Tips for Building Your Own Signing Community

By LeeAnn Mason, Staff Member and Forum Moderator

When Rachel Coleman and her husband Aaron first found out that their daughter Leah was deaf, they tapped into as many resources as possible to learn American Sign Language (ASL) so they could teach it to Leah. Rachel often comments how she wished it was easier back then to find other parents who were in similar circumstances. She wanted to talk to others who could help her understand the best methods and practices for learning ASL and teaching it to a newly diagnosed deaf child. If she had access to that kind of community, she probably wouldn’t have had to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when trying to figure out the best way to learn and teach sign language to their daughter.

Now, since the creation of Signing Time, Rachel has provided guidance and direction for communities and families to know and understand the positive impact of signing in the home with children of all abilities. It is Rachel’s personal goal to continue to provide resources that help create signing communities around children like Leah. She knows firsthand the difference it makes when people around her children know how to communicate in their language – even with only a few signs.

We frequently hear success stories from Signing Time fans around the world who are proud to share sign language with their friends and family. Many ask for other ideas and support in spreading the word. Here are a few ideas you can use to create a signing community:

1. Participate in the Signing Time online parenting forum: The forum is designed to connect families who value using ASL in the home. It’s a great place to ask questions, make comments, and find helpful suggestions .You can even look up other members in your area. Members often will post information about hosting or participating in a Signing Time playgroup, after-school program or study groups in their area. There are also more suggestions for starting a local playgroup in your area here:

2. Never underestimate the power of one! I personally created my own signing community when my sister Tammy gave my oldest daughter Signing Time! My First Signs for her first birthday. From there, I shared it with friends and other family members. In the summer of 2003, I attended my first playgroup hosted by Emilie and Rachel (co-creators of Signing Time) in Salt Lake City, Utah. I enjoyed meeting other the Signing Time fans. I wanted to re-create that opportunity for children in my area, so I hosted a successful playgroup in West Valley City, Utah and organized another one for fans in Midvale, Utah. These playgroups had activities that reinforced the signs the children where taught from Signing Time and allowed them to interact with other children and adults learning ASL.

I have asked several Signing Time fans to share what they are doing to create a signing community. Here are their responses:

“I recommended and promoted Signing Time to everyone I know with young kids and babies. I hand out the web site address to friends and people I meet.”

~Jackie F, Queensland, Australia

“I am mobilizing the people I know who love Signing Time to create our Signing Time Community, I brought together all the people I knew with kids, and shared with them how Signing Time has blessed our family. Most of them had already seen Signing Time, even the ones who had not borrowed it from me! We had the kids play together and the older ones helped the younger ones “use their signs”. We got the word out through the churches children’s ministries, and now have satellite playgroups at three local churches. Our group even includes one child who is deaf and her family, and a hearing child of parents that are deaf! We are creating an atmosphere of tolerance and showing the kids that it’s OK to be different. To anyone who wants to create a Signing Time community, I would say start in your own front yard! Gather friends and family then reach out to neighbors and churches, and rely on word of mouth to grow your community. This is a fun, interactive family activity and people are looking for things just like this!”

~Alyson M., San Antonio, TX

“I use the music in my preschool. We sing and sign everyday. The parents at Little Learners Academy know that Signing Time is an important part of our music-based academic curriculum. By using the signing and songs our preschool parents have seen the benefits of it for their children. They also love seeing the joy and fun that their children have through singing and signing the songs that they learn. While I was a retailer, we offered the Signing Time products and music series to our parents. This last year, we told parents where to go on the website to order their own. We also sent home daily notes telling of what our students do each day. Whenever we learn a new Signing Time song, we tell the parents in these notes. If someone wants to create a Signing Time community, I would recommend that they use the products, see the benefits and share your results. That will speak for itself. Amazing!

~Launa C. West Jordan, UT

“My two other good friends and I had an idea to bring a traditional story time to life for children. We wrote a grant, which was funded by First 5 of Sacramento County to do a monthly playgroup/event that would benefit children ages 0-5 yrs. During our story time we sing songs, dance and move, do active storytelling with ASL signs (instead of having the kids sit and listen to a book) and teach/incorporate ASL throughout the entire hour. So far we have advertised on websites, message boards, flyers, emails and word of mouth. My advice to someone wanting to bring sign language to their community would be to contact their local library about using the community room for free and then get more people to help you. Teaching ASL doesn’t have to be long & hard; keep it simple start out with singing and reading a story about colors while teaching the kids and families the sign for each color. But most of all have fun and enjoy what you are doing!”

~ Janel B., Sacramento, CA.

It goes without saying that sign language is a skill and tool that everyone can use. It never ceases to amaze me when I see other families signing in public and ask them if they know about Signing Time, only to discover that they too are fans. It feels like being a member of a great big family who values children, communication, inclusion, and quality of life. Just the other day, my daughter proudly said, “Mom, we are part of the Signing Time Family, aren’t we!” Yes, we are, and if you are reading this article, you are too. So many gifts in my life are because Rachel Coleman dared to make a difference for one person—her daughter Leah. I wonder what kind of difference you will make. What are you waiting for?