By Colleen Brunetti, Master Signing Time Instructor
Many of you likely started signing with your children in the infant years. You knew it was a great way to know what your baby was thinking before she could talk, and perhaps that it would help ease those toddler tantrums that stem from frustrations over communication. Many families stop signing when their child learns to talk. What many people don’t know is that during the preschool and early elementary school years, signing can help your child learn to read and write.
Let’s look at how signing can help your child get ready to read and write. It really is as easy as A-B-C!
- Start by teaching the manual (or signed) alphabet. Teaching the ABCs along with sign language offers your child a visual and tactile way to experience learning letters. This can really help with the child who might think that duh-bul-you (W) is multiple letters, or that LMNO is just one. For the child who doesn’t have that confusion, signing the ABCs still serves as great reinforcement for learning the letters and is a whole lot of fun. I am in awe watching my 21-month-old neighbor gleefully sign and crow each letter of the alphabet. There aren’t too many children that age who know their spoken ABCs so well! But with signing, the language skills are so well supported that the oral language and concepts can come a little easier.
- Use signs to build vocabulary. Sign language offers a great support for concepts and vocabulary because signs so often paint a picture of the item or concept they represent. For instance “TREE” looks just like a tall tree standing there, or the sign for “SCARED” can really illustrate the concept of a feeling, which may be a bit tricky for little ones to initially grasp.
- Sign while reading aloud. Signing along while reading stories can make books come alive. It can be extra engaging for wiggly toddlers for whom a whole story might otherwise be a bit long. Signing draws children in, allowing them to take an active part in the story. Don’t worry if you don’t know each and every sign! Just sign the ones you know, or find things in the pictures you know the sign for. You can even keep it as simple as identifying the colors on a page and signing those. It is okay to start small and have the amount of signing you do grow along with your vocabulary. Signing while reading really benefits children because they tend to learn through multiple experiences. If you sign a word you are reading, the child then: sees the word in print, hears the word spoken, sees the sign, and does the sign. What a great way to reinforce a concept!
- Consider using our Early Literacy Jump Start bundle,which will provide you with many ways to learn and practice the ABCs. In this bundle you also get the DVD “Story Time”, where Rachel demonstrates several signs and then shows you how to apply them to a story.
Above all, remember that reading to your child each and every day is absolutely the best gift you can ever give. Nothing in this world will replace the skills and value you bestow by sharing a story together. Add sign language for extra support and fun.
Cuddle up and enjoy!