Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

One of the keys to surviving in a tilted 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. This includes 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 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. 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.

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In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is 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

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.

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Zionsville 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 Indiana child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

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For over 25 years, Primrose Schools has helped individuals achieve higher levels of success by providing them with an AdvancED® accredited, early childhood, education. Through an accelerated Balanced Learning® curriculum, Primrose Schools students are exposed to a widely diverse range of subject matter giving them a much greater opportunity to develop mentally, physically and socially. Emily Patterson is currently working as a communications coordinator for Primrose Schools providing written work to the blogosphere which highlights the importance, and some of the specific aspects, of a quality, early childhood, education.

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<a href="https://healthymomsmagazine.net/2010/09/early-childhood-education-acquiring-sign-language.html">Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language</a>

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  • A Daft Scots Lass , September 30, 2010

    I tried this with Megan but I kept on forgetting the signs myself!

  • Cascia , September 30, 2010

    Sign language is so important in early language development. I signed with both of my boys. Children are different and unique and may react to sign language differently. I started signing with my now 3 year old when he was about six months. He picked up on it quickly and by the time he was about a year old not only did he know about a dozen signs he was also talking in complete sentences.

    I started signing with my now 14 month old when he was about 5 months. All he did was laugh. He thinks I am playing a game with him. Although he does sign three basic signs to me. He knows more, eat and Mom. He just laughs at the rest of them. Thanks for stopping by!

  • blueviolet , September 30, 2010

    I wish this had been something I knew when my kids were little. I would definitely have tried it!

  • stag parties , November 1, 2010

    I got a notification later saying that Adam commented on it too, and I liked his comment. Then I got on later to see that I had a friend request from him, which I of course accepted.

  • hen dos , November 1, 2010

    I've always kind of had a small crush on him, but it's not like I ever really talk to him outside of his job. However, I'd like to maybe go to dinner or something. Get to know him more.

  • elpi , November 17, 2010

    Parents have been signing with their babies for years. The most common reason for doing so is an intense desire on the part of a parent or caregiver to find out exactly what is going on in a baby’s mind — what does she need? What does she want? What does she observe? What does she think about and remember?

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