Did you know American Sign Language (ASL) is one of the most commonly used languages in the United States? It’s estimated that ASL is “spoken” by 250,000-500,000 Americans across all ages — but not all of those users are classified as deaf.
In fact, a growing number of early childhood programs have begun implementing sign language into their curricula, largely because research has shown it can have a myriad of benefits for both hearing and hard-of-hearing preschoolers.
At ChildCare Education Institute, we’re dedicated to helping educators like you stay atop the latest industry trends and easily implement them into your classroom.
That’s why we’re sharing this guide on the benefits of sign language for preschoolers, along with a host of language activities for preschoolers that can help with retention.
What are the potential benefits of sign language for preschoolers?
Exposing students to sign language early on can have a number of benefits on their growth and development including:
Increased Communication Skills
If you’re looking for a way to help your students fast-track their speech skills, look no further. It’s been shown that exposure to sign language can help students better understand spoken words, while also making it easier for them to understand sentence structure and form longer sentences later on in life. Additionally, because sign language requires students to use multiple senses, it can help with vocabulary retention — and give them a larger bank of vocabulary words to use.
Lower Levels of Frustration
Most toddler tantrums occur when a child cannot effectively communicate what they’re thinking or feeling. With sign language, students will have the ability to better share what they’re experiencing with adults around them. This will not only help lower the frustration levels of students but also their teachers and parents. Being able to clearly communicate can also help strengthen the bond you have with your kids.
Because most letters in sign language resemble their written counterparts, teaching preschoolers to sign can help them better recognize and write their ABCs. The improved letter recognition can also help them with their reading and comprehension skills. In fact, studies have shown that students who know how to sign begin reading at an earlier age than those who don’t.
Enhanced Cognitive Skills
Bilingualism, whether with a signed or spoken language, has been shown to bolster kids’ cognitive skills, including creative thinking, problem-solving and more. In the case of ASL, children who know how to sign score an average of 17% higher than other students on early childhood standardized tests. It’s also been linked to potential IQ increases of up to 12 points on average.
Improved Attention One of the core skills needed to master sign language is the ability to focus on what the other person is signing. As a result, teaching sign language to toddlers can help them improve their ability to focus and observe the world around them. This can also translate into better listening skills.
Increased Cultural Awareness
When you promote sign language for preschoolers, you’re also giving them the ability to communicate with non-verbal and non-hearing students. This can be a great time to teach your students that, despite individual differences, there are a lot of commonalities between them. It’s also a perfect segway into conversations about how our differences make us unique and should be celebrated.
How can I teach my students sign language?
The easiest way to begin teaching your preschoolers to sign is by incorporating regular instruction time into your weekly schedule. For example, you can set aside 20 minutes each Tuesday to introduce new signs and work with your students to reinforce previous ones.
When teaching your students new signs, we recommend starting with no more than five key words or phrases — all of which should be easily linked to objects and basic needs. While demonstrating the movements, be sure to have them repeat the word aloud with you to help with retention. If possible, also provide them with a visual printout of the movements associated with the sign.
Once you’ve introduced new signs, spend the next few sessions reinforcing them through activities and other related games. Then, when you’re confident your students have mastered the phrases, introduce another batch of sign language for preschoolers to learn.
If you can, keep parents informed as to which signs their child is learning so they can continue to practice the signs with them at home.
What are some easy sign language activities for preschoolers?
Students learn best when they’re actively engaged in the material, so be sure to pack some fun and engaging language activities for preschoolers into your lesson plans when possible. Some of our favorite language activities for preschoolers include:
To play this game, create large index cards with images representing some of the words/phrases your children have learned. Then, pick a card at random and show it to the class. Have them sign the image and then work together to spell the word using signed letters. If you want to make the game into a competition, offer a prize for the first student to correctly sign the item on the flashcard.
Your students will love this fun take on a classic game! First, make bingo cards with pictures representing some of the signs your children have learned (including food, colors, animals, etc.). Be sure each student’s card contains a different set-up so you only have one winner. Then, pull a sign out of a basket and perform it in front of your classroom. It’ll be up to your students to recognize the sign and mark off the corresponding square on their sheet. Once someone calls bingo, have them come up and perform the signs they’ve marked off to win.
Sign Language Songs for Toddlers
Chances are you already utilize songs in your classroom to help reinforce learning concepts — so why not use them for sign language, too? There are a number of sign language songs for toddlers that can help your kids master the language, including:
- ABC Song by MyGo! Sign Language for Kids
- Sign the Colors by Jack Hartmann
- Please and Thank You by Miss Patty
- Baby Shark by Learn How to Sign
- Talkin’ Bout the Weather by Laura Berg Life
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