Sign Before They Can Speak

A key to surviving in a troubled economic system in which opportunities to achieve a decent standard of living will be limited, is versatility. Of course another being, 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 And Early Child Care

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 can be taught at home or some child care programs have begun to teach it in their curriculums.

This really isn’t as odd as you may think. 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. 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.

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)

A study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is also cited, 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

Incorporating sign into pre-verbal youngsters early childhood education as a way to communicate 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.

*Image from LifePrint.*