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Can Preschoolers Learn Compound Words? You Bet!

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 6/6/2012

What do cupcake, snowflake and playground have in common? They are fun compound words for preschoolers to learn!

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    Compound words are words that are formed through the word formation process of compounding.

    Compounding is the process whereby two or more lexemes—an abstract minimal unit of morphological analysis in the lexicon of a language that roughly corresponds to a set of forms of a single word such as the words eat, eats, ate, eating, and eaten all being forms of the lexeme eat in English—combine to form a single new word.

    Within the English language, some of the most common types of compound words include noun-noun compounds (snowball), adjective-noun compounds (blackbird), and verb-noun compounds (playroom). Although young children are not ready to learn about the linguistics of compounding, preschoolers can learn and understand simple and everyday compounds.

    The following lists some simple compound words, as well as some ideas for teaching preschoolers about compounds.

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    Great Compound Words for Preschoolers

    The following are simple compound words that most preschoolers will know or can understand:

    • applesauce
    • bathroom
    • bedroom
    • birthday
    • blueberry
    • cupcake
    • downstairs
    • firefly
    • goldfish
    • grasshopper
    • haircut
    • inside
    • mailbox
    • outside
    • playground
    • snowflake
    • toothbrush
    • upstairs
    • underwear
    • watermelon

    A printable word list of over 2,000 additional compound nouns is also available for download.

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    Teaching Compound Words to Preschoolers

    The preschool teacher can use any or all of the following activities to teach preschoolers about compound words:

    Clapping Activity

    Speak the first word of a compound word aloud. Instruct the children to say the word and clap. Then speak the second word of the compound aloud. Have the students repeat this word and clap. Then tell the preschoolers to say both words together and to clap for each word.

    For example: apple (clap) + sauce (clap) → apple (clap) sauce (clap). The clapping activity teaches preschool aged children that compounds consist of multiple words.

    Compound Noun Picture Cards Picture Cards

    For each compound word, make three picture cards. One card should include an image of the compound word while the other two cards should include images of the two words that form the compound. For example, use a picture of a tooth and a picture of a brush for the compound word toothbrush. As an activity, hold up the two cards that make up the compound. Have the preschoolers figure out the words and then the compound word.

    Once the students have figured out the compound, show them the picture of the compound word. This picture card activity also teaches young children that compounds are formed by combining two or more words.

    Silly Compounds

    For a fun compound word activity that preschoolers will love, have the students think up new and possibly silly compounds. Also have the children describe what their new words mean. For example, cat + shower → catshower (a shower for cats) and monkey + pants → monkeypants (pants for monkeys or pants with a monkey pattern).

    This activity helps reinforce the idea that compound words are new words that are made up of two other words.

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    Compound words are common words in the English language that consist of two or more words that combine to form a single new word. Preschool teachers can use this list of some simple compound words and the word activities to teach preschool aged students about compounds.