There are many advantages to using sign language with young children: it reduces frustration, stimulates language development, addresses multiple learning styles, and recent research even suggests it can reduce symptoms of ADHD! But for your programs, you just need to know two benefits: it makes your programs instantly participative, and it’s FUN! Here are six super ways to get started using sign language in your program; for more great ideas, see Try Your Hand at This!: Easy Ways to Incorporate Sign Language Into Your Programs by Kathy MacMillan (Scarecrow Press, 2005).
1) Teach a Seasonal Sign:
The Sign for Snow
(This rhyme teaches how to say SNOW in American Sign Language.)
When the weather is cold and the icy wind blows
And you feel a shiver right down to your toes.
Wiggle your fingers from the sky to the ground.
That’s the sign for SNOW you have found!
2) Take a poll without losing your mind:
Teach the children the signs for YES and NO. Then ask yes/no questions about the story you are reading (“Do you think the fox will catch the sheep this time?”) and invite the children to respond using only their signs. It’s a quick and easy way to get children to participate without making a lot of noise.
3) Spice up a song or rhyme that doesn’t have built-in actions:
There’s nothing worse than putting on music and then just standing around to it. Use American Sign Language to create participative movement. For example, you could teach the kids signs for farm animals to make an old favorite like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” instantly hands-on!
4) Play a color game:
Extend a flannelboard rhyme into a fun interactive game with this activity. This can be used with any flannelboard that has items of different colors (Five Little Leaves, Five Funny Clowns, etc.). Teach the children the signs for the colors, then invite them to look carefully at the objects. Count to three, then have them close their eyes. Remove one of the objects. Then have the children open their eyes and identify which object is gone, using only their signs. Confirm which object was taken away by showing where it was on the flannelboard. Repeat until all the objects are gone. This activity is appropriate for toddlers and up, and enhances visual acuity, attention, and memory – all important pre-reading skills.
5) Use signs for group management:
Sometimes a sign can get kids’ attention in a way no nagging reminder can! Introduce the signs below by signing them along with the words on the first few reminders, then let your voice fall away and do only the sign. Kids will get the message (and you may find them using these signs to police each other!) Even elementary and middle school age students will respond to signed prompts without complaining and eye-rolling. Try it!
6) Use signs for a story refrain:
Teach the kids a few simple signs that they can repeat throughout the story. This will give them something active to do as they say the words, and will keep them engaged by stimulating multiple senses. For example, when reading Karma Wilson’s The Cow Loves Cookies (Simon and Schuster, 2010), ask children to sign the refrain with you each time.