Guest Post: Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

As you all know, I am a working mother.  This is mostly by choice (great insurance at my firm, 401k, the ability to put away money in savings, etc. etc.) and marginally for necessity (we are accustomed to a certain lifestyle and losing my income would mean cutting back on a lot of things we enjoy).  When CJ was born, the Mister and I decided that we would like to put him in a top-notch daycare.  Cost was definitely a factor, but I am of the “you get what you pay for” school of thought, so when it comes to my son I am willing to plunk down the extra cash to send him to a certain school.  I started doing my research and discovered a Primrose School near our home.  So far, it has been worth every penny.  We love it, CJ loves it, and he is learning and growing by leaps and bounds.  The teacher-to-student ratio is small, so he gets lots of one-on-one attention.  When we visited the first time we were greeted at the door by the owner, the director, and the assistant director.  They are all very involved and invested in all of the kids, and I feel so comfortable with them taking care of my sweet baby boy.

Primrose puts a great deal of focus on teaching the children sign language from a very early age.  CJ was enrolled at 3 months old when I went back to work, and immediately they began teaching him sign language.  The past few weeks, I have really noticed CJ utilizing sign language on a daily basis.  When he is eating, he will sign “more” and “all done”, as well as “please” and “thank you”.  So polite, even with his hands!  I have noticed him signing “Momma” and “Dada” in the car, and he almost always says the word he is signing.  I am amazed at how much he can sign in context.  I would love for him to continue learning sign language, so I am going to buy a children’s sign language book and attempt to further his learning at home.

Last week I was contacted by Emily Patterson of Primrose Schools about doing a guest post about the importance of early childhood education and sign language.  Seeing as how I have chosen to send my child to a Primrose School, I am very happy to offer my little place on the interwebs to Emily for a guest post about acquiring sign language at an early age.  I hope you enjoy her article, and please feel free to provide her with feedback in the comments section.


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 Zionsville educational 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 Indiana educational child care preschools delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum.

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