A Language that Grows with Your Child
Posted: October 20, 2013 “My toddler is already talking. He doesn’t need sign language.”
“My preschooler already knows the alphabet. She doesn’t need sign language.”
“My Kindergartener is already reading. He doesn’t need sign language.”
Even though I tell people I teach “baby sign language”, I really hate that phrase. It could just as easily be called “toddler sign language”, “preschooler sign language”, or “Kindergartener sign language.” American Sign Language is an amazing language and shouldn’t be confined to any certain age group! It has wonderful qualities that benefit people of all ages and stages.
“Baby” sign language is most popular, of course. It’s trendy (and smart and educational!) to use sign language so your preverbal baby can communicate. But did you also know that sign language can help your preschooler’s language skills and your elementary student’s reading skills? In fact, studies show that children who use ASL as babies and toddlers tend to speak sooner, have larger vocabularies, and learn to read sooner than their non-signing peers. Find all sorts of helpful links about those studies here. When they are in elementary school, children who used sign language as babies tend to have IQ scores an average of 12 points higher than kids who didn’t sign as babies!
Preschoolers are able to form the letters of the ASL alphabet LONG before they are physically able to correctly hold a pencil, touch it to a paper, and write their name. They can begin working on letter recognition and spelling small words earlier than you might think.
I also find it helpful to use ASL when teaching my toddler and preschooler new words and concepts, especially if those new ideas are more abstract. Emotions are a perfect example. It’s often difficult for an upset 3-year-old to put into spoken words the way she’s feeling or the reason for her tantrum. But if she knows the signs, she can tell you she’s angry and frustrated because her brother took her pony toy, even if she’s screaming while she’s signing! Trust me—I have personal experience with this one!
Elementary school students can use ASL, too! In her book Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy, author Marilyn Daniels describes how the use of fingerspelling (using the ASL alphabet to spell out words) helps elementary-age children remember how to spell their vocabulary words. Using ASL signs for key concepts in each school lesson can help children remember important facts in each subject. Muscle memory is a powerful tool, and there’s no better way to utilize it than with ASL! You can read more about muscle memory and the use of ASL with young children here, here, and here.
I think the evidence is clear! Use American Sign Language with your toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school students, even if you “don’t think they need it!”