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Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language

I was approached by Emily about publishing my this article on my blog. As a new mom I found it interesting and though my readers might too 🙂

The ability to adjust and have versatility, as well as the ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience, are two keys to doing well in a tilted economic system.  This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf.


That being said, a growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in Sign Language has led to more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it’s likely that skilled SL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.


Signing Before They Can Speak


A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well. This can be taught at home or some child care programs incorporate it into their curriculum.


 As you may know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate.


Recent research actually suggests that sign language is innate.  Boulder Daily Camera published an article in 2003, presenting strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:


                                “…by 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children

                                can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children

                                can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces

                                frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves

                                before they know how to talk.” (Glarion, 2003)


Additionally cited, a study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  It demonstrates that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that “using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration…[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music” (Glarion, 2003).


The Best Time To Start


Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning SL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas

Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Texas child care  facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose child care schools.  Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.