Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reflective Posting

Writing about the issue of the importance of adding sign language to the preschool classroom, was worthwhile project to write about because of my passion for sign language.  This semester long blog project was a wonderful experience that took me on an emotional and intellectual journey to tell the audience about one aspect of my life as a preschool music teacher.  

I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to set up a blog and writing about my work as a music teacher.  I feel like I accomplished a project that I was at first very nervous to take on.  I found it rewarding to go and find information that validated what I had learned about in workshops, in books and from watching videos about the importance of teaching preschoolers sign language.  Researching and recording my findings was exciting because all of the information that I found, I could tie into real life experiences from teaching the children sign language at my school.  I enjoyed showing the audience some of the pictures of my children and some of the activities that I use and how it benefits them. 

Writing the blog was a positive experience for me because I think when you teach others about what you know, it makes you a stronger teacher.  It made me proud that my preschool is on the cutting edge of trying to teach the children in different ways to reach all of the learning styles.   I am thinking about continuing posting to my blog, as an educational record and to use it as an avenue for other teachers throughout the country to get ideas from for their classroom. 

It’s Spring Program Time!

Singing to our families!

Spring is in the air at our preschool, and the children have grown so much since they first arrived in September.  Not only have they gotten taller, learned to communicate better, they have learned so many new songs from music class.  So what better way to show off what they have learned, but through a Spring Program that will be held the first week of May.  The five three year old classes will sing to their parents on Tuesday, May 3 and the five four year old classes will present on Thursday night, May 5 at 7:00 p.m.

The children have been learning songs all year long from the Spanish curriculum, religious songs and songs with sign language.  The children have enjoyed learning these all of these songs, and they have enjoyed singing with movements.  For some of the younger children, learning all of the words to the songs has been difficult because they are still exploring new vocabulary.  This is a great opportunity to use sign language.  The children still feel like they can participate in the song, even if developmentally, they are not able to form all of the words necessary to sing. By the spring most of the children have not only mastered the signs for the songs, they have also gained confidence in their singing.  These children are belting out the words to the songs with all of their heart.  Teaching sign language with the song improves the child’s ability to learn their spoken language even better and helps them gain language skills earlier and faster that those who did not learn signing (Benitez, 2006).

Clapping to the beat!
 The children will be singing a total of twelve songs to their parents and friends on the night of the Spring Program.  Some of the songs are religious songs that we have sung in chapel using sign language while they sing.  The children will also have the opportunity to show off what they have learned through their Spanish through music class.

 Not only have the children learned Spanish through song and movement, they have learned the sign for each word that they have learned in Spanish.  The children are really becoming tri-lingual, learning and reinforcing a word in English, Spanish and American Sign Language.  Sign Language enables a child to grow up “bi-lingual” with abilities to learn to communicate from different sources, one based on hearing and the spoken word; one based on physical movement  (Benitez, 2006). 

The preschool children that will be singing in the Spring Program will have been introduced to many of the colors, animals, body parts, family members in English, Spanish and American Sign Language.  Not every child will remember all the Spanish words or sign language for the English words, but what is most important is that they have been exposed and tried these new words or motions.  Those trials help set the stage in the brain for future language studies.  Studies have shown that teaching sign language to preschoolers, increases I.Q. points by between eight and thirteen points (Benitez, 2006).

Another positive aspect of including Sign Language in the Spring Program is keeps the children busy, who might otherwise be scared singing in front of the audience.  The children are moving instead of just standing at attention for 30 minutes.  Sign Language is considered a source of a fun physical activity, which can create a sense of pride and self-esteem among the children (Benitez, 2006).  The children all agree that their proudest moment of the Spring Program is when they sing and sign, God Bless America to the audience.  To see these little children signing almost all of the words to this song and singing with all of their heart, there is not a dry eye in the audience.  The feeling of great satisfaction and accomplishment is felt by all of the children and teachers.

Benitez, T. (June, 2006) Talk with your hands. Playthings. Retrieved from the Associates Program database.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You want to learn sign language? Where do you start?


                                  This video is an example of resources on line for teachers to
                                             use in their classroom.  The children in my preschool will be 
                                             presenting the third version of this song for our spring program!
Preschool teachers that want to begin adding sign language to their curriculum don’t have to go be certified to start introducing signing to their class.  I have slowly taught myself the language through workshops, books, DVD’s and online web pages.  This technique has worked for me because I am able to learn American Sign Language in my free time, at my own pace and most importantly I learn what I need at the time to teach to my class.  If I am teaching about a certain topic, I can look the words that I need and then teach them to the children as I sing a song or read a book.  It is amazing to look at the end of the year, and see how many words that you have added to your vocabulary and to your curriculum.

I love free, so some of the best resources are on line and at the library.  The public library has large selection of sign language books to be checked out as well as DVD’s on the subject.  The most important tool to have in your classroom is an American Sign Language dictionary or resource book.  This will enable you to look up words, as you need them for your lessons or songs.  Some of the illustrations or pictures in the dictionaries are unclear.  In this case it is helpful to read the description for the sign, because most of the time the sign relates to the word.  For instance, the sign for cat is making whiskers on either side of your nose.  Another helpful resource is getting online and actually seeing a person make the sign.  The following are some Web sites where teachers seeking to bring sign language into their classrooms can find ASL resources.

Lifeprint, a very helpful site, offers a free ASL dictionary with some animation.  The site includes recommendations for the first 100 signs to learn and teach, frequently used phrases in sign language, ASL games and activities, and pointers for teachers.

Handspeak’s wide range of ASL resources include access to their animated dictionary, stories told in ALS, and a culture and language link. Some resources require a subscription fee.

Harris Communications offers ASL posters, flash cards, placemats, and labels for purchase online, as well as picture books about Deaf children.  I recommend Can You Hear a Rainbow? And Dad and Me in the Morning.

Redleaf Press publishes Sign to Learn: American Sign Lanugae in the Early childhood Classroom, by Kirsten Dennis and Tressa Azpiri, a comprehensive resource for teaching integrating ASL into the curriculum in hearing preschools.
(Brereton,A 2010)

Using these resources that you can find in the library and online can help a teacher develop a successful sign language program in the classroom.   A teacher can include sing language in the classroom curriculum without a great deal of cost or preparation.  It can take less than five minutes a day – just long enough to look up four or five signs in the ASL dictionary, and then teach them to the class.  Before reading a book, teach the children signs based on the vocabulary words in the story (colors, animals, emotions, shapes, places) Then encourage the children to sign what they saw in the illustrations.  While the teacher reads aloud, the children’s hands are busy signing along with the story. (Brereton, 2010)

These are some low cost ways to start introducing sign language in your preschool classroom.  As time goes on, and you become more interested in learning more about sign language, there are classes offered online, community colleges and through churches or other private organizations.  Teachers will be surprised once they begin to use signing in their classroom, they can bring out old books or songs and add signing to bring a new twist to that activity.  The teachers might also notice once they teach their children the signs for stop, sit, stand up, how they can talk to the children from across the room without ever raising their voice.  Signing is a wonderful guidance tool to use especially during a group time so that it is not interrupted, the teacher can sign reminders to individual children, “such as please wait”, “please stop.” (Brereton, 2010).

Making it easy to teach and use sign language in the preschool classroom is important to the busy preschool teacher.  Learning, teaching and using sign language should be easy, fun and rewarding.  Integrating the signs slowly is the key so the  it will not be burdensome.  Each year will get easier because you will build on what you have learned, become more confident and make changes in your curriculum for what worked and what did not.  There are many resources out that can help the teacher become successful that will help the support the children’s learning and a positive guidance tool.

Sign language posters are a great resource
for the preschool classroom.:

 Brereton, A. (2010 July) Is teaching sign language in early childhood classrooms feasible for busy teachers and beneficial for children? Young Children. Retrieved from the Education Research Database.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Let's All Sign!

Signing "Mom" - Madre!
This past week in our preschool, we were fortunate enough to have a new private hearing and vision testing company to come in and test our four year old’s vision and hearing.  It is a new form of computerized testing for both the eyes and ears.  The fascinating outcome was that some of the children that were tested, showed sight and hearing impairments.  We were all very surprised at the results of these children, but grateful for their finds.  The parents could now take their children in for further testing and work on correcting the problems.   It really opened up our eyes to what we would do to accommodate these children if there became a true disability.
In a recent article, “Let’s all sign”(Heller, 1998), two hearing impaired children were added to a mainstream preschool classroom and the teachers had to adapt their curriculum to accommodate them.  The teachers spent the summer learning sign language.  As the teachers’ proficiency grew, so did their appreciation of the fact that signing is an actual language (Heller, 1998).  The teachers from the first day of school introduced the children to signing as an accompaniment to speech (Heller, 1998). The teachers introduced signs throughout the day as they did their daily activities.  They encouraged the parents to be involved in learning sign language by sending home news letters, conferences and they learned from the children at home (Heller, 1998).  The teachers decided that they would try a two-year pilot program where their inclusive sign language curriculum would be documented and results published.  The study would include some of the three year old classes would use sign language along with their regular curriculum and the other classes would not use sign language. At the end of the two-year study, they found that when sign language was integrated in a naturalistic way into the general preschool curriculum, both the hearing impaired and the non-hearing children benefited (Heller, 1998).  Finally, the children who used signing were clearly superior in language development to those who had not. 
At my preschool we have found that incorporating sign language into the daily routine has become a wonderful addition to our curriculum.  As in the classroom featured in the article, our children have picked up on the daily signs and use them like it is second nature.  The parents are also kept informed through monthly classroom newsletters and from a monthly newsletter from my music class.  The music newsletter not only keeps them abreast with the signs that the children are learning the parents get a copy of the Spanish songs we are singing in class.  The children are really becoming tri-lingual by singing in Spanish, English and signing the words.  Parents will stop me in the hall to tell me how their child had been singing and signing  the latest song and how proud they were of them.  Some parents have become interested in learning more about signing and have gone to the local public library to check out sign language videos that they can watch and learn with their child.  

    Signing "Dad" - Padre!

With the recent hearing test results that we received with some of the children, it is now more important than ever to continue our program using sign language in the classroom.  This will allow all of the children no matter if they have a hearing impairment or not to participate and learn both the sign and spoken language.  It is gratifying to know that our school is on the cutting edge of a developmental curriculum that gives the children an opportunity to strengthen their vocabulary through daily activities in the classroom, through songs, by learning a foreign language and learning and using American Sign Language.  I am proud to be a part of making a difference in the lives of these young children.

Heller, I.  (1998 January/February) Let’s all sign! Teaching Exceptional Children. Retrieved March 10, 2011, from the Teacher Reference Center Database.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Use Sign Language ?

It has been said that children learn from what they hear, see and do.  By using sign language in the early childhood classroom, you give every child the chance to learn. Young children often benefit from the combination of speech, movement, and visual enhancement of communication.  (Lynch & Simpson, 2007)  Early childhood teachers have been using this theory for many years when using finger plays, movement and using songs with motions. 

Learning a new song
As I have observed in my music classes, children are able to remember what they have heard when there is a motion attached to the word.   These motions help increase the child’s vocabulary because it helps them with a memory tool when saying these new words.  Sign language is useful for the shy child who may not other wise participate and can use the motions until they feel ready to sing with the rest of the class.  This way no learner is left out, all the children can participate whether they are verbal or not.  This is especially true in my classroom where we are learning new songs for our spring program.  One of the songs is “God Bless America” which has a lot of new vocabulary for some of the preschoolers.  For instance, when introducing the word prairie, the children learn that it is a flat piece of land.  I show them a picture of what a prairie looks like and then the sign, palms down and moving back and forth like feeling the flat land. The children have now added a new word to their vocabulary, found out the definition, seen what it looks like and physically signed the word.  The light bulb goes on. It is so rewarding to see when they get it!  The highlight of our spring program is when the parents see their child singing and signing “God Bless America”.  There is not a dry eye in the fellowship hall from parents, grandparents to the proud teachers.

"There Was An Old Woman"
In my music class, I begin the school year by teaching simple directional signs to the children like stop, sit down, and quiet.  Once the children learn the signs, I am able to sign to the children and they know what activity is going to be next.   This technique is particularly helpful for the younger children.  These two year olds are all about movement, so when I use the sign for stop, they stop.  Using sign language when talking about the calendar and signing the number or signing the weather helps to establish a daily routine for the children.  Introducing these concepts through song and reinforcing with signs will help the children retain the new information.

I have found that sign language also helps build self-esteem in all children from hearing, hearing impaired and those children with disabilities.  This is especially true in our school for children who have delayed speech.  These children are learning a new skill that they can gain confidence in.   These are the children that have slowly over the past few months, have built up their confidence to move closer to me so they can watch my motions.  They want to be able to participate, even if they can’t say the words as well as the rest of their peers. Children are already natural movers and so adding the hand movements with their learning is easy for them.  For some of these children it is easier to do the motions than vocalizing the word.  Vocalizing for some children means coordinating the jaw, lips, tongue, thoughts and breathing, which may be a difficult task.  Being able to still participate in the music activity with the rest of the class by using the sign language is a definite confidence booster.

Early childhood educators do not have to be fluent or certified in American Sign Language to be successful in adding it to their curriculum.  As I practice in my teaching, I have come across many wonderful resource books and online programs that can help you can look up the sign for a particular word.  Start off slow so you are comfortable in your presentation.  The teachers at my preschool have found that they can choose a few words that they want to teach in sign language and introduce them slowly.  Brown Bear, Brown Bear is a good book to start with and just do the signs for the colors.  The children have probably already heard the book before and they are familiar with the rhymes.

 Another idea would be either singing the song “Old MacDonald” and using puppets or reading the story.  Introduce the signs of the farm animals to the children. The children love to make the sound of the animal and it is easy and fun for them to do the sign. This is always a big hit with the children of all ages in my music classes.   Another prop I use in my classroom is an old woman doll that swallows things.  I use the doll with the song, “There was an Old Woman”.  The children love to watch the old lady “swallow” the animals.  The song is long; by adding sign language it holds their attention. The children have to concentrate on making the sign of the animal and remembering the order that the old lady swallowed the animals.   I also change the end of the song from the old lady dying, to crying because she has a stomachache from swallowing all of the animals.  I teach them the sign for crying and then really ham it up.  The children love to imitate my sign for crying and have become wonderful confident actors!

I have observed at my preschool, that sign language in the classroom has many benefits that can change the everyday lives of all children.   I have noticed this difference when I go visit other schools to participate in enrichment programs where the children are not exposed to sign language.  The children stop their wiggles and concentrate on the new song that I am teaching them.  The teachers at these particular centers are amazed, excited and want to learn what they can do to extend what I have taught the children in the enrichment program.    Teachers need to choose developmentally appropriate activities that will match the children’s physical and mental abilities to have a successful sign language program.  It is better to start of slow and introduce a few signs to the children.  This will give the teacher a chance to begin to master the movements and also gives the children a chance to build their confidence with the new activity.  Slowly as the children and teacher learn signs for different activities, the children will start asking what is the sign for this and that? The sky will be the limit!

Simpson, C, et.  al.  (2007, July/August) Sign language: meeting diverse needs in the classroom.  Exchange, Retrieved February 9, 2011, from the Associates Programs Database.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Teaching a Song in Sign Language

Singing and Signing the Owl Song

Teaching a new song to a group of preschoolers is always an interesting challenge, because their attention span is so short.  The teacher needs to be creative and expressive in her delivery of the new song.  One of the easiest ways to capture the interest of the students is with pictures, music and with sign language.  If the children are moving with their hands and they see a visual picture of what they are singing about, it helps with their memory when learning the song.

This week, I have been teaching the children a new song about the Owl.  I showed them a picture of an owl, an owl puppet with a head that moves around and I showed them the sign for owl.  I continued singing the song and showed the additional signs for the words.  I then sang the song, dropping some of the words but continued to do the sign for the dropped word.  The children could remember the word, which had been dropped, just from watching and imitating me doing the sign language. 

Signing the bunny ate the carrot! Nibble, Nibble, Crunch!
This behavior is discussed in an article titled “Seeing Language: The Effect Over Time Of Sign Language On Vocabulary Development In Early Childhood Education” (Daniels, 1996).   Thomas Gallaudet, a famous educator of the deaf, found through research, that children have to pay attention to the teacher to watch her facial expression, her hands and to listen to her voice, to understand what the teacher is trying to convey.  One of the most positive aspects of sign language is that the two individuals that are communicating must have eye contact throughout the conversation, so that they will be able to understand each other.  You cannot sign someone with your back to the individual.  What a wonderful way to show a child that they mean something when you are looking at them when you are talking to them and giving them one hundred percent of your attention.
            The child is using and developing both hemisphere of the brain when they learn the different animals by verbally stating the name, hearing it, visually watching the teacher sign the animal and physically sign the animals themselves.  Using all of these tools in learning new language leaves a definite mark in the child’s memory.   Sign language like any other language is stored in the brain in it’s own separate area or bank.  When children have to retrieve information the brain will go to these little information banks, which will give the children a stronger chance of retaining the new language.

Gallaudet believed that when teachers use sign language as an additional tool in teaching, the children retain the knowledge and the language longer.  This theory was recently tested in a school system in Maryland with two sets of classes, one learned new vocabulary verbally and the other class was taught the new vocabulary verbally and with sign language.  The children were tracked through their prekindergarten class and then were tested at the end of their kindergarten year.  The class that had been taught using the sign language as well has learning it verbally, scored significantly higher in posttests. 

Signing bird
In my music class, the children are exposed to the English language, Spanish and to American Sign Language.  When signing a song a song about an animal, the children have to retrieve one or all of those three different languages.  The children are amazing in what they retain and sometimes the classroom teachers have a hard time keeping up with them!  It is rewarding to see the older children return to music the next year and when reviewing colors, animals or the song, “God Bless America”  they remember the signs and the vocabulary!

Daniels, M. (1996) Seeing language: the effect over time of sign language on vocabulary development in early childhood education. Child Study Journal, Retrieved January 26,2011, from the  Academic Search Database.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sign Language in the Preschool Classroom

Four year olds singing and signing!

The topic for my blog this semester will be incorporating sign language in to the preschool classroom.   I have been teaching preschool for the past thirteen years, first in the classroom and now I as the music teacher.  The children come to visit me two times a week. One day, I teach Spanish through music and the other day, the children have regular music and movement.   I have incorporated the use of sign language when teaching religious songs, Spanish and old favorites like “Old MacDonald.”  There are approximately 330 children in the program, ranging in ages from 10 months to 5 years old. 
Why teach a second language to youngsters? All of the recent brain research has shown that introducing a foreign language in the first five years of life is the optimal time for the children to be exposed.  This is when the neural pathways in the brain are established which will help the children as they continue to take a foreign language.  American sign language is considered another language helping to develop those neural pathways along with many other benefits as well.  Sign language also is the bridge between other languages.  It is the means of bringing everyone to the same page.  No matter what language you use to say the word “cow”, the sign for cow is the same in every country.  This is helpful in classrooms that have children from different backgrounds.  The teacher can use sign language as the bridge when teaching a new word.
As my blog develops, I will discuss the benefits of signing with young children, the benefits of signing in the classroom and share with you some of my experiences in my music class with sign language.

Singing animal songs with sign language!