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.