Sign Language

Here, you will find all of the many ways we enjoy applying American Sign Language (ASL) in our learning environment. You can do it too! Below are some links to many great ways you can start teaching and learning ASL with your kids. Keep checking back as we'll continue adding activities and projects to help you create your natural learning ASL curriculum. 


Creating your yery own ASL curriculum

I'm a dreamer girl.

I daydream a lot about all the engaging ways sign language might enhance our learning time together, about how EASY and FUN it is to incorporate into ANY activity we are doing. The possibilities are literally endless!

But when I walk in to a store or read online about all the different foreign language curricula available, ASL is never an option. I see French, Spanish, German, Latin, Japanese, Chinese and more...but never ASL. And when I read the latest early learning article about how beneficial it is for a child to learn a second language, sign language is never mentioned.

Why not?

Well actually, the answer is this: it's really hard to learn sign language from a book, alone. It's such a visual language and really requires SEEING the hand motions to learn them well. But, that being said, if you have several different resources to pull from such as videos, books, online content and other print material, even sign language classes, along with ways to practice and incorporate this language, it can be learned easily.

I've written a 3 Part Series filled with ideas for teaching your kids American Sign Language over at The Homeschool Classroom. Each segment covers lots of fun and engaging ways to teach ASL along with resources and links to help you along.

Part 1: Teaching American Sign Language to Children
Part 2: Teaching American Sign Language: 5 Fun Activities
Part 3: Teaching American Sign Language: 7 More Creative Ways

Sign language is such a multi-sensory language that it just flows so naturally into the way children love to play and learn. They enjoy talking with their hands. And of course, for babies, talking with their hands really IS their first form of natural communication.

I am thankful that so many families are realizing the benefits of teaching their little ones how to sign early on for early communication benefits. But I wonder how many continue on learning after the age of 3, 4 or 5. Some do and that is wonderful. This idea of incorporating sign language in our everyday learning got me thinking about all the games, activities and ways that we continue practicing signs we know and learning new ones. I never say to my kids..."OK, time to learn some new signs or let's practice our signing." We just use it. It has become part of our day. We don't sign all the time, but we also don't go very long during the day without signing.

There are so many resources and tools available online for learning ASL. So, this is the place where I will be collecting those resources for you and listing them here. I'll also begin sharing more of how we incorporate sign language in simple ways throughout our days. With the help of some great tools and resources, creative ideas and consistency, learning and teaching ASL to your kids can be so easy and fun.

When we first began learning sign language five years ago because our second son was born with a severe hearing loss, we didn't buy a curriculum or enroll in night classes. We spent one hour per week for three years with someone who signed fluently and encouraged us to LEARN and USE what we learned. Now, if you're thinking that we sat with this person and signed back and forth learning many new signs each week, that isn't true. We learned a few new ones each week and used the ones we already knew while we played with the kids. Every visit was pure joy for all of us. Dorothy would bring her bag of toys and let the kids unpack them one by one. That is how we began labeling and describing things in sign language. "Look at this book. That is a green ball. Where is the blue block?" Many times, she would read a story and sign the main words. And often we would sing a song while she signed it. Later, when Karen was our teacher, she challenged us to really use our signs more conversationally and showed us how really incorporate ASL with reading.

Now, a few years later...I realize, what Dorothy and Karen gave to us were the tools and resources for learning ASL and showed us HOW to implement it into everything we did. For instance, going to the zoo doesn't simply mean, just going to the zoo anymore. We sign the names of the animals and talk about what they are doing (in sign). Reading a book is much richer when adding signs to describe the pictures and characters in the story. And, really, you can incorporate ASL into any game you play. And now that our kids are of reading age, ASL has been instrumental in helping them learn their letters, sounds and now reading and writing.

Instead of writing more articles about the benefits of signing with your kids (of all abilities and with any learning style) and how, YES, American Sign Language is a legitimate second or foreign language...I'll start sharing creative and natural ways you can incorporate it into what you are already doing at home or in the classroom. Pulling from many resources and implementing them into fun activities is the way we learned sign language and it never felt like a chore. This is still true today as we continue to teach our kids new signs each day, often learning them together, and practicing the ones we already know.

I'd love to hear how you make sign language a part of your day. If you're just now beginning this journey, how is it going? If you've been learning and teaching your children for a while, I'd love to know what's working for you. Let me know if you have any questions by leaving me a comment here. I'm always open to questions and ideas from you.

Adding ASL to your learning environment:

Our Story {a few more details}

Our journey and passion for ASL began six years ago after our second son, "C" was born. We knew right away that there were health issues and that the road ahead would include many surgeries and time spent at our Children's Hospital. What we didn't realize was that our way of life would be forever changed and that communication as we knew it would be redefined...all for the better!

Once we learned that "C" had a severe hearing loss, we were quickly put in touch with early intervention services through the Parent Infant Program at the Hearing, Speech and Deafness Center in Seattle. Our very first home visit was with a woman named Dorothy. She was the one who not only introduced us to our very first Baby Signing Time DVD, but also became our friend as she taught our whole family ASL each week over the next two and a half years. We'll never forget that first hopeful we felt that our son would be able to communicate with us and communicate well. Little did we know then how much our whole family would actually benefit from learning sign language.

In between visits with Dorothy, the boys asked to watch Baby Signing Time and then later, Signing Time (geared more for preschool aged children and up) on a daily basis. We were hooked! The teaching format was so fun and the songs, so upbeat and easy to remember....we couldn't help but learn and devour each new sign being taught. These DVDs have proven to be an invaluable resource to us.

When "C" turned two, he started speech therapy with Lauren...another person who lovingly and patiently worked with him to further his communication skills. We were so thankful for all of the "tools" we learned from her, as family communication is so important to us. Her sensitivity toward "C's" use of ASL and her use of the language as well really helped him to grasp speech.

Around the age of two and a half, we were blessed again with another friend who, for the next 9 months, came to our home weekly to continue teaching us ASL. We were truly challenged to begin using our signs conversationally as Karen is deaf. She came with an interpreter the first time she visited. But after that, we realized we didn't need one and it was wonderful for all of us to be able to communicate together.

Learning and using ASL has been an incredible journey for all of us. Today, "C" is bilingual, using ASL and spoken English to communicate. We have no doubt that it was ASL that helped him to access the English language and understand concepts, therefore leading him to be able to speak as well as he does.

Our hearing children have benefited greatly in other ways from learning ASL too. Communicating with signs instead of spoken words is sometimes easier when you're frustrated, hurt, angry or embarrassed. And when they're excited about something...we often see them using their signs to further "illustrate" their feelings. Before they could talk, signing helped us to understand the things they wanted...such as "milk", "hungry", "thirsty", "crackers" and "hurt". And now, we are realizing just how much ASL is helping them learn how to read. It's amazing! 

The MANY Benefits of Signing!

Benefits of signing with babies and toddlers:

Children have the capacity to understand, learn and communicate before they develop the ability to speak.  Babies can begin signing around 6-14 months which is generally before they develop the ability to speak clearly. Even when children begin to speak it is not always clear.  Signing provides a second way to get the information from them. "Ba-Ba" - do they mean ball or bottle or something else? Signing also reduces tantrums and frustration.

Benefits of signing with children who can hear:

Research suggests that signing with hearing children can...
  • Improve confidence and self esteem  
  • Support spelling skills
  • Improve reading skills
  • Encourage an interest in books and 
  • Can even improve IQ scores

Benefits of signing with children with special needs:
  • Signing can have miraculous results with children who have speech and communication challenges. Sign can be an amazing tool for children with Down Syndrome, Autism, Apraxia of Speech, speech delays, hearing loss and deafness, etc.
  • Signing can be the only way for them to communicate and may encourage verbal communication.  Read Rachel Coleman's Story, the founder of Signing Time, to learn how American Sign Language has impacted her family. 
  • Kids who currently don't have special needs but may in the future - limited communication due to hospitalization, trach tubes, surgery, etc. 

Other general benefits:
  • Wonderful bonding - this is face-to-face communication. You must look at each other to use signs! 
  • Having an alternate way of expressing themselves can help a child who may not be comfortable verbalizing something they want to say, such as when they are upset or embarrassed. 
  • Children learn in different ways. Some learn by hearing, some by seeing, some by doing it with their own hands. Tactile and kinesthetic learners may thrive when sign language is introduced to their learning environment. 
  • The physical component of signing can make learning feel like play. Children naturally use their body language to communicate. 
  • Helps with temper tantrums, especially those tantrums that stem from not being understood. 
  • Older children love to use signs as a 'secret language' or as a second language. 
  • Older children who sign are more likely to befriend a child who signs for any reason and have increased confidence in their ability to learn ASL as a second language. 

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