In a world full of young learners with diverse learning styles, backgrounds, and abilities, there are many ways to introduce new content to children. Using sign language can not only enrich children’s learning but can also encourage a better understanding of diversity in language, culture, and communication.
What are the benefits of using sign language with young learners?
- Sign language is a great way to develop fine and gross motor skills! While practicing the motions, hand gestures, and signs, children will be using the small and large muscles in their hands and arms.
- It can create a deeper understanding and appreciation for diversity in language, culture, and communication. The use of sign language can encourage discussions on Deaf culture, non-verbal individuals, and other populations who use sign language as a main form of communication. You may be familiar with American Sign Language, however there are many different forms of sign language all around the world, including French Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, and many more!
- Using sign language can help your child remember letters, numbers, and vocabulary. Using a specific sign, or fingerspelling a word gives your child another visual and kinesthetic method of committing it to memory.
- Giving them a second form of communication can reduce frustration between the parent or teacher and child. If your child is frustrated or having trouble communicating their emotions verbally, they may feel more equipped to tell you in sign language.
Tips and tricks to using sign language with young children:
- Start when they are young! Even if they do not sign back to you until around 10-14 months of age, early exposure will give them a head start when they are ready to start signing back.
- It can be helpful to start with signs that will be meaningful to the child. Signs such as food, finished, mom, help, stop, etc. are all great ones to start with so they can communicate basic needs early on.
- Allow them to learn and develop their signs at their own pace. It is important to encourage your child to have fun with it, as forcing them to do a specific sign, letter, or handshape before they are ready can cause frustration and reluctancy to learn new signs.
- Try to understand how your child signs. Just like with verbal speech, we all have slightly different accents, and ways of pronouncing certain words. This is the same with sign language! Try not to focus on it being “perfect” but rather what they are communicating with you.
- Repetition is key! Try to implement signing throughout the day. For example- cleaning up, story time, bathroom time, mealtime, etc.! Adding context will help your child create stronger connections with the language.