There are few things in life to which I hold fast; things about which I absolutely will not compromise. My faith, my family and my friends are my top three. But, next in line is my passion for American Sign Language (ASL) and its usage with small children.
When I was in 4th grade, our teacher brought in a guest speaker who taught us the ASL alphabet. I was instantly fascinated! When I got home, I taught my dad, who loved it almost as much as I did. My parents encouraged me to learn more about ASL and bought me my first ASL dictionary.
As I grew, I read as much as I could about ASL, and when I was in college, I read about the benefits of using ASL with hearing children. I vowed to use ASL with my own kids one day. Fast forward about 15 years, and here I am, the mother of three super signers and a certified instructor with an awesome baby sign language company.
There are tons of benefits to using ASL with children! Here are just a few:
In the 5+ years I've been signing with my kids, I've heard many objections to the use of ASL with children. My little hooligans are living proof that these common myths are complete malarkey. Here are the ones that irk me the most:
- Sign language will delay speech. This is, by far, the most frequently spoken myth concerning sign language and children. It couldn't be more untrue! This myth stems from the belief that signing replaces speech. When signing with hearing children, parents speak at the same time as signing. Signing augments speech; it never replaces speech. This myth is also perpetuated by the confusion of speech and language. One can speak without using a language (such as baby babble), and one can use a language without speaking (American Sign Language). Signing with preverbal children allows them to begin using language even before they can speak! Studies show children who used ASL as babies tend to speak sooner and have larger vocabularies than their non-signing peers!
- I tried sign language with my kids, and it didn't work. Children are naturally fascinated with sign language. The only time I've seen a child "uninterested" in signing was when the parents' sign usage was inconsistent. You can't sign a few words here and there, or only try for a few days and expect your child to sign back immediately. You also can't assume that because she's not signing back on your time table, that must mean she's not interested or that signing "didn't work." If you are patient and consistent, a window to your child's mind will be opened to you!
- We don't need sign language; my child can just point to what he needs/wants. Pointing only gets you so far. Yes, your child can point at the refrigerator when he's hungry, but how do you know if he wants cheese instead of grapes? Or, what if he's crying in bed because he can't find his blankie? He can't point to something he can't find! No, sign language is not a "need." But, it is an incredibly helpful, practical tool, so why not add it to your parental skills arsenal?
I think it's apparent-I'm psyched about signing! And I hope after reading this, you are, too! If you'd like to sign with your baby, visit this free online dictionary to look up some signs. Common first signs are mommy, daddy, milk, eat and more.
If you have any questions, check out my FAQ page, or just send me an email at Melissa@MySmartHands.com. I would love to help you on this exciting baby sign language journey!