Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's The Sign For "A Great Idea"?

When Dylan was maybe four months old, I started playing sign language DVD's for him. From everything I had heard and read about teaching a child sign language, I thought it was a good idea. The problem was, he wasn't showing any interest in it, so I quit playing them. There were some friends and family members who were saying, "Won't that delay his speech?". But, my friend Julia, and Burgh Baby's Mom were doing it with their kids and having success. Burgh Baby's Mom encouraged me to try again in a few months.

When I tried again it clicked. Dylan started making signs for all sort of things. The look on his face when I understood what he wanted, and responded to the sign, was just priceless. What could be better, (at any age, really), than being understood? He didn't have to cry to signal his needs anymore, and I didn't have to try and decipher his cries. It eased a lot of frustration for both of us.

I think sign language also helps create an early bond - there's that "she gets me" feeling.

As far as speech goes, he started talking before a lot of his peers, and his vocabulary grew and grew. Now that he is almost four, and never STOPS talking, I sometimes think back to those silent, signing days with a bit of nostalgia!

Below is an article by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas (Communication Coordinators) about teaching children sign language. After reading the article, if you or someone you know taught your child sign language, please leave a comment letting us know about your experience.

Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

One of the keys to surviving in a skewed 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. Including 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 led to 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 in different child care programs. 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. In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. As you 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. Some 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.

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)

Also cited, a 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

Not only does early childhood education in signing give 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.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Austin child care facility, a member of the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose Schools (located in 16 states throughout the U.S.) and part of the network of child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.


Lisa @ Boondock Ramblings said...

I wish I had done this with Jonathan. When we have baby number two, I am going to try.

Burgh Baby said...

Sign Language was easiest was of the smartest things we did early on. I wish we had done a better job of keeping up with it (tough to do when preschool doesn't do it, y'know?), but I did at least get the satisfaction of pointing out to a certain relative that once upon a time, that relative had said Alexis would never talk if we taught her sign language. I happened to bring the topic up during one of Alexis' REALLY bad non-stop chat days.

I kind of love getting to say, "I told you so." If only I knew how to sign it . . .

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I am so entranced by the idea of teaching a baby/toddler sign language--if I wasn't so clearly DONE with having kids (my baby is 16 tomorrow) I would be doing this.

Interestingly, ASL is the sign language most of my kids have chosen as their foreign language in high school. They do know kids that have gone on to college for further study--San Jose State in California has a great program.

Amber said...

My husband's grandparents were both deaf. His mother is obviously a great signer. My mother also knows sign language because she had a deaf child in her 1st grade class a few years ago. We were constantly surrounded by sign language, yet i never embraced it and I kicked myself for it after. My cousins were taught to sign and chose to sign instead of speak for years. They could talk, they just chose to sign instead. It freaked me out, so I avoided it, much to the frustration of grandparents all the way around.

blue china studio said...

This is such an interesting concept. I had heard about this well after my son was into his elementary school years so it was a bit late for us to try. I can see how this would be a great thing to learn. There were many times when I know my son was frustrated because I didn't understand what he wanted. This could have come in handy!

Brooke G. said...

I didn't work too much with either of my boys on signing... I wish I had pushed it a litte more. I think language skills of any kind help those little brains develop :D

The Girls' Mommy said...

Abbie's first sign was "more". She's almost 8 now and still uses it. These days its second nature, like an unconsious hand gesture for the word. I think signing helped her understand sentence structure and even provided a great base for later reading. We're fans :)