Wasting Nothing is please to share with you the story of one moms experience using American Sign Language (ASL) with the little ones in her life. Plus, she shares some tips on how you can start using ASL today to share, play and grow with your little one!!
As a young girl, I loved running around the playground at school with my friend, Paige, using our own secret language without making a sound. What I didn’t realize at the time was that “our secret language”, American Sign Language (ASL), didn’t belong just to us, but it was a living language that enabled communication for many people. Paige was profoundly deaf but in our school was predominately required to read lips and vocalize, so learning sign with her was mostly a recreational activity. As I grew up my relationship with ASL did as well. I studied the language in both High School and College and found it to be a remarkably useful tool when I ventured into the business world.
When I became a mom I knew I wanted to teach my children sign language. My personal experience with ASL, taught me some valuable lessons. First, ASL is fun for children of all ages. It’s just “a good time” to talk with your hands! Second, being committed to teaching children true ASL can benefit them for a lifetime! ASL is a real, living language, not just gestures that will only serve them for a finite period of time. I wasn’t, however, sure at what age I would start.
I learned to sign around age 7. I had read a lot of research that supported signing with children much earlier, but, I was skeptical to start too early. Partially, based on some unfounded fears that using Sign Language with my hearing little ones might delay their speech and because I just wasn’t sure it would work in ones so young. After speaking with my pediatrician, a speech therapist or two, and some early education professionals, I was convinced signing with babies and toddlers was not only not detrimental but was beneficial.
I was disheartened to discover that most programs, even those that profess to use ASL, often used adapted signs or simply used made up gestures. From my perspective, neither option was an acceptable approach. So I started signing on my own with my baby around 3 months old by the time he was 6 months he was signing words like eat and banana. Around that same time, I found and early education curriculum that did use true ASL, Signing Time. I became a certified instructor and my little one’s signing and verbal vocabulary exploded. I have been excited to watch his signs grow rapidly from basic needs like food and water to him now excitedly pointing out the color of a flower or telling me and showing me with his signs what games are his favorite!
My tips for families thinking of signing with their babies ...
1. Prepare to feel silly! When you sign to your baby especially if they are around 3 months you will feel silly. Embrace it. Signing with your little one is great bonding/playtime. Be sure to keep your signs close to your face to help them focus not just on your hands but on your expressions.
2. Connect with others! Find families in your community that are signing with their little ones. As your child grows nothing is more beneficial than being around other children who sign. Plus, being around other parents that sign gives you a great sounding board for concerns and progress.
3. It’s a marathon not a sprint! Learning to sign takes time for you and your little one. Build your vocabulary and your child’s vocabulary slowly. Start with just a few signs around mealtimes, bath time, or diaper changes. Make sure that you incorporate them consistently and that you are having fun!
4. Go the distance! Don’t be discouraged if you child doesn’t sign back immediately. Some children begin signing back very quickly while others may take 6 months or longer.
5. Curriculum Matters! If you elect to take sign language class look for curriculum that uses non-adapted ASL exclusively not just most of the time. I recommend going through the Signing Time Academy to locate a class near year.
6. Don’t be afraid to go it alone! If you can’t find a good class in your area, you can get started on your own. There are some great resources out there to help you. Signing Savvy is a great online tool to access free ASL vocabulary demos. The Signing Time Academy Store also provides wonderful curriculum tools: Books, DVDs, CDs and more to help get you singing and playing with your little one at home!