Category Archives: Special Needs

Signing with Babies and Toddlers, Signing in the Library – 3 New Webinar Series!

Little Hands Signing Professional Development Series: Babies and Toddlers

Learn engaging storytime activities for babies and toddlers that incorporate basic American Sign Language!

Tuesdays, March 30-May 4 from 3-4 PM Eastern/2-3 PM Central/1-2 PM Mountain/12-1 PM Pacific   |   Online sessions via Zoom (6 weeks, 1 hour per week)

Join us for weekly interactive workshops that teach basic American Sign Language vocabulary and demonstrate how to use the signs in storytime activities and the early childhood classroom. This series will focus on vocabulary and best practices for baby and toddler programs. Each session will focus on specific thematic vocabulary:

  • March 30: Getting Started
  • April 6: Playtime Signs
  • April 13: Mealtime Signs
  • April 20: Diaper and Potty Signs
  • April 27: Safety Signs
  • May 4: Our Signing Day

Register for Little Hands Signing Professional Development Series: Babies and Toddlers Now!



Get live, hands-on practice with American Sign Language vocabulary for library settings and improve your ability to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing patrons!


Tuesdays, March 30-May 4, 2021 from 10-11AM Eastern/9-10AM Central/8-9AM Mountain/7-8 AM Pacific   |   Online sessions via Zoom (6 weeks, 1 hour per week)

Learn how to improve your service to deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons in this interactive series. We’ll cover basic information about American Sign Language and Deaf Culture, as well as specific vocabulary for the library setting. Each session will build on those before it to reinforce your knowledge and expand your ability to communicate with members of the Deaf community, and you’ll get plenty of interactive signing practice! Recording access will be available to those who cannot attend the sessions live.

Who it’s for: Library staff who are new to ASL; Library staff who have taken an ASL class but are unfamiliar with library-specific vocabulary; Library staff who have learned basic ASL library vocabulary in the past and need a refresher.

Register for Hands Up!: Live ASL Practice for Library Staff Beginner Series Now!


Tuesdays, March 30-May 4, 2021 from 1:30-2:30 PM Eastern/12:30-1:30 PM Central/11:30 AM-12:30 PM Mountain/10:30-11:30 AM Pacific   |   Online sessions via Zoom (6 weeks, 1 hour per week)

Practice your ASL for the library setting in these interactive sessions! The instructor will design sessions to meet the specific review and practice needs of participants. Join us to reinforce your library signing skills and increase your confidence in your ability to communicate with members of the Deaf community. Recording access will be available to those who cannot attend the sessions live.

Who it’s for: Those who have taken ASL for Library Staff eCourses through the American Library Association; Anyone who already knows some library vocabulary in ASL and wishes to polish their signing skills.

Note: If you have taken ASL courses before, but are not familiar with vocabulary specific to the library setting, we recommend you register for the Beginner session rather than Intermediate.

Register for Hands Up!: Live ASL Practice for Library Staff Intermediate Series Now! 

Webinar Series Pricing:

  • Individual: $240 (includes live webinar and recording access for the 6-week series)
  • Group rate (10 people): $2000 (includes live webinar and recording access for the 6-week series)

Certificate of completion available upon request with successful completion of post-test.

About the Instructor:

Kathy MacMillan (she/her) is a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter, instructor, consultant, writer and signing storyteller. Kathy is the author of the Little Hands Signing board book series (Familius Press) and Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press), as well as many other books for children, teens, and adults. She has worked in public libraries for over twenty years, and was the Library/Media Specialist at the Maryland School for the Deaf, Columbia Campus from 2001 to 2005. Kathy presents American Sign Language programs for families and workshops for workshops and educators. She also serves on the board of Deaf Camps, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides camps for deaf and hard-of-hearing children and children learning American Sign Language. She lives in Baltimore, MD.


2-Part Webinar: Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library


Serving Deaf Patrons in the Library
A two-part online workshop, each session lasting 90 minutes, on Thursdays, September 17 and 24, 2020 , 2:30pm Eastern/1:30 Central/12:30 Mountain/11:30am Pacific

Library services are for everyone, and that includes the deaf community. In this workshop, Kathy MacMillan, librarian and certified American Sign Language interpreter, guides you in making your library a more welcoming place for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. You will gain an understanding of Deaf culture, learn library-related signs, and become prepared to confidently work with interpreters for your programs.

$75 per person; discounts available for groups and American Library Association Members.

Register now.

NITA’S DAY now available for preorder!

Available now for pre-order from Familius Press!

Nita’s Day: More Signs for Babies and Parents

  • Text by Kathy MacMillan
  • Illustrations by Sara Brezzi
  • Published by Familius Press

Nita and her family are back in an all-new adventure that teaches 10 basic American Sign Language signs for babies and their grownups to use throughout the day: wake up, change, clothes, eat, potty, go, play, bath, book, and bed. A simple story about Nita and her parents teaches each sign in context, and repetition throughout each story makes them easy to practice. Even better, each page slides open to reveal accurate instructions on how to make each sign, plus tabs on the side of each page make it simple to locate every sign for later reference. No signing book collection is complete without Nita!

Pre-order now:

Learn more about the Little Hands Signing series here!

Kathy MacMillan is a writer, national certified American Sign Language interpreter, librarian, and signing storyteller. She writes picture books (the Little Hands Signing series, Familius Press), children’s nonfiction (She Spoke: 14 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World, Familius Press), and young adult fantasy. Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, was a finalist for 2017 Compton Crook Award, and its sequel, Dagger and Coin, was published in October 2018. She is also the author of eight resource books for educators, librarians, and parents, including Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together (Huron Street Press, 2013). Her diverse career includes working as a children’s librarian at public libraries, working a school librarian at the Maryland School for the Deaf,  leading the Eldersburg Library Bookcart Drill Team, and performing characters at a theme park.

Signing With Children Enhances Early Literacy

Excerpted from Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together Little Hands and Big Hands coverby Kathy MacMillan (Chicago, IL: Huron Street Press, 2013)

Whenever you communicate with your child in an involving way, you are helping her develop early literacy skills.  Because signing encourages communication and engagement, it supports early literacy.  But that’s not the only way signing helps your child develop language and literacy skills.  In her groundbreaking book, Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy (2001), Marilyn Daniels describes her research on using American Sign Language in preschool classrooms with hearing children.  More often than not, her research was disrupted when the parents of her control group (a preschool classroom where the teacher was not using sign language with the students) heard about the amazing gains the signing classrooms in the study were making, and insisted that their children be exposed to sign too!   She found that hearing preschoolers and kindergartners in the signing groups achieved significantly higher scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test than those who knew no sign.  In addition, teachers in the signing classroom reported that their students were less frustrated, got along better, and were more excited about learning than their previous, non-signing classes.

How did signing with these groups produce such extraordinary results?  Read the full article at

Are You a Happy Pumpkin?

Halloween is the perfect time to talk about feelings with young children – and American Sign Language is a wonderful way to help children connect visual cues with feeling concepts, to help them develop an understanding of their own feelings as well as empathy for the feelings of others.  Here’s a fun song to introduce feeling signs to kids.  Extend the activity by drawing a simple pumpkin face on a whiteboard and asking the child to help you draw the appropriate expressions for each feeling.

“Pumpkin Feelings” (Click on the links to see videos of the key signs)

If you’re a happy pumpkin, clap your hands.

If you’re a happy pumpkin, clap your hands.

If you’re a happy pumpkin, then your face will show us something, so

If you’re a happy pumpkin, clap your hands.

Little Hands and Big Hands coverFind more hands-on signing activities like this one in Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together by Kathy MacMillan, photographs by Kristin Brown.  (Huron Street Press, 2013).

Available Now! – Little Hands & Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together

Little Hands and Big Hands coverby Kathy MacMillan.  (Huron Street Press, 2013)


Order it now.

Research shows that signing with young children of any ability or hearing level can increase IQ, stimulate language learning, enhance bonding, and raise a child’s self-esteem.  More importantly to parents and educators, it improves everyday life and communication: a child who can express him or herself with the aid of signs is far less likely to get frustrated and throw tantrums and can initiate conversations about topics that interest him or her, which leads to adults talking more about those topics, which leads to a motivated and interested child absorbing more spoken language, which helps develop spoken language skills.  Countless parents, teachers, and caregivers have seen the impact of using even one sign on a regular basis to make their lives with their children more harmonious.  Signing with young children offers a communication tool that can assist children and families in communicating and developing a greater understanding of the world.

Signing with children naturally complements other language and literacy activities such as books, fingerplays, rhymes, and songs.  Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together offers solid background information on signing with children ages birth to five, along with hands-on games, fingerplays, songs, games, and crafts that caregivers and educators can use to smooth transitions, calm a fussy child, or engage a stubborn one.   Photos and descriptions of the relevant signs accompany each activity.  All signing vocabulary in this book is American Sign Language (ASL) – which, as a real language with real grammar, stimulates language centers of the brain unlike the made-up gestures found in some “baby signing” books. 

Kathy MacMillan brings three different perspectives to this valuable resource: that of a nationally certified interpreter, fluent in American Sign Language; that of a librarian and educator experienced with engaging children in early literacy; and that of a mom who knows the frustrations and joys of living every day with a young child.  With stories, songs, rhymes, and activities field-tested in Kathy’s “Little Hands Signing”  classes for children and parents, and in her own home, she focuses is on practical applications of the signs you can use every day to make your life with your child or students both easier and more fulfilling!

8 Tips for Making Storytimes Accessible

Working with children with special needs can take many librarians aback; after all, most of us don’t have specialized training in this area. It can be a challenge to meet the unique needs of one child while simultaneously trying to meet the differing needs of the rest of the group. Sometimes, a child may seem uncommunicative or disruptive, and we might even wonder if he or she is getting anything out of storytime at all. Remember, all children need a variety of settings in which to learn and a healthy exposure to a variety of adult role models. In the storytime setting, you can set the tone for inclusion and respect for diversity through the attitude you display.

1) Make it active!:

Activities that make use of props, visuals, and movement work well with typically developing children too, of course, but for children with special needs, these elements may be even more necessary to catch and hold attention and foster understanding.

2) Use your resources:

Ask the child’s parent or caregiver what kinds of activities may work best. Don’t be afraid to establish a dialogue; just make sure you are always broaching to topic from the standpoint of wanting to provide the best possible storytime experience for the child.

3) Think about placement:

Location is particularly important for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, who should be seated near the front of the room for best sightlines. If you are working with an interpreter, he or she should be as close as possible to the speaker, so that the child can follow both. For children with mobility issues, find a place that is easy to get to and will allow for maximum participation on the part of the child.

4) Use consistent visuals or signals for transitions:

Some students with special needs may find it difficult to transition from one activity to another—that is, to transfer their attention from one task to another. Getting students’ attention may be as simple as using a visual signal, such as raising two fingers in a letter V, flickering the lights, singing a certain song, or repeating a special verse. These sorts of “rituals” help children make sense of their world.

5) Wait 10 seconds:

When you ask a question or ask for volunteers, wait 10 seconds before calling on someone. This gives everyone time to process the request (and, if you are working with an interpreter, gives him or her time to interpret it!), providing a fair chance for everyone to answer. Due to differences in learning styles, allowing an extra moment before calling on someone to answer can level the playing field for typically developing children as well. Some children naturally take more time to process than others.

6) Use movement response: 

When you ask a question, have all the children respond simultaneously via a gesture. For example, you might say, “If you think the fox will try to eat the grapes, touch your nose. If you think the fox will run away, touch your bellybutton.”

7) Manage turn-taking:

Many special needs students respond well to visual or tactile prompts, and so a “talking stick,” stuffed animal, or other special object that denotes whose turn it is to speak will help keep storytime orderly.

8) Keep it uncluttered:

You may need to keep program materials out of reach or even out of sight until needed. Children on the autism spectrum may become easily overstimulated or distracted. Keep your program area uncluttered to maximize their focus.

In essence, every child is an individual with his or her own special needs. Looking at the children in your storytime with this attitude means that you accept and include each student. Attitude is the most important factor in working with special needs students. In storytime, children at every level of development are absorbing language and information about the world through interactions with you and other children. When in doubt, focus on what a child can do, rather than what he or she cannot do.