We have all heard the phrase – children are hands on learners. This means that they tend to learn through the concrete manipulation of materials with their hands. For example, children learn how to stack blocks, not by being told how to, but by practicing using their arms, hands, and fingers.
What happens when educators incorporate a hands-on approach to language development using sign language? Research has shown that there are multiple benefits to using sign language with young children. It has been shown that sign language “adds a layer to the way their brain will process the information they are learning” according to Samantha Hakim in her paper entitled Utilizing American Sign Language in the Early Childhood Setting.
Introducing sign language to young children provides them with a visual way to take in information and a kinesthetic way to express information. This gives children access to an alternative communication tool that they can use when they do not yet have the ability to communicate verbally. This can reduce frustration levels for children and caregivers. Sign language can also be used in conjunction with verbal prompts, which helps children who may have receptive language delays to understand the requests being made of them.
Teachers can begin by introducing signs for common parts of the daily routine (eat, drink, potty, outside, etc.). Children can also learn signs for please, thank you, and you’re welcome. Simple vocabulary words, such as coat, shoes, door, and friend can also be introduced as children become familiar using sign language. When children learn letters and numbers, sign language can be incorporated. Teachers can then plan to introduce vocabulary words related to books being read or curriculum themes.
If you are interested in learning more, here are a few resources to explore:
ASL Video Dictionary – https://www.handspeak.com/word/
ASL Connect from Gallaudet University – https://www.gallaudet.edu/asl-connect/asl-for-free/
ASL Kids – Sign Language Resources and Applications – https://asl-kids.com/learn-sign-language-online/
Sign language activity ideas – https://www.weareteachers.com/teach-sign-language/