Word Boundaries. What is a Word? Only a Coherent Explanation Will Do!

 

You can't expect that, because you know how to identify individual words, your beginning reader will know that, too. You have to teach your child that word boundaries, the white spaces between words, let you know

...where one word ends, and
where another begins.

The white spaces carry meaningful information. Can you read and understand the ideas communicated if word boundaries are left out?

Of course, you can! When word boundaries are omitted in written texts, it requires more thoughtful work on the part of the reader to extract the meaning.

Word boundaries make reading and understanding easier. The spacing provided in written texts helps you get the message faster.

Which of the following sentences is easier to read?

writtentextsarereadmoreeasilywhenwordbounda

riespunctuatewhereonewordendsandanotherbegins 

                                 or 

Written texts are read more easily when word boundaries punctuate where one word ends and another begins.

Do you have to concentrate as hard in reading the sentence with word boundaries?

As competent readers, we give interword separation no thought except when the spaces between words aren't there. We feel slighted by the lack of courtesy on the part of the writer if the spaces aren't present...it defies convention.

The writing convention of spaces between words is so ingrained in us that we

assume everyone knows and uses it.

Kindergarteners and early first graders are the exception. That's why their teachers are so insistent on finger spacing.

How many early primary children know and understand the convention of spacing between words, let alone what a word is? We assume that these same children know what we are talking about when we speak of words

...on a chalkboard
...on a page
...in a book.

If your child asked you what a word is, how would you define it? Far too often, it is left to your child to intuit what a word is. 

Does your child know the alphabet? Can your child can name the letters correctly, in random order? Has your child been read to and exposed to many books? If so, your child will likely know what a word is and will learn to read quite easily.

If your child can't relate to any of it, where will beginning reading instruction go? Exactly!

Most all children move on to first grade at the end of the kindergarten year. Most wil be prepared in varying degrees of adequacy. A few will be inadequately prepared.

Even so, teachers of beginning reading have skills to teach and levels in reading to attain by year end. So, on the second day of the school year reading instruction begins in earnest. The teacher may introduce letters, teach words made up of those letters, and use terms like word, begin, and end.

Understanding what a word is can be very perplexing for a child. Words have varying lengths:

I...is a word.
Cat...is a word.
Ice cream...is a word.
Tyrannosaurus...is a word.

A word is a language unit that carries meaning. Ice cream is a compound word that is not joined by a hyphen. Some compound words are like that. It's not written as one word, either. It has a space in between. Ice cream is a thing... one idea.

In this case, the idea that a word boundary identifies where one word ends and another begins, doesn't hold true. Fortunately, your youngster knows what ice is. She also knows what cream is. She would never confuse those two items with ice cream.

Our brains override many rules. So, when your child reads ice cream for the first time, word boundaries are not likely to interfere.

Early, this school year, I wanted to expand my first graders' observation skills.

I wanted to teach them word boundaries.
I wanted to define the physical properties of a word.
I also wanted to teach them to read words.

I told the children why word boundaries are useful. They make it easier for us to read the words in a sentence. 

I showed them what the sentence would look like with and without the spaces written on sentence strips. The difference astounded them.

I asked them which sentence strip would be easier to read. Could we still read the sentence without the word boundaries ... if we knew how to read the words?

They all agreed it would be harder to read if word boundaries are left out.

Reinforcement of this new knowledge is maintained as the students learn alphabet sentences for each letter. What are the spaces called? WORD BOUNDARIES! Good job, boys and girls!

Was it difficult to teach the idea of word boundaries? No.
Did they understand and apply their new knowledge? Yes.
Did they remember the information, the application and the technical term the next day? Yes.

Well...NOW you know the importance of word boundaries and how to teach them to your kindergartener!

As the mantra goes...Just do it!
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