When I started teaching I knew I wanted more for my students than even I could imagine. I wanted to expose them to all types of learning, activities, centers and curriculum. I decided when I was getting my degree that I would take sign language because I had taken Spanish in high school. I am so glad I did, because I used sign language every single day with my students for the 5 years that I taught in public schools. Sign language was an important part of our day. We did the pledge of allegiance, counting, songs, days of the week, months of the year and our names in sign language. There are all types of sign languages but I taught and used American Sign Language. A great deal of past and current research shows benefits and encourages all that work with young children or have young children to teach signing. “ASL is the third most used language in the U.S. Early childhood is the best time to acquire a new language” (Simpson and Lynch, 2007).
What is ASL?
The National Institute on Deafness and other Communications Disorders says:
“American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and is one of several communication options used by people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.” (2017).
It is important that while you are learning sign language that you also learn about the culture and the people. It is vital that you can come to understand not only how they speak out in the world but how and what they believe. I also taught my students about sign language and why people signed instead of spoke with their words. To this day, even though I am not in the classroom I am memorized with signing. I think the language is beautiful and what a wonderful thing to share with your students.
Reflect on your teaching practices as you read this article and I challenge you to try to incorporate some sort of signing in your environment.
- Children can learn to sign as soon as you feel comfortable, make sure it is correct and consistent.
- When children cannot speak it reduces fear and frustration because they can communicate with their care takers.
- It teaches children about differences and helps to show empathy.
- Children learn about other cultures and the way people communicate.
- All children and all learning styles benefit from learning to sign.
As noted by Morin,
“My Smart Hands–an agency that offers information and sign language classes for hearing toddlers and parents–explains that sign language helps to bridge the two hemispheres of the brain. This gives children two ways to access a word and its meaning. ‘Signing is different than learning spoken languages.'”(2008).
I noticed as I would teach my students their letters, we would also do the sound and the sign. They learned to associate the sound with the letter, and as we learned they could not only sound out the word but they could also spell the word. My students were always very excited to not only learn letters and how to sign their names but to do songs. The families of my students were shocked and excited that their children were learning to sign.
Easy ways to start incorporating signing:
* Sign letters as you teach them (sound and writing).
* Signing songs that are traditionally sung in the classroom
* Signing words used during snack time such as eat, more, and names of food items
* signing numbers, feelings, months of the year, days of the week, names, pledge and numbers
Ensuring that children are engaged in their learning and exposing children to everything I could was my goal as a teacher. I wanted them to have every opportunity to succeed and embrace learning as a fun and meaningful experience. I feel like I met my goal and still to this day do, even teaching college.
Morin, A. (2008). What Sign Language can Teach Your Child. Retrieved from
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2017). Top Benefits For learning Sign Language. Retrieved from
Simpson, C. and Lynch, S. (2007). Sign Language: Meeting Diverse Needs in the Classroom. Retrieved from
This guest post was written by Tisha Shipley. Tisha has a doctorate of education in Curriculum and Instruction and has taught multiple grade levels at Moore Public Schools, including pre–K and gifted 3rd–6th graders.
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