Yesterday, I shared five social, emotional, and behavioral benefits of signing with young children who are already speaking. Today, I’d like to share the educational benefits!
If you’ve read our story, then you know that our oldest daughter was a micropreemie born at just 26 weeks. Addie had a number of developmental delays, and we began signing with her when she was nonverbal at 18 months. By her third birthday, her speech was evaluated at a 60 month level by our local school district and just six months later, she was beginning to read.
Katy Barrett – Interview with Signing Time from Signing Time on Vimeo.
Almost identical to Elizabeth, Addie first memorized a variety of printed words, but it wasn’t long before she had figured out the pattern of phonics and started reading independently.
(Keep in mind that we never intended for Addie to learn to read by watching Signing Time and using sign language, but I do believe that it played into her learning style.)
Sign language uses a multisensory approach that has proven to benefit a variety of learners–auditory, visual, and tactile/kinesthetic! In my education training, we were required to take several seminars on brain development. Since I’m not a neuroscientist, I’m going to link a great summary about neurons and synapses here…basically, it says that the first three years are critical to a child’s brain development and that it’s the best time for a person to learn more than one language.
ASL is a very visual language and taking in information causes you to use the right side of your brain, while other languages [such as English] that are not as visual as ASL cause you to use the left side of your brain. [Children] who learn ASL are actually using both sides of the brain which causes building of synapses. (link, emphasis mine)
So even if your child is an early talker, using sign language can actually increase your child’s knowledge bank and strengthen the connections in his/her brain! Let’s use the concept MILK to illustrate: at a very young age, your baby will learn that there is a delicious white substance that is offered to them several times a day! Before long, he will hear you say “milk” (or “leche”, etc.) and he will begin to associate those sounds with the drink that he wants! If you teach him the sign, you are giving him yet another reference point for the solution to his growling, hungry tummy. He now has a tactile way to express himself, even if he can’t do it verbally. AND then, when he’s quite a bit older, after learning the sign for milk and learning to say milk (and/or leche, or another language used in your household), he won’t be surprised to learn that there’s yet another way to demonstrate the concept–this time with the printed letters M I L K!
Now imagine how useful sign language is for a concept like wind! Incidentally, WIND was one of our younger daughter’s first signs. Every time she would feel the breeze on her face outside, she would grin SO big, even when she was just a few months old. It wasn’t long before I was labeling it with the word and with the sign: “Oh Katie, it’s the WIND! Doesn’t that feel great?” Imagine my delight the first time she signed WIND to me, before I said a word! 🙂
There have been several studies on using sign language with young children. One study completed by Linda Acredolo, PhD and Susan Goodwyn, PhD, followed more than 100 families for a two-year period. Some of the families used signs with their young children while the rest (the control group) did not. At the conclusion of two years, the doctors discovered that the signers scored higher on intelligence tests, understood more words, had larger vocabularies and increased self-confidence! Furthermore, Acredolo and Goodwyn followed up with as many families as possible when the children turned 8, and found that the signers had an average IQ of 114, twelve points higher than the average of the non-signers!
I don’t want to forget to mention the best benefit of all in signing with your child who’s already speaking–it’s FUN and children ENJOY it! There’s a reason why children’s songs and rhymes have motions that go along with them and teachers across the country are using a technique called “Whole Brain Teaching.” Children who are engaged in learning retain the information longer and have a great time in the process!
I would love to hear what you think! Can you think of any other benefits to using sign language with children who are already verbal?