DS is only 5 but he is the kid who wakes up wanting to explore different things at length in depth. I love doing this with him but I can see already that we will be beyond my knowledge in certain areas, especially science and history. Yes we can look things up together but it seems to me that if we are constantly going through the process that the research becomes the learning rather than the subject of interest. This might be because he isn't reading yet but that's my reference point right now. How do you help facilitate learning without the finding of information taking up more time than the the exploring the information?
Keeping Up with His Interests
First, you teach your child to do his own research. Obviously if you have a 4- or 5-year-old non-reader that's not going to be an immediately achievable objective, but it's something you work towards. You do that by involving him in the research you're doing on his behalf, so that he participates in it, sees your thought process, offers his input, learns what processes you go through. You do that by delegating small parts of the research to him ("I bet that's the sort of answer we might find in that "The Way Things Work" book. Why don't you go and grab that off the shelf and flip to the index at the back, and I'll have a look for you.").
Second, you accept that you cannot be, nor is it in your child's best interest that you even try to be, the fount of all knowledge and the motive force behind his learning. Sometimes you just say "I don't know. Great question though!" and leave it at that. If you jump up and head to Google and the library every time he asks an idle question or expresses an interest in something, you may be unwittingly eroding his sense of ownership over his own learning. If every time he expresses and interest you instantly make it your business to provide him with information, he becomes the passive player, the recipient while the primary motive force in his learning mostly resides in you. That's not ultimately where you want it to be. If you sometimes instead just shrug things off, he'll realize "If I actually want to learn this, I'm going to have to work to figure it out. I'm going to have to remember my question, ask someone else, bug mom about it again in a day or two, ask for a book or a video, try using Google, see if I can find anything in grandpa's old National Geographics ... " He may realize that it's not important enough for him to do that work. That's fine. We don't have to pursue every spark of interest the moment it arises in order to become well educated. The main learning here is not related to the spark of curiosity. It's "My learning is my own. I can make it happen if I want."
Perhaps in your case it would make sense to keep a research list on the fridge of things your ds has asked about, and revisit them at convenient times rather than dashing off to do a pile of research the moment he asks. For instance, if he asks about tsunamis you can write that down and in February when you go to the Science Museum see if there are any exhibits there that answer his questions. If he asks about man's evolutionary origins, you write that down and when three weeks later you see a show on Discovery about prehistoric man, you remember to ask him if he'd like to watch it.
I try not to wonder out loud "What kind of spider is that?" but I will say: "Wow! She's huge!" or "That spider is plucking at the web of that fat spider! I wonder what will happen?" I don't squash my own sense of wonder, but I try not to talk about what I know, if I know anything, for as long as I can and let them have their own discoveries.
Many nature schools teach with a "secret spot" or "sit spot" as one of the core lessons. This is your own comfortable space where you just sit and watch. In Tom Brown Jr's book for teaching kids, he writes that he purposefully doesn't answer questions because he found that as soon as the name was known the observation ended. But that bit of fact was meaningless to the animal that was being observed, and only superficially meaningful to the observer.
I feel similarly when teachers or parents try to introduce the scientific process or set boundaries on what should be observed. Even seemingly innocuous tasks like "Please describe the butterflies color" can funnel the observer into.... tunnel vision is the only way I can describe it. Making it rational, logical, closed instead of open and intuitive. Anyway, you weren't necessarily asking about that, I'm just ranting....
So what about kids who natural love the facts, the names, the measurements? (My oldest is one such kid.) Take pictures, measure, encourage her/him to stick around and see What Happens Next. If the question comes up, "What Kind of Spider is That?" you say "I wonder too. Look! There's another one. She's even bigger!" You can only take this so far before they impatiently move on, and it's Just The Way They Are. Get those kinds of books and be prepared to memorize the length of a Diplodocus!
If there is a lot of questions and interest, I'll add it to the "library list" (which is also the "internet list") and eventually we'll get some books and information. The nice thing about books is that (hopefully) your questions are answered, plus there is so much more. I know 10,000 times more about sharks than I did 4 years ago. Now, we are on to monsters and Greek myths. Same thing. Stories on the couch is still huge in our house. I'll be a little preemptive, too. My daughter was interested in sharks and whales (stuff with teeth), so I introduced dinosaurs (lots of measurements in those books-- bingo!), then dragons, all before she expressed an interest them. I just borrowed them from the library, showed them to her.
We've been stargazing and that has been a bit different. We don't stay out very long and it is very much a tutorial for the most part. This has kept me on my toes, but my girls don't expect very much, but they were awed to find that that planet really was Jupiter and that the moons can be viewed through a (very steady) pair of binoculars. And that my oldest could get a photograph of it! Having the camera and binoculars available as well as guide books, measuring tape and other tools, has allowed them to quantify their studies in their own, adorable way.
And I try to be interested in everything. Pretty much am!
reading these responses I feel lucky that his interests seem to last for a while, we've been exploring architecture and building for almost nine months now. He's excited about geodesic domes and we're going to make one out of straws, visit a true Buckminster Fuller dome, and climb the stairs to the top of the state capital. I'm still trying to understand the physics behind the shape and construction. I guess that I wish sometimes that I could already have the book for us to read or the website to look at rather than delaying the learning so often.
What great responses! Just wanted to add that my eight-year-old has been a very independent library researcher for around two years now. He can look things up in the computerized card catalog, and is fully comfortable asking the library staff for help if he needs it. I agree that keeping a "research at the library" list posted somewhere can be handy.