>My regular readers know that I have hearing loss. What they don’t know is that I don’t really know sign language. My son has a speech delay. There were a few “signs” we used on a regular basis that helped him tell us what he wants, such as a flap of the hands when he was full. I was amazed when around 8 months old he started flapping his hand when he was full! It was amazing! Unfortunately, there were not a lot of other signs that we came up with, but we have all managed to survive. Today, I have a special post to raise awareness for the need and benefits of children learning sign language at a very young age.
Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language
Two unique ways to survive a tilted economic system like the one we’re facing now, is the ability to be versatile and by having 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.
If the current trend continues and the number of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language stay at a low number as it is now, career opportunities will only grow in this field. 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 as early as the age of 2 (up the the age of 5) is 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 can be taught at home or some child care programs incorporate it into their curriculum.
As you may already 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.
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. Their mobile and communication skills are more advance as the enter elementary school as well.
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.
Let’s hear it ! What do you think about sign as an early language for our children?