My son, when he was about 18 months old, once said the word “puppy” (his favorite stuffed animal), and that was it for another year. He seemed neurotypical in all other aspects, but I was still concerned that he wasn’t speaking. I had done some sign language with my oldest girl, but at that point got serious about signing with him. I increased my vocabulary, showed him as many Signing Time videos as I could get my hands on, and noticed a drastic change. Where he had previously taken me by the hand, walked me over to the fridge, patiently waited for me to open the fridge, and pointed to the milk, now he was giving me the sign for MILK. It was as if we flipped a language switch in his brain—he seemed to understand that there were symbols (signed or spoken) for things he wanted or needed, and he could use those to communicate. With the introduction of sign, his language abilities took off.
Obviously, correlation doesn’t prove causation—my experience with my son isn’t a viable science experiment. Lucky for us, though, there are researchers who have studied this, and their findings are similar. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn have found that kids who learn sign language have better overall language skills than those who don’t learn sign—they have “bigger vocabularies” and “(use) longer sentences.”
You’ll know you’re in a good learning environment when a teacher finds a way to engage verbal, aural and kinesthetic/tactile learning modalities into the lesson plan, as we all have ways that we learn best. For me, personally, I have to take notes (preferably in a textbook—it was heaven when I got to college). I rarely refer back to these notes, but once I have written them down, I remember them more easily. My daughter, on the other hand, needs to use manipulatives of some sort—she always works better when she’s cutting something, or moving something around. Muscle memory works to our advantage to help us recall certain concepts–by teaching children sign language, we engage their full bodies in the learning process.
As I recollect this process with my son, I find it hard to believe that the 8 year old child who is, at this moment, scrambling his own eggs for breakfast was that same kid who, even when he started speaking, was difficult to understand (because even once he became more verbal, we still did some speech therapy together). The journey of a mom is fraught with equal parts love and pain. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for all the ways he and I have communicated through the years, and have a special place in my heart for the way sign language helped us through a particularly critical period.
Last spring, Kindermusik dissolved their Sign & Sing class. At that point, Angela Horsfall joined the Song of the Heart community to teach Signing Time classes—and she’s absolutely fantastic! She has the benefit of being an Advanced Certified Instructor. There are still openings for the class, and we’d love to have you join us, regardless of your previous experience with sign.