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Teaching Children Sign Language: Elementary Age

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This is the fourth and final post in a series on “Teaching Children Sign Language” about how I have taught my own children and students some sign. To read the first post, go here.

Elementary age kids are learning so many things! They are learning grammar, complex vocabulary, reading, and writing. What a great idea to add another language onto this skill set as well! This is a life changing age to learn a new skills set. For example, I learned how to sign the alphabet in 2nd grade and this later played a crucial role in my decision to go to grad school in Speech Pathology. A friend of mine learned to sign with her deaf neighbor friend, and now she is a professional interpreter.

Tips for teaching elementary age children to sign:

1. Learn signs and know where to learn more.

Before you can teach, parents and teachers need to learn some signs!  Here are some sources:

2. Let the child choose vocabulary that he/she will use.

By elementary school age, most kids can make their own choices of fun and useful words to learn. Some suggestions could include:

  • People: mom, dad, sister, brother, girl, boy, teacher, I, you, he/she, friend
  • Animals: dog, cat, fish, bird, bear, lion, horse, cow
  • Life events: bathroom, bed, sleep, eat, more, finished, quiet, go
  • Requests/Politeness: want, please, sorry, good morning, thank you,
  • Adjectives: happy, sad, mad, sleepy, hungry, big, small, good, bad
  • Colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple

3. Learn the alphabet.

And use it every day! I would often start talking to myself and spell the words that I was saying. Many words in ASL are finger spelled, so learning to finger spell quickly and accurately is very important. Plus, it helps spelling skills!

Screenshot 2014-04-17 18.41.00Image found here.

4. Find excuses to sign together.

  • This is the perfect age to have “secret” conversations together, even when you are in a crowded room!
  • Play a game in which the only way you are allowed to talk to each other is through sign.
  • Eat a meal with no verbal speech allowed.

5.  Be patient.

Your child may pick up signing like a pro. Your child may not. It’s okay either way. You are helping your child’s brain to develop and that’s great no matter what!

Check out the rest of the series here:

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