As I’ve mentioned in our story, both of my girls took their sweet time learning to talk (18-20 months). So, I’m not approaching this question as a mom, but as a teacher:
A long, long time ago in a land far, far away, I was an elementary school teacher. Fresh out of college, I was paired with an amazing teammate/friend in the classroom next door. I learned nearly everything I know about teaching from her–and one of her best tips for classroom management was using sign language.
Y’all, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a small room with 20+ people, but it gets LOUD. 🙂
(I quickly eliminated sharpening pencils during school hours–I had a sharp bucket and I had a dull/broken bucket and I took all the ones that needed sharpening home each night. So, now that you know just how crazy I am…)
The first week of school, we took time to learn the manual alphabet together. Students learned the sign for “restroom” and “water” and that eliminated HALF of my daily questions. Just a quick nod/yes (or the sign for wait/later) and I kept on teaching!
Whenever we had a few extra minutes to spare (usually waiting in line at the restroom or to go into the gym/cafeteria), we’d work on fingerspelling vocabulary words. Most of my students LOVED this game and it was quiet, so my principal really liked it, too.
American Sign Language has so many benefits beyond basic communication with pre-verbal children! Here are a few of my favorites:
- Signing clarifies your child’s message–you’re at the playground and your child comes running up to you, crying hard. You ask, “What’s wrong?” but you can’t understand what he’s trying to tell you. It just takes one sign (sad, hurt, angry, sick) to know how to respond. For those early talkers, you may have a difficult time trying to decipher the “buh/buh/buh” she keeps repeating (ball, bubble, boy?). Then (click!), she signs BIRD and points to a picture in the book she’s holding.
- Signing reduces whining. Unfortunately, it doesn’t eliminate it entirely–but who doesn’t want less whining?!
- Children LOVE to move their bodies in parent/teacher-approved ways! Some kiddos have a difficult time being still and signing gives them an outlet to get their wiggles out.
- Dramatic/thematic children LOVE to expressive themselves when speaking. Sign language is all about using body language, facial cues, and eye contact to communicate.
- ALL children, whether easily distracted or intensely shy, learn to focus on the speaker/signer and build stamina through eye contact and working to understand the message.