It’s always a good time for your child to begin learning a new language. After all, learning another language can benefit your child in countless ways. Not only can it provide your kid with the ability to communicate in new ways, but it can also improve his or her critical thinking, problem-solving, and listening skills, along with enhancing memory and boosting self-confidence.
If you’re wondering what language to introduce, why not begin with American Sign Language (ASL)? American Sign Language for kids nurtures curiosity, develops cultural sensitivity, and has both cognitive and social advantages.
But where do you start? To help you navigate teaching kids sign language, we’ve provided a handy guide below. Read on to find out everything you need to know about sign language for kids.
START THEM EARLY
It’s never too early to start teaching ASL for kids. In fact, some parents start their babies and toddlers off with ASL to help them communicate before they even begin forming words. This is a great way to help children express themselves and build an even stronger child-parent bond.
A full history lesson is not immediately necessary for children. Keep it fun and interesting in the beginning by focusing on the ASL signs. Later, intertwine Deaf history and culture within the lessons. When teaching beginners, start with a few signs and add more with proficiency.
MAKE IT FUN
When it comes to teaching basic sign language for kids, you don’t want it to be a chore for either one of you. Keep it simple and fun. Use hands-on, play-based activities to engage and motivate young learners. Incorporate games, songs, and books for beginners when learning and practicing new signs.
For example, when learning the ASL signs for colors and animals, read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle and sign along. Watch videos that incorporate songs and signing, such as Colors Song, which teaches the signs for the basic colors in sign language. Also, incorporate songs to reinforce vocabulary that doesn’t incorporate signing, such as signing colors along with The Color Song. YouTube videos of songs to learn and practice signing are always fun for kids because they encourage audience participation.
MAKE IT MEANINGFUL
Include sign language for children during daily activities; make it meaningful, relevant, and ongoing. Starting by learning and using the signs for your daily routine (e.g., brush teeth, breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner). A habit of using the signs each day will reinforce the signs consistently over time.
INCLUDE INFORMATION ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF
While learning sign language for kids, it’s important for children to appreciate Deaf culture, understand deafness, and learn about the identity, history, and language of the Deaf population. This will help them to appreciate and understand diversity. If it’s an option for you, meeting and interacting with people who are deaf is a valuable way to reinforce learning about the Deaf community and ASL. Use children’s books to introduce deaf people to children:
- El Deafo
- I Am Deaf
- I Have a Sister, My Sister is Deaf
- I’m Deaf, and It’s Okay
- Dad and Me in the Morning
- Moses Goes to School
- Let’s Hear it for Almigal
Some of these texts, and others, can be found read aloud and signed on YouTube, so you don’t necessarily need to buy them.
USE AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE
Always defer to ASL language models and materials to teach and learn ASL. There are differences between ASL (a visual language) and English (a spoken language). Use ASL dictionaries or ask for help if you don’t know a sign. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect, but don’t make up signs. The best way to respect a language is to use it correctly.
USE EXISTING MATERIALS
It is not necessary to purchase new materials in order to introduce your children to sign language. Integrate sign language into daily routines through songs, games, reading, and toys that you already have access to in your home.
GATHER YOUR TOOLS
While the purchase of materials is unnecessary, purchasing an ASL picture dictionary for kids is beneficial if screen time is limited. The Gallaudet Children’s Dictionary of American Sign Language is a great choice for younger kids, and the American Sign Language Dictionary or The Picture Plus Dictionary are better for older kids.
REMEMBER THE BENEFITS
Signing enhances literacy skills and engagement, allows children to use multiple senses to learn, improves self-confidence, teaches ABCs and spelling, increases vocabulary, and encourages communication.
Sign language activities should be stress-free, meaningful, and enjoyable. If your child is becoming frustrated or uninterested in learning sign language for kids, take a break. Give your child some breathing room and consider introducing the language in other ways. For instance, if you’re only using books, it might be time to turn to some kid-friendly ASL videos.
WORK ON MEMORY TECHNIQUES
Half the challenge of teaching basic sign language to kids involves helping them commit the signs to memory. After all, there are a lot of hand gestures to remember! To help, incorporate some memory techniques into your lessons. One helpful tip is to use flashcards. Write down and organize certain signs together as a group, and pinpoint the most tricky signs to accelerate the learning process.
Chances are, your child is already a whiz when it comes to playing games and apps on your smartphone or tablets. If this is the case, use this to your advantage. There are all kinds of ASL apps that can help engage your child and get him or her interested in learning sign language for kids. You’ll come across many helpful resources ranging from fingerspelling apps to ASL translators.
INTERACT WITH THE DEAF COMMUNITY
When learning a new skill, sometimes it’s best to see it in action. Your child may gather a greater appreciation for ASL by interacting with members of the Deaf community. Is your neighbor deaf? Encourage your child to communicate with her using signs. Or maybe you have a local Deaf community center where you and your child can get involved to surround yourselves with others who are signing. This kind of immersion is a prime way to teach sign language to kids.
GO AT YOUR OWN PACE
While many people are eager to learn ASL quickly, remember that it is not a race. If you and your kid rush through lessons, there is a good chance you won’t absorb the material. Slow and steady is the best course of action. Focus on building a strong foundation that will allow you to work toward more challenging aspects of the language down the road.
WHERE TO BEGIN LEARNING ASL
Start by learning the ASL alphabet. Then, children should fingerspell various words, such as their friends’ names, to practice the alphabet. You can also label objects around the house with ASL signs and encourage your child to use them. Subscribe to YouTube channels that teach ASL to kids through songs, storytelling, or interactive videos, such as TreeSchool, Moonbug Kids – Sign Language for Kids, or Statewide Outreach Center Videos – ASL Storytelling. Learning to sign with your child will be fun.
ENROLL YOUR CHILD IN PRIVATE ASL CLASSES FOR KIDS
As your child’s curiosity and ASL knowledge expand, you may want to consider formal sign language lessons. During these ASL lessons for kids, a certified private instructor will work one-on-one with your child to speed up the learning process. The instructor will create customized lesson plans tailored to your child’s individual needs to ensure he or she embarks on a path to success. After a few lessons, your child will be one step closer to mastering ASL. Sign your child up to learn ASL online or from a local tutor near you today!