Talking, Listening, Signing, and Watching: That’s How We Communicate

Shanna Groves Teaching 11.5

I love to communicate with my hands. In fact, one of my favorite things as an early childhood special education teacher is using sign language while I speak.

Talk. Sign. Pause. Repeat.

My class is learning about ways to give and be kind to others, so I showed them how to sign “give” (see photo). We had been reading and talking about things a person can give: hugs, food for people who are hungry, blankets for babies, pet food for dogs and cats. The “give” sign, with its outstretched arms and open hands, helped the 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old students understand the unique concept.

As we read through the children’s book “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, the word “give” is very prominent throughout the pages. A tree gives a boy apples to eat, branches to play on and, as he grows older, wood with which to build things. Every few pages, we discussed the book’s ideas and even learned a few additional signs for “tree”, “apple”, “leaves”, and “hug”.

Sometimes, it is difficult for a young child to hear every word spoken in conversation or read in a book. There may be too much background noise and other distractions. But when my hands start to move in fluid fashion and fingers are raised and lowered in varying communicative gestures, the children stop and “listen” with their eyes. What words are difficult for them to understand when spoken become more accessible as I sign them.

Manual communication, what sign language is sometimes called by practitioners, provides visual access to spoken words. When the children imitate these signs, they become engaged in necessary gross motor movement. They also strengthen hand-eye coordination as they mirror the signs I teach them.

The Auditory Sandwich

As children develop speech, I like to practice a concept called the Auditory Sandwich. First, the teacher speaks and the child listens. Then the teacher signs the word and the child watches. Finally, the teacher repeats the spoken word and the child listens again. This helps my students build auditory comprehension of language.

Four Benefits to Signing with Kids

Here are the benefits I see of speaking and using sign language with children:

  • Their attention is maintained by listening and watching.
  • The multiple communication approaches allow time for children to comprehend new vocabulary.
  • Children’s eyes are engaged as they watch the teacher sign.
  • Their bodies become active as they practice using the new sign.

What do you see as the benefits of using sign language with children?

Share in the comments below.

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