I received an email from Emily Patterson asking me to review her article on Early Childhood Education. At first I was a little leary, not knowing what to expect… then one thing led to another, we got sick, school work fell behind, and I didn’t even open her article! The other day I saw it and opened it, and lo and behold it is a informative piece on something that is near and dear to me! Teaching young children sign language! I discovered baby sign language when I was barely pregnant with Putters. I had heard about it before, but thought ya, that’s what I need.. something more to do,a nd there is no way a baby can learn sign language! Then a friend of mine showed me her 6 month old baby that not only told her with sign that he was hungry, or needed his diaper changed, but said please and thank you and asked for more! This intrigued me! I thought WOW, how much easier that would of been then spending half an hour every time a baby cried trying to figure out what was wrong! So when Gabi was about 3 months old I picked up a book from the library about baby signing. Since then we have taught her to ask for milk, or a cup, say please and thank you, more, and we are learning new ones now. I am sure if I had been more diligent she would know much more by now. But Emily can tell you WHY you should teach your baby sign language.. so I give her the floor…
Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language
The ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience and the ability to be versatile are two skills that can take a person a long ways. And while the trend of acquiring a second language has been on the rise for awhile, a new one is now emerging. Having the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled- primarily the deaf.
Besides just being a unique skill, 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
The best time to educate children another way of communication and/or language has been shown to be in the early years of ages 2 to 5. 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 can be taught at home or some child care programs incorporate it into their curriculum.
It may seem a bit strange, but 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.
Recent research suggests that sign language is actually innate! 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)
The author also cites 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
Giving children this ability at an early age 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. This can help reduce frustration levels in children and help them to adapt to the world around them. 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.