Benefits of Signing

I’ve written about signing before (see Sign Language for Kids and Signing). But I just saw that Signing Time (we have a few of their DVDs) has posted a new PDF document summarizing research on signing.

Dr. Claire Vallotton compiled the document which summarizes research findings on the impact of signing on preschool and school-age children. It’s all interesting, including a question I’ve thought about before: “Should I keep signing once a child starts talking?”

By the time we brought Sarah home, our usage of sign language with Ethan was already slowing down. But when we brought Sarah home, we started back up and learned a lot more in round two than in round one. Not only did it give us a way to communicate with Sarah, it provided a way for Ethan and Sarah to communicate, as well.

To date, we’ve learned over 100 signs, but now that Sarah is becoming more verbal, the question comes up again: how intentional to be about learning new signs.

According to the report …

Some small studies by Claire Vallotton and colleagues have shown that when hearing children start to learn words, their learning of new signs slows down, and they use signs less frequently during their interactions with adults. However, these newly verbal toddlers will continue to use signs when they need to, including a) when the child’s home language is different than the language being spoken by her teachers, b) when they are upset and can’t find their words, and c) when the word they want to communicate is too hard to pronounce. The research showing that using signs with preschoolers and kindergartners aids their language and literacy development indicates that it is helpful, not harmful, to continue using signs with children who are talking.

There have many been times with both Ethan and Sarah when they’ve been able to communicate with signs while struggling to verbalize their words. In the early days, it was nice for the kids to sign “milk,” or “more,” or “eat,” instead of crying, leaving us to figure out that they wanted (they’ll still cried/whine, at times, but not as much as they would have without the signing).

Also, the research on development of intelligence in interesting. Here’s one bit …

Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn followed a group of children whose parents had taught them to use signs before they could talk, starting at 11 months old, and a comparison group of children whose parents did not teach them to use signs. They initially followed the children until they were 3 years old and found that the signing children had better language skills. Then they contacted the same two groups of children when they were in 2nd grade and gave them an IQ test. The verbal IQ’s of the signing children were 12 points higher on average than their non-signing peers. This is a remarkable difference and shows a long-term effect of using signs with preverbal children.

We’ve never really done it for that reason, but it’s a nice benefit. We’ve mostly signed to give us a way of communicating with the kids, especially when they were pre-verbal (which was a shorter time for us, since we brought each of them home when they were around 7-8 months old; we were able to start signing right away, forcing two new languages on the kids at the same time!).

Signing is also fun.

For a while, when Sarah was asked her name, she’d sign “girl.” That is, until she developed a preference for “baby,” specifically “Daddy’s baby” (by signing “Daddy” and “baby”). I liked that stage! Recently, she seems to have graduated to “girl” (even “big girl”). But sometimes, she still likes to be the baby! (In fact, out of curiosity, I just asked Sarah, in sign language, if she was still “Daddy’s baby.” She said yes. Good answer!).

Sarah also uses the sign for “boy” to refer to Ethan. She’s now beginning to say his name, which sounds like “Ethy,” but she still uses the sign as well.

Well, there’s a lot more in the document, and on Signing Time’s research page. Check it out, if you’re interested.

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