Start Signing! Why Kids Should Learn Sign Language

More Ways Sign Language Helps

Why it Helps: It Teaches the ABCs and Spelling

Your preschooler is probably already learning to recognize and write his letters. Since many of the ASL hand symbols resemble the shape of letters in the written alphabet, learning his manual ABCs could give him a boost with this new skill set. And young children who learn how to turn their fingers into easy words like C-A-T and continue to practice finger spelling as they grow often have an edge when it comes to spelling. That's because during the elementary-school years, and perhaps even later, these kids can turn to their fingers to remind themselves how to spell a word. You can also teach your child to finger-spell his name and other simple words. At bathtime, use your hands to ask him to get in the T-U-B. As the sun goes down, point him in the direction of B-E-D.

Why it Helps: It Encourages Communication

Kids this age still may not have the vocab to get their point across, which is why your child may react to a playmate taking away her doll by hitting her friend instead of asking for it back. Having sign language to rely on gives kids another option for communicating their feelings. "We learn gestures before we learn words. When we're frustrated, we sometimes revert to those instincts," explains Wendy Crawford, principal of GrenlochTerrace Early Childhood Center, in Sewell, New Jersey.

Once your kid has mastered a few sign words, start incorporating feelings into the mix -- like proud, mad, and happy. If she does throw a tantrum, remind her how to sign the word mad (put palm in front of face and crunch fingers). Being able to express her frustration can often stop (or at least delay) a meltdown. Similarly, teach your child the sign for sorry (circular motion of hand around heart with sad face). Kids are usually quicker to use their hands to apologize than they are to swallow their pride and actually verbalize it. It's likely that the other child won't know sign language, and your kid will eventually have to speak the words, but by then emotions on both sides may have cooled a bit.

Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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