Skip to Main Content

Early Childhood Education

Searching for Reliable Resources

Natural language searching is most often used for search engines such as Google. An example may be, How does spending time outdoors impact mental health? You may get results that include websites, scientific articles, news articles, advertisements on outdoor equipment, and more. 

Search Strategy

  1. Identify main concepts from your research question, these are the KEYWORDS
  2. List your search terms, for each concept think of synonyms and related terms (broader and narrower)
  3. Combine search terms with AND and OR


  • Try several different searches
  • Scan results for subjects that may be related

Library and academic databases do not function as well using natural language searching and instead operate using keywords and Boolean searching. Conducting the same search in a library database would result in, How AND does AND spending AND time AND outdoors AND impact AND child AND development. You can see that the database processes each word independently, and most academic databases would consider the term 'How' and 'Does' stop words. The database would disregard these words and they would not be considered in your search. Therefore, you must be more intentional about the words you choose to search. Instead your search might look like, (outdoors OR outside OR nature) AND ("child development"). You can then narrow your results by providing more focused keywords, and using limiters such as the type of source you want and the date range you are interested in. For example, (outdoors OR outside OR nature) AND ("child development") AND (playgrounds), limited to books and academic journals, with a date range within the last 10 years.

Example searches based on these topics:

  • Topic 1: (nature OR outdoors OR wilderness) AND ("child development" OR "early childhood education" OR "child behavior") 
    • After your initial search, you may add additional search terms to narrow or focus your search. You might add, AND (playgrounds OR parks) 
  • Topic 2: (Montessori) AND ("early childhood education")
    • After your initial search, you may add additional search terms to narrow or focus your search. You might add terms such as "development", or you might take a different direction and try, "student behavior"
  • Topic 3: (Vygotsky) AND ("cultural historical theory" AND "child development")
    • After your initial search, you may add additional search terms or alter your search."vygotsky" AND "cultural historical theory" AND learning AND "early childhood"

Improve Search Results

Database search techniques

* is the truncation symbol, it searches for variations of your term. For example: run* will return: run, running, runner, runners

" " around more than one word will search it as a phrase. For example "mental health"

AND - Use the word AND when you want to combine search terms (this will reduce the number of items found). For example: physical fitness AND students will find articles that discuss physical fitness and students.

OR - Use the word OR when you are searching for a topic that may have different names (this will expand the number of items found).For example: physical fitness OR exercise OR physical education will find articles with any of these words.

NOT - Use the word NOT when you want to exclude certain terms from your results. For example: qualitative NOT mixed methods will find articles that talk about qualitative research but exclude any that are mixed methods.

Too few sources?
  • You need to expand your search
  • Look for misspellings or typos in your search
  • Expand a search term by using synonyms (ie. exercise OR  physical activity OR walking OR movement)
  • Decrease your number of search terms/concepts to broaden your search (ie. Canada AND poverty AND children --> Canada AND poverty)
  • Try broader or more general search terms (ie. flooding --> natural disaster)
  • Try truncating search terms to find alternate endings (ie. Canad* = Canadian, Canada, Canadians, Canadiana, etc.)
  • Use the database's thesaurus to find the exact subject heading
  • Review subject headings in results and search using those terms
  • Use the database's 'related articles' feature
  • Try different databases
  • Turn OFF the "available in OC collection" limiter in OCtopus and order books and articles by interlibrary loan (free)
Too many sources?
  • You need to narrow your search
  • Add additional concepts to your search (physical activity AND health AND seniors AND british columbia)
  • Choose subject headings as your search type
  • Use quotes around multiple search terms and phrases ("vigorous physical activity" AND health)
  • Select specific article types (magazine, academic, etc.)
  • Limit your search by language, age group, current years, etc. ("vigorous physical activity" AND health AND (adolescents OR youth)


Narrowing a Topic

The provided topics for this assignment are quite broad: searching for each in OCtopus returns a lot of results. It may be useful to narrow your topic to something more manageable. Some ways you can do that are:

  • Focusing on a specific location or time period in relation to your topic
  • Reading briefly about the topic in background sources (like encyclopedias) to learn about more specific aspects that you can write about
  • Finding out if there is a specific controversy in the news about the topic

You might find that a narrowed topic you decide on does not have enough written on it; you may have to alter your topic as a result.

Other Tips
  • Use the limiters on the sidebar of results pages. Example: Date, language, resource type, etc.
  • Search for terms in a specific field, such as title, author, or subject. Example: "Global hunger"[ti]
  • Subject Headings: Construct a search using only subject headings, or a combination of SH and keywords.
  • Scan results: Use subject headings, keywords, and phrases found in existing results.
  • Research the Author: Find an interesting author? for more articles or look for their website
  • Agency or Association? Notice an agency, association or e,xpert mentioned in an article? Follow up.
  • Reuse References/Citations: Find a relevant source? Examine the bibliography, reference list, citations and footnotes for sources used by the author. Use OCtopus or the e-journal finder to find the same articles.
Subject headings

Pre-set tags or descriptors assigned to resources/items to describe their content, or what they are about. Enables more precise searching.

  • Eliminates the need to search multiple phrases and synonyms for the same concept. 
  • Databases often provide a thesaurus, or index, of the subject headings used.
  • SHs appear in both the Library catalogue and databases.
Use citations and reference lists to find more resources

Find a relevant source and then use citations to locate more related sources. Examine the bibliography, reference list and footnotes for sources used by the author. Use OCtopus or the e-journal finder to find your articles.

What is a Literature Review?

A survey of information found in scholarly articles, books, and other literature related to an area of study.

  • Describes, summarizes, evaluates and clarifies prior research.
  • Not only summarizes other research, also examines the relationship.
  • Determines what has already been investigated, identifies potential relationships, defines key concepts, and relates to research already completed.
  • Considers different disciplines topic may cover.

This site is maintained by the librarians of Okanagan College Library.
If you wish to comment on an individual page, please contact that page's author.
If you have a question or comment about Okanagan College Library's LibGuides site as a whole, please contact the site administrator.