Signing with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Many of you have probably heard of people using sign language with their babies before they can speak, but signing with verbal children doesn’t make the news quite as often.  However, whether you’re just learning to sign or just continuing something you began before your little one could talk, signing has huge benefits for both toddlers and preschoolers.

Here are 6 reasons to sign with a child who’s already verbal:

  1. Signing makes your child a better reader. According to research conducted at Pennsylvania State University, even hearing children who don’t learn to sign until their are in preschool show advanced literacy skills over their peers in the area of vocabulary, spelling, and reading.  (from Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D. and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.)
  2. Signing aids with concept development. If you’ve signed with your child, you probably focused on nouns like MILK and MAMA or verbs like EAT.  However, conceptual words like opposites (UP and DOWN or HOT and COLD), spatial awareness words like (OVER and UNDER or IN and OUT), and more abstract ideas like the emotions (HAPPY or SAD) or concepts like PAIN can all be taught with sign language.  In fact, giving your child a visible symbol for the idea makes it more concrete and easier to grasp since children think in pictures long before they are able to think in words.  Just imagine if your child were able to tell you she had an ear infection because you had helped her learn the idea of PAIN with signing.
  3. Signing eases tantrums. There are a number of reasons for this fact.  Anything that gives your child more ways to communicate helps reduce emotional stress caused by the frustration of not being able to communicate.  Additionally, teaching your child to identify and label his feelings with signs helps him begin to talk through and cope with his strong emotions again reducing the need for or the severity of tantrums.
  4. Signing strengthens your relationship with your child. Signing is another visual clue that helps you cue in to what’s happening with your child, always a wonderful thing in helping to keep you more connected.  Plus, it can be extremely helpful at times to be able to sign to your child from across the room “I LOVE YOU” or other thoughts to let them know you’re still there if they need you.
  5. Signing can aid in discipline. Knowing signs like STOP (for helping a child gain control of running feet) or TURN (for helping a child take turns) or WAIT (when I child needs patience either waiting turns or waiting till you can assist them with something) is invaluable.   They give a child a visual symbol for a direction (which again helps them process the instructions better since visual directions are more effective with children than verbal ones).  Plus, many times a child will repeat the sign in response without thinking, which actually forces them to STOP or WAIT because they have to think hard enough to make the sign!
  6. Last it helps with plain old communication. Okay, so your child can talk, but can you really always understand them? True, my boys both chatter up a storm at times.  However, it is not unusual for me to say, I’m sorry I have no idea what you just said, even after multiple repetitions.  Being able to say “Can you show me with your hands?” has been a lifesaver at times.

If you’d like to learn more about teaching your child sign language, talk to Ms. Joy or check out her favorite book on the subject:

Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D. and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.

And here’s a great online video dictionary for looking up American Sign Language.

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