Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

No matter the reason for learning a second language, whether it be for more job opportunities, to try something new, or to have a better understanding of a diverse group, it is definitely something that is a unique skill. The ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience is an advantage that few have. This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf.

Going beyond the spoken word particularly, is something that has been growing in the past couple of years. 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 be a hot commodity

Signing Before They Can Speak

Research has shown that the as early as age 2 (up to age 5) are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. Many young children have an aptitude for signing , this can be taught at home or some child care programs incorporate it into their curriculum.

It’s not even that odd! 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, many say 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 demonstrated 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. The best time to start is at a young age, their brains are most flexible at this stage, meaning they are able to learn a second form of communicate more easily. By mimicking what they are taught, they naturally learn sign language, helping them to communicate before they can even speak. Lowering frustration levels and strengthening that parent-child bond.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the Atlanta 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.