Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Back To School Bonanza Guest Post #9: Sign Language

As an educator, I am always trying to do the best thing with Eddie as far as communication and language. We make books available to him for exploring, we read books to him, we talk to him constantly about what we are doing, and we name EVERYTHING.

One thing we haven't done a ton of is sign language.

Recently I was contacted by Emily Patterson about guest posting here on the topic of Sign Language at an early age.  I thought it was a wonderful idea.  I know a LOT of you already do this with your children, and I am so excited to learn that it is NOT too late for us to start!  

Here is a little about Emily and what she does...

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.

Here is what she has to say...
Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

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.

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.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Georgia educational child care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose educational child care schools.  Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.


Sarah Partain said...

Baby sign language is so awesome! I used to work in a childcare center where we would teach all of the infants how to sign. At times, there would be 5-6 older infants in a class that could tell their teacher that they were all done or wanted more. I later taught my son how to sign and in doing so, he created his own sound/word that went with the please sign that he used to communicate. I'm trying to teach our baby, now, and it's alot of fun. I can tell she wants to communicate with us. It's great to give them these tools!

ShoeFanatic614 said...

I'm so glad you posted this. We want to teach N sign language but it always gets pushed to the side. This was just the reminder I needed to look up some resources and get started with her!

Grace @ Arms Wide Open said...

great info katie. my brother is deaf so teaching S sign language was a must. i wish more people would do it, and it's NEVER too late! :)

Kimberly said...

This is very fascinating. My SIL taught my nephew
How to sign and I was blown away at how much a baby knows already. Like totally blown away. They are amazing little sponges!

Miranda said...

We taught Joshua some signs and I LOVE that he knows them! It has been so immensely helpful in communicating with him!

He's even taught the other babes in his class the sign for "all done"!

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