Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language
A key to surviving in a twisted economic system in which opportunities to achieve a decent standard of living will be limited is versatility – and the ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience. This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf.
At the same time, a growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language has resulted in more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it's likely that skilled ASL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.
Signing Before They Can Speak
A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This teaching can be done at home or can be found as a part of a child care curriculum. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.
This is not as odd as you may think. As you may know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate.
Recent research actually suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:
"...by 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children
can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children
can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces
frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves
before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)
The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).
The Best Time To Start
Early childhood education in signing not only gives pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.
There are numerous ways to go about teaching your child sign language at home if you prefer not to send them to an educational child care facility. There are also a lot of classes now a days teaching baby sign, so you should encourage your readers to look online about that too. There are a ton of dvds, books, and youtube clip that show parents teaching and practicing with their children and how you can go about teaching them. The best way to learn is to practice. Once your child has been going through the motions (that's how the learn they mimic), practicing with them by showing the items etc. and then having the sign what it is, is the best way. Below I've included some dvd and book titles that you could include if you wanted to. Also a good things of advice is to let your child create their own signs if they wish. While you're teaching you may realize they're coming up with their own, and that's ok too (at such a young age).
DVDs and Books: (google the names for websites)
Baby Signs- The Original Sign Language Program for Babies
Baby Einstein brand
Signing Time brand
"Teach Your Baby to Sign: An Illustrated Guide to Simple Sign Language for Babies" (by Monica Beyer)
"Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers" (by Monta Z. Briant)
"The Sign, Sing, and Play" Kit (by Monta Briant, Susan Z)
"The Baby Signing Book: Includes 350 ASL Signs for Babies and Toddlers" (by Sara Bingham)
Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Texas child care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose child care schools. Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.