Category Archives: Special Needs

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.