Do children still need paperback dictionaries?

In this day of online dictionaries and smartphone apps, is a paperback dictionary still a necessity? We get questions like this from time to time. For the people who ask the question, the answer may be "no." Some of us are fortunate to have personal computers and handheld devices that give us access to the internet almost everywhere. It seems so normal that we take it for granted. For children who are still learning to read, constant access to the internet is not usually a reality, however.
According to Child Trends Data Bank (, in 2009, 77% of children had internet access at home, and 93% of children had access to a computer at home. This does not mean they had their own personal computer, just that there was one in the home. Even still, almost one in ten did not have access to a computer, and not all who did could access the internet to use online dictionaries or the like. Most schools have computers in classrooms or computer labs, but not on every desk. A paperback dictionary can be kept in a student’s desk or backpack and so is useful anytime and anyplace. The children can mark the words as they look them up and can see how their vocabularies are growing as their dictionaries fill up with check marks. There is also the fun of discovering other words on the page when they go to look something up. They can’t do that with a digital dictionary. This letter from a third grader shows how helpful her personal dictionary is. 

Dear Dictionary Project,
Thank you for the dictionary. I love it! It’s cool. I can use it wherever I want at home. It doesn’t slow me down like a computer. Now, I can use it for homework. I can use it at school and not dissrupt the class. I can use it for writing and spelling. Thank you!
Gray Court, SC

Children need their own dictionaries to be able to develop their writing and reading skills and become resourceful learners. Paperback dictionaries can give all children access to information they need to be successful in school.

This recent news article features the efforts of one of our board members and explains why dictionaries are still relevant and necessary for children: