, you also get more suggested topics under ‘See also’ - it works like the Google search “People also ask for’ section. There are also related clip-arts of the topic offered but that takes you to a different site.
The UX is just not that great. I get that it's free, but there are an insane number of ads on each page, so it will need constant adult supervision to ensure they don’t click through on anything because some of those ads look like a part of the content.
Owlcation crowdsources content from educators and experts, on curriculum topics, following a strict editorial policy for quality control. Experts on any topic can share expertise and knowledge if they meet the policy requirements.
Great for: teens
Because of the long-form articles written by experts. I would work well as a follow up resource for deeper research into a specific topic.
- High-quality, informative-style content about a wide range of topics under STEM, Humanities and Social Sciences.
- The writing is educational, research-based, objective, and dense.
- Their editorial policy ensures that each article is written by a real person and comes with the author's full (and real) name (and personality).
- Clickable bibliography at the end of each article means learners can further research the topic
- While text-heavy, the writing and editing is really of a high quality. It will encourage students to identify the facts they seek from an essay-type piece.
The topics are not arranged like a curriculum so don’t try to use it as a direct supplement to the school or homework. That said, it's a really great site to develop your teen’s research and self-directed learning skills.
5. FactMonster and Infoplease
Factmonster and Infoplease are part of the Sandbox Learning family of educational and reference sites for parents, teachers and students.
While it's quite US-skewed, it does also offer a ton of other fact-rich content about the rest of the world and that's why it made our list.
Great for: tweens and teens
- COPPA and kidSAFE-certified, so it's a safe place for kids to explore without supervision
- Wide range of topics from solar system to world economy, but not very deep or dense. Some of the content seems to be sourced from DK Books.
- Content seems credible and verified - its especially strong on definitions and facts about everything from people to flags
- Offers free virtual-versions of fun, educational and I have so say, somewhat nostalgic games like Hangman, TicTacToe, Simon Says and Word Search - including by subject - so you can play Geography hangman or History Hangman!
- Nice UX - clean, easy to navigate
The site, though kids-safe, has ads, and they are mildly annoying. Thankfully though, they do not enter the text space or between a topic content.
Infoplease is a reference and learning site, combining the contents of an encyclopedia, a dictionary, an atlas and several almanacs loaded with facts. The content is regularly refined and updated by editors who keep the enormous body of information reliable and credible.
Great for: teens
- Fun bonus tools such as conversion calculators, latitude and longitude finders, dictionary and thesaurus, periodic table and a good collection of maps.
- Quick and fun quizzes on animals, art & culture, geography, history, science and sports
- Engaging sections called Top 10’s and This Day in History, along with the bonus tools extend the research possibilities on any topic
- Not only does the site have display ads, but also ‘sponsored content’ that looks like editorial content but is actually ads, and often about non-educational topics. Parental supervision or at least oversight-by-hanging-around would be needed for tweens.
Aside from these encyclopedias, parents can also check out some of these crowd-sourced public information resources such as:
- Wikipedia: it’s free, vast, but crowdsourced so all ‘facts’ need verification.
- Credo Reference: Covers about 22 topics from science to history, but is difficult to use unless you know what you are searching for. Definitely for older teens.
- Citizendium: is a free, mostly objective, crowdsourced Wikipedia-like interface for over 40 subject areas like Biology to Engineering, Robotics and Visual Arts. Good for teens.
- Great Websites for Kids: is a directory service with links to other great kid-safe research websites. It's sponsored by the American Library Foundation and the recommended sites are quite skewed to the US. Topics cover art, history, language, math and science. However the site does not have a security (SSL) certification - no little lock on the browser tab.
- New World Encyclopedia: a pretty serious site that covers many obscure and mainstream topics. However, you need to know what you are searching for- its not designed for browsing or unstructured research. Could be a good complementary research source for older kids.
Before we close, I have to add that the world’s best, most comprehensive online encyclopedia is of course Encyclopedia Britannica. However, it is a subscription-based paid site, so we cannot add it to this list of free resources. A detailed review of the paid product is coming soon, to help you decide if it's worth it for your kids!
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Get your tweens and teens started with online encyclopedias today!
Digital literacy - knowing how to make the internet work for you (rather than becoming a slave to the internet) -by itself is a critical learning skill in the knowledge era, and using online encyclopedias is a great way to build our learning and digital efficacy skills.
Some of us refuse to use the powerful online encyclopedias and insist our kids use physical encyclopedias and resources. Personally, I feel that we need to embrace digital tools in a productive way- they are the tools of our modern civilization so rather than avoid them, we should help our kids learn the skills to use them effectively. I've shared 5 super-practical ways to make the best of online encyclopedias as a learning resource for teens and tweens here.
Like it or not, the online world offers amazing and otherwise impossible learning resources to our children from the comfort and safety of our living room.
It is better to understand and leverage these tools of our knowledge era, rather than fear and avoid digital devices. If used well and wisely, they offer endless possibilities for our young learners!
As parents, our job is to help them build digital literacy and information management skills mindfully, under supervision. The goal is to help them develop a healthy relationship with these tools rather than get overwhelmed or worse, start misusing them.
But to make your job easier, Polymath Parenting sifts carefully through thousands of these resources - so you don’t have to!
We mindfully curate and review the best learning resources based on quality of content, accuracy, ease of use, and other benefits and features of relevance to us as parents of effective learners; so you can spend your time on engaging with your child rather than clicking through pages of Google search results!
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