Sign language is one of the many industry-leading programs offered at Primrose Schools nationwide as part of our Balanced Learning® approach. We began working with sign language expert Stacy Thompson five years ago to enhance our signing curriculum. Most recently, she helped us create a special set of signing cards for parents to use at home. Stacy obtained a BA in Deaf Studies in 1997 and has been signing for over 20 years. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three children. Her children have all signed since they were about five months old. Stacy has been a joy to work with, and I thought it would be great for her to share some of her vast knowledge and experiences that show how signing can improve communications skills in children.
Dr. Z: When should you begin signing to your little ones? About how long does it take for them to learn how to sign back?
I would recommend starting to sign at a very early age. It is great practice for you to begin when they are just a few months old. If you sign with infants on a daily basis as you talk with them, they will usually start signing back when they are around 6-7 months old. Starting young with signing provides the visual repetition a baby needs to comprehend the concept.
Dr. Z: What are some of the benefits of signing?
- One of the main benefits is to help reduce the frustration level for the child and the adult that comes from not being able to communicate fully. Many infants and toddlers who are not yet using verbal language understand a great deal of what people say to them, but they can’t express themselves. Although their vocal chords might not be developed yet, their fine motor skills mature at a very early age. When you sign with children, you are giving them the gift of communication. They can express themselves which alleviates frustration for them and for you.
- Signing can also enhance early literacy skills. American Sign Language is a visual and kinesthetic language that enhances the auditory input that a child needs for success in reading, writing and memory.
- When signs are used in conjunction with talking, signing helps parents understand their toddler’s early speech. They can more easily decipher their toddler’s meaning. “Ba” might be ball, book, or bottle. When the child signs along with their words, it helps shorten the guessing game.
- Communicating successfully gives little ones a strong sense of empowerment and builds their self-esteem. They can control the topic of conversation and can express their interests at an early age. What better way is there to show our children that they are valued than to “listen” to what is important to them and to actually understand what they want or need us to know?
Dr. Z: How do you suggest parents use your book, Teach Your Tot to Sign? What other resources are available to parents who are interested in teaching sign language to their children?
Parents need a dictionary of signs and the Teach Your Tot to Sign dictionary has over 550 signs geared for infants, toddlers and young children. The memory aids are very helpful and it is small enough to carry in the car with you. Primrose has a set of parent cards that you can keep on your stroller or in your diaper bag. These are very helpful as “ready references” when you are out and about and need to know a sign. One thing that I would highly recommend is to be sure that the signs you use are true American Sign Language (ASL) signs. Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals use ASL to communicate. It would be great if your child knew the correct signs and could sign with them. Primrose is using ASL as well so the children are being taught the proper signs and can communicate with each other.