Signing Time is for ALL Children

by Lindsey Blau, Editorial Staff
November 2007

For most children, using sign language is an exciting activity based on muscles and movement. Small children love to learn to sign, just as they love to learn anything by doing, exploring, trying, touching and moving, not just by looking and listening.

Since the beginning, Signing Time!, the hit public television and video series, has been dedicated to helping all children – regardless of ability – learn how to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL).

As Signing Time was in the process of being produced and developed, media began to pick up on the benefits of signing with hearing infants. While most people at the time still regarded sign language as something only Deaf people used, scores of parents everywhere began to pay attention and joined Rachel, Emilie in the “baby sign language” movement that perpetuates a powerful means of teaching ALL babies and toddlers to communicate pre-verbally with signs.

Though research and scientific studies have proven the positive impact signing has when communicating with young children and babies, this movement has yet to be completely discovered. The truth is that using sign language with babies and children who can hear is revolutionizing parenting in America.

But what about all these claims of higher I.Q.’s and fewer temper tantrums? Is this just the latest trend – a newer version of how to create an infant Einstein?

There is nothing trendy about the benefits of signing. It has been carefully studied in clinical and university settings for over 25 years. Questions have been posed and researched: Does signing really help the hearing child? Does it improve I.Q.? Strengthen parent bonding? Increase confidence? Lessen misbehavior? Is it helpful in working with children with special needs? Is there any data to back up fears that a child will choose signing over normal speech and thus delay speaking? Unlike most studies which are filled with “no, but . . .” “yes, if . . .” and “on the other hand . . . ” type of disclaimers, the carefully documented research on signing is universally positive.

The real benefit of signing with hearing children is to provide a way for parents and children to spend quality time together and explore a world where parents and children actually have the ability to communicate – one of the most bonding and valuable experiences between any parent and child.

Additionally, Joseph Garcia, a scholar of gestural language studies, observed that hearing babies of deaf parents were able to communicate more easily and far earlier than similar babies of hearing parents.

“We found out Leah was deaf when she was 14 months old. As we immediately began teaching her ASL and interacting with the Deaf community, we came to realize one of the best kept secrets: signing with children, deaf or not, is one of the most beneficial ways to connect and communicate at an early age,” says Aaron Coleman, in reference to his experiences with his daughter Leah (who stars in the Signing Time series). ”Leah could sign full sentences when ‘hearing’ kids her age could only grunt and point. As we began to interact with other parents, it was obvious that any child who knew even just a few signs, whether hearing or deaf, had the ability to communicate far earlier than the families who relied on speech alone.”

What are the benefits of teaching children and babies to sign before they can speak?

Think of signing with your baby, or child, as a means to look into their mind. With sign language, they can express their wants and feelings long before they can speak. Some researchers also point out that the ‘terrible two’s’ stage can often be eliminated or avoided because of the improved communication between toddler and parent through ASL.

An article by Vicki Fong from Penn State reads:

“When you see babies, you can see them experiment with their hands. They move them about, they touch their hands together, they try to reach things, they attempt to pick up objects, ” says Dr. Marilyn Daniels, associate professor of speech communication at Penn State’s Worthington Scranton Campus. “Sign language has the unique capacity to tap into the natural exchange between hand and brain, optimizing the emergence of language in the child because of the physiological advantage of American Sign Language (ASL) over English.”

Scholars have concluded that teaching signing beginning at an early age is beneficial, and teaching signing to deaf children is, of course, a necessity, but teaching those same skills to very young children who can hear perfectly can:

1. Improve a child’s ability to learn their spoken language even better, and helps them gain language skills earlier and faster than those who did not learn signing.

2. Enable a child to grow up in a “bi-lingual” atmosphere by developing communication based on other sources (one based on hearing and the spoken word; one based on physical movement).

3. Increases I.Q. points by between eight and thirteen points—benefits which have remained to the oldest age tested to date.

4. Enable a young child to communicate needs, wants and fears earlier and better, thus decreasing misbehavior and temper tantrums.

5. Improve cooperation between very young children.

6. Act as a source of fun physical activity, pride and self-esteem among the children.

7. Greatly enhance quality time and positive reinforcement between parent and child.

To read support articles and information, please review the sources listed below.

How has Signing Time contributed to the signing movement?

As part of the baby sign language movement, Signing Time provides an all-encompassing way to teach children of all abilities real American Sign Language (ASL) signs, which has similar developmental advantages as teaching a secondary language like Spanish or French. In only a few years, the Signing Time program has spread by word of mouth to all 50 states and over 20 countries, and is used widely by educators, pediatricians, home-schoolers, speech therapists, public schools, daycare centers, libraries and families as the most fun and easy way to introduce children to sign language.

Thanks in large part to Signing Time, sign language is now gaining recognition as an all-encompassing tool for communication that anyone can use. Whether used by a pre-verbal infant, a non-verbal child with disabilities, or a family who simply wants to learn ASL as a second language, signing has become an important part of American culture.

When we say Signing Time is for children of ALL abilities – we really mean it. Evidence is mounting that children with special needs, such as apraxia of speech, autism, or down syndrome who have difficulty with speech can make great strides in their communication development when Signing Time is part of their regimen.

While sign language is beneficial for every child, Rachel de Azevedo Coleman, the co-creator and host of Signing Time, confesses a more personal goal. She says, “My hope is that everyone will know a little sign, just as most people know a little Spanish – so when your child sees my child at the park, there would be no awkwardness, no communication barrier – just three signs… ‘Hi ~ friend ~ play’…that is all it would take to change her world.”

Working as a multi-sensory approach to communicate, Signing Time engages visual learners, kinesthetic learners, and auditory learners of all ages and all abilities, while making sign language easy and fun.

Sources

1. Sign language enriches learning for hearing children. You can view this article by Vicki Fong from Penn state from this link: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-11/ps-sle112001.php

For more published research by scholars at national and international universities, and for additional information on the benefits of signing with children of all abilities, consider these recent scholastic articles and book length sources:

Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn and Douglas Abrams: Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, New Edition (McGraw-Hill, 2002).

Linda P. Acredolo, L. P., and Susan W. Goodwyn, (July 2000). “The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8.” Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies, Brighton, UK. (See research online at: www.babysigns.com/index)

Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1985). “Symbolic gesturing in language development: A case study.” In Human Development, 28, 40-49.

Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1988). “Symbolic gesturing in normal infants.” In Child Development, 59, 450-466.

Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn (1990). “The significance of symbolic gesturing for understanding language development.” In R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of Child Development (Vol. 7, pp. 1-42). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Linda Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S.W. (1997). “Furthering our understanding of what humans understand.” In Human Development, 40, 25-31.

Linda Acredolo, Susan Goodwyn, Karen Horobin, and Yvonne Emmons (1999). “The signs and sounds of early language development.” In L. Balter & C. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary Issues (pp. 116–139). New York: Psychology Press.

M. Daniels, (October, 1994). “The effects of sign language on hearing children’s language development.” In Communication Education, 43, 291-298.

M. Daniels. (1996). “Seeing language: The effect over time of sign language on vocabulary development in early childhood education.” In Child Study Journal, 26, 193-208.

M. Daniels. (2001). Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey. (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-11/ps-sle112001.php).

Susan Goodwyn, Linda Acredolo, and Catherine Brown (in press). “Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development.” In Journal of Nonverbal Behavior.

Susan Goodwyn, Linda Acredolo, and Catherine Brown (2000). “Impact Of Symbolic Gesturing On Early Language Development.” In Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24 (2), pp. 81-103.

Susan Goodwyn and Linda Acredolo, (1993). “Symbolic gesture versus word: Is there a modality advantage for onset of symbol use?” In Child Development, 64, 688-701.

Susan Goodwyn and Linda Acredolo (1998). “Encouraging symbolic gestures: Effects on the relationship between gesture and speech.” In J. Iverson & S. Goldin-Meadows (Eds.) The Nature And Functions Of Gesture In Children’s Communication (pp. 61-73). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nicola Grove, “Current Research Findings to Support the Use of Sign Language with Adults and Children . . . “ (see the entire papers www.makaton.org/research.).

J. Hafer, (1986). Signing For Reading Success. Washington D.C. Gallaudet University Press.

Brie Moore, Linda Acredolo, & Susan Goodwyn (April 2001). “Symbolic gesturing and joint attention: Partners in facilitating verbal development.” Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Kimberly Whaley, “Teaching Infants to Use Sing Language,” (www.newswise.com/articles/view/?id=SIGNLANG.OSU).

R. Wilson, J. Teague and M. Teague (1985). “The Use of Signing and Finger spelling to Improve Spelling Performance with Hearing Children” in Reading Psychology, 4, 267-273.