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Calvert Reference Library

by Calvert School

Reviewed by Martha Robinson

Purchase details: Calvert Reference Library, available in four levels from Calvert School.

Calvert School introduced the Calvert Reference Library in the summer of 2003 with the goal of developing "children's research skills by giving them a fun way to learn about how a dictionary and thesaurus work." Four levels are available for children in kindergarten to eighth grade. Each level includes a scripted teacher's manual, dictionary, thesaurus (in levels III and IV), and a bookmark in a colorful envelope.

Calvert Reference Library I, $35

Written for kindergartners and first graders, this level has The American Heritage Picture Dictionary, a hard bound book published by Houghton Mifflin, and a thirty-three page, spiral bound teacher's manual. The large-print dictionary uses color pictures to define the words rather than written definitions. The word, a picture, and occasionally a sentence are the only things included. Nine pages in the back of the dictionary group related words in a picture with a large topic word such as "astronaut," "zoo," or "supermarket" at the top of the page. The first twenty-one of the lessons in the teacher's manual go through the letters of the alphabet and introduce concepts such as opposite, multiple meanings for a word, and parts of speech. The last four lessons cover synonyms, categorizing words (parts of the body, shapes, etc.), opposites, and review. Sixty-four words are printed on heavy card stock for use as manipulatives during the course. The final page of the teacher's manual shows the capital and lower case letters in block print.

Calvert Reference Library II, $38

The second level of the Calvert Reference Library targets second graders or advanced first graders and has the goal of teaching "skills needed for navigating a dictionary." The American Heritage First Dictionary and a forty-five page spiral bound teacher's manual are included. The hard bound dictionary has 377 pages with many pictures and large print. Entries do not show pronunciations, parts of speech, or plurals (unless irregular) and definitions are always stated in complete sentences, though they are very general in nature, with an additional sentence or two offering further explanation or an example. The definitions are written in a style that an adult would use to explain something to a very small child. Guide words are at the top of each page along with an upper case and lower case letter. A basic guide to phonics and spelling is in the back of the dictionary. The teacher's manual has twenty lessons that introduce many topics such as alphabetical order, plurals, compound words, contractions, parts of speech, and synonyms. Homonyms and antonyms are also taught, but they are referred to as "words that sound alike" and opposites. More than one hundred word cards are ready to be cut out from the teacher's manual for use as manipulatives. The final page of the teacher's manual shows the capital and lower case letters in block print.

Calvert Reference Library III, $58

Level III of the Calvert Reference Library is for third through fifth grade students and offers "instruction and practice in using a dictionary"and teaching of "how to use a thesaurus effectively." The American Heritage Children's Dictionary, the primary text for Level III, has over 800 pages of words and definitions with supplemental sections including how to use a thesaurus, phonics and spelling, a list of "countries and places of the world," and several maps. The outside edge of each page shows the alphabet with the letter of that section in large bold print. Page numbers appear on the inside of each page, making them rather difficult to see. Several different types of boxes, "Word History," "Language Detective" (regional differences in pronunciation/definition), "Vocabulary Builder" (suffixes and prefixes), and "Synonyms" are shown periodically to highlight words. Colorful pictures are throughout.

The American Heritage Children's Thesaurus, the other text for this level, has 279 pages with many color illustrations. It defines a thesaurus as a "book of synonyms," but offers antonyms for some of the entries in "feature boxes" by the entry word to which they refer. "Word groups" boxes include terms for similar words that are not truly synonyms such as in the entry for emperor: empress, king, majesty, monarch, queen, ruler, sovereign.

The sixty-four page, spiral bound teacher's manual includes twenty-five lessons, three pages of word cards (for alphabetization exercises), and four pages of solutions to the crossword and word loop puzzles. While thirteen of the lessons go through sections of the alphabet in the dictionary, other lessons go through more advanced topics such as homographs, parts of speech, root words and inflections, acronyms, and the pronunciation guide. Five lessons familiarize the student with the thesaurus.

Calvert Reference Library IV, $58

The final level of the Calvert Reference Library, for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, has fifteen lessons in which "the student will learn about and practice using the dictionary" and ten lessons in which "the student will gain valuable knowledge in using a thesaurus effectively in his writing." The American Heritage Student Dictionary has more than 1,000 pages of small print with black and white line drawings and photographs and notes about usage, word history, etymology, and regional differences in the margin. An extensive guide to using the dictionary, and a capitalization, punctuation, and style guide are found in the front. The American Heritage Student Thesaurus has 378 pages of entry words and synonyms with antonyms included for most. "Word Group" boxes, like the ones described in Level III, appear occasionally.

The manual for Level IV is written to the student. Many short answer questions that have the student doing extensive searching through the texts are given, and two activities per lesson, in addition to the lesson questions, are included. While going through the alphabet, the lessons also teach important topics such as idioms, affixes, inflected forms, and etymology. The thesaurus lessons work through the alphabet, and the final lessons ask the student to improve stories by providing synonyms for particular words. An answer key is in the back.


Calvert Reference Library I -- This program could be fun for your enthusiastic beginning reader. Many of the lessons are intuitive, and you probably would not need a formal program to accomplish the program goals; however, the price is very reasonable and offers value to new homeschoolers and busy parents.

Calvert Reference Library II -- This level packs a wealth of valuable concepts into fewer lessons than the previous level. The information will be covered in a good English book, but if you are looking to supplement or reinforce skills at a very young age, this could be helpful. While I like the teacher's manual and concepts covered, the dictionary at this level lacks value. Its tone is condescending, and it lacks dictionary basics such as a word pronunciation and part of speech.

Calvert Reference Library III -- The dictionary at this level has all the components that you would expect, but sticks to simple, common words. The thesaurus and the lessons associated with it are basic, but good.

Our experience: My 10 year old daughter and I worked through this level of the program. She found it quite enjoyable and particularly enjoyed the puzzles. I found it very easy to implement with little to no preparation. I did have to modify the text in some places as the authors and the American Heritage Dictionary represented that words beginning with "wh" and "w" such as "whether" and "weather" are homophones. Perhaps it is a regional difference, but I learned that these two words have distinctly different beginning sounds. A consultation with Webster's Dictionary confirmed the "hw" sound as first choice for "whether."

Calvert Reference Library IV -- The dictionary and thesaurus in this level are much more advanced than previous levels and will serve for more serious study. This level offers a very thorough and detailed study of the dictionary. Thesaurus activities emphasize using the thesaurus to improve writing. If you can only afford one level of Calvert Reference Library, wait to get this one for your middle school-aged student. resources related to this review:'s Language Arts Resources Section for tons of ideas, links, and more!
Review of Calvert's Interactive Spelling & Vocabulary
Review of Calvert's Vocabulary for Life
Review of Calvert's King Arthur Through the Ages CD-ROM
Review of Calvert's Ancient Greece CD-ROM
Review of Child's History of the World CD-ROM

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