American Sign Language (ASL) is now classified as a world language, the same as Spanish, French, or any other foreign language. Therefore, if a child speaks sign language, the child is considered bilingual. When children are taught English and ASL together, they are processing language using both sides of the brain. This gives the child two places to recall language from instead of just one.
Babies as young as six to seven months old can remember a sign, according to experts. By eight months, children can begin to sign single words and imitate gestures, and by 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. At Educational Playcare, we understand the benefits of using and teaching sign language with infants and toddlers, and that is why ASL is incorporated into our curriculum.
In our infant program, we introduce ASL by using our 20 core signs, which include “please”, “thank you”, “more”, and “eat” among others. Teaching sign language to preverbal infants has proven to benefit them in their later years. Contrary to popular belief, research shows that sign language actually advances speech development. It also reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk, it increases parent-child bonding, and it allows children to communicate vital information, such as if they are hurt or hungry.
Infants who learn sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits, such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Feelings of anger due to an inability to communicate may not occur as often. Having the ability to sign could be a lifesaver when a child is too flustered to speak clearly. Early exposure to signing helps infants to develop their language and reasoning skills. While others are still crying to get what they want, signing babies are learning how to communicate with signed words and simple phrases.
In our toddler program, we encourage our students to use language to express their needs and emotions, verbally or through the use of American Sign Language. At this age, not only are our toddlers exposed to the 20 core signs, but each week our teachers introduce new signs that correlate with the curriculum theme.
Children who know ASL score 17% higher on standardized tests administered in the younger school years than children who do not know sign language. Bilingualism of any languages (whether signed or spoken) is a great booster for brains. It enriches and enhances children’s cognitive processes, leading to higher abstract and creative thinking, better problem-solving skills, greater cognitive flexibility, better listening skills, greater academic achievement, and much more. It also promotes cultural awareness, literacy, and other intellectual benefits.
Parents of hearing children are discovering sign language is beneficial for children in a wide variety of situations. You can reinforce the signs your children learn at school by using them at home. The practice of teaching hearing children sign language will continue to gain popularity due to its many, many benefits.