5 Reasons to Learn Sign Language as a Family

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Have you been considering learning sign language but wondering how you and your family might benefit? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Sign language can support development in many areas and here’s how:

1. Sign Language Helps to Solidify One’s Deaf Identity
Do you have a Deaf child or anyone in your family who is Deaf? American Sign Language (ASL) is used throughout North America, and the sign language for each country is an integral part of its unique Deaf community. There is a rich culture and history surrounding sign language and it is an essential component to developing one’s Deaf identity. Sign allows for language to be accessible to deaf children from birth, providing the opportunity for them to acquire language, engage in learning, develop supportive relationships, and socialize on par with their hearing peers.

2. Sign Language Can Help to Bridge Two Spoken Languages & Lead to Trilingualism
Are you already a bilingual family? Once you speak two languages, it’s easier to learn a 3rd—your brain is wired for it. Sign language can also aid in bridging two spoken languages: when your child hears one parent or family member say “milk” and another say “leche” and each one signs it (in ASL, for example), the same sign connects and provides consistent meaning to the two different words. Meanwhile, a 3rd language is acquired!

3. Sign Language Helps to Clarify Word Approximations & Expand Vocabulary, While Also Giving a Real Language to Children Who Don’t Develop Speech
Do you need clarification because you can’t understand what your child is trying to say? It’s possible that they’re using words you might not expect from a young child, and asking for sign clarification can help. If your child is looking at flowers but saying something like “ggog”, perhaps the sign for ‘pretty’ would let you know that they picked up your descriptive use of the word ‘gorgeous!’ Or maybe they are saying “bah” for many things—distinct signs can let you know if your child is referring to a book, or the bath, a banana, or a bird… and that way they’re expanding their overall language use through sign. Additionally, some hearing children with disabilities may not develop speech, and ASL (or the local sign language where you live) can be essential as their primary expressive language.

4. Sign Language Can Help to Strengthen Motor Coordination & Support Literacy Skills
While these two things seem to be quite separate, there’s more connection than one may think. Crawling requires cross-lateral coordination which strengthens overall brain development. This type of movement and practice helps to solidify eye-hand coordination and spatial awareness, among other skills that are required in reading. Left or right-hand dominance develops here as well, leading to comfort with writing. Also, fingerspelling allows for practice in fine motor skills while providing opportunities for spelling and reading to emerge.

5. Sign Language Can Connect People in a Conversation from a Distance
Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could communicate with a neighbor through your window? Or with your kids from across the playground? If more people, Deaf and hearing, used sign language this would be an option! When my kids got too far away from me at the playground and fell down, they would either sign or respond to me signing with things like ‘hurt’, or ‘ok’, or ‘help.’ Signing also allows for clear communication in a noisy subway or a quiet library, rows apart in a theatre, giving instructions in a swim lesson, and more.

So how do you get started? There are many online resources, but it’s important to make sure they are reliable. We recommend learning from Deaf teachers and from teachers who are credentialed in Deaf education or otherwise experienced in this area. At Baby Fingers we offer programs in person and online with Deaf and hearing teachers who are active in the Deaf community and can provide additional resources to families, children, and students of any age.

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Lora Heller is a music therapist, Deaf educator, and author of several sign language books for kids. She has also written for music therapy professional publications and national parenting magazines and is the on-line expert for various parenting programs including ParentsTV.com baby sign language video series. Lora founded Baby Fingers in 2000. www.mybabyfingers.com