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Teach About Sign Language in your Preschool Class

written by: Patricia Gable • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 7/12/2012

Teaching about sign language in preschool is beneficial for so many reasons. It engages the whole class, enhances small motor skills, helps intellectually by learning a second language and young children even learn why sign language is used. Get ideas on planning your lesson here!

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    Studies show that learning a second language at a young age is beneficial to a child intellectually. Why not plan a sign language preschool theme as a second language? Let the theme last all year long as you interject sign language in your daily instructions and conversation. Not only will the students have fun learning and using this skill but it will also improve small motor skills. In addition this pursuit will make youngsters aware of those who are different and have special needs. It will teach them not to fear the differences but embrace the likenesses.

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    Theme Components and Objectives

    Goals:

    1. Children will learn why people sometimes need to use sign language.

    2. Children will be introduced to sign language symbols for actions, manners, words and animals.

    3. Children will practice the signs in everyday conversation.

    4. Children will review signs that have been introduced by playing games.

    Components of Theme

    1. Books read by the teacher

    2. Games

    3. Books in Literacy Center

    4. Practice in daily conversation

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    What is the Purpose of Sign Language?

    People first began using signs with deaf individuals. Ask your students if anyone knows what the word “deaf” means. Perhaps they have a grandparent who has a hearing problem. Students may also know special needs individuals who cannot hear or speak.

    Just like the standard alphabet used to write and read, sign language has a standardized form so that one person can communicate with others. People can also use sign language to communicate when something needs to be secretive or quiet. Sign language has even been taught to animals so that they can communicate with humans.

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    Books for Young Learners

    cover Dawn Babb Procovnic has written a series of books for young children with simple stories that include sign language on each page. The illustrations are colorful and appealing and the text humorous. The topics she covers are: actions, farm animals, clothing, colors, school activities, food and vehicles. Place these books in the Literacy Center in your classroom.

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    Books for Teachers

    Sign Language for Kids by Lora Heller provides photographs and descriptions of signs in categories that would be of interest to young children: colors, feelings, foods, animals, family and so on.

    Signing Fun by Penny Warner provides drawing of people signing. It provides more practice with sentences and phrases. There are also activities/games in the back of the book that could be adapted to your young students.

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    Manners Matter!

    This is the category most useful in the preschool classroom. These signs can be used throughout the year in normal conversation.

    Please: Use flat hand to make a circular motion on your chest. The motion goes toward your shoulder in a circle

    Sorry: Use a fist (S sign) and do the same circular motion on your chest as you do for please sign.

    Thank you: Touch the fingertips of one hand to your chin then move hand away from the body.

    You’re Welcome: Touch fingertips of one hand to your chin and move hand in an arc motion to your waist.

    More: Bring all fingertips together in front of your body and tap them together.

    Help: Fist with thumb up placed on open palm of the other hand.

    Continue to page 2 for more ideas when creating a sign language preschool theme.

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    Move It!

    Action words:

    Play: Use your hands (thumb and little finger out while other fingers curled in). Shake both your hands in front of your chest.

    Game: Use both hands with fists together and thumbs up. Knock knuckles together.

    Jump: Place index and middle finger down on the palm of the other hand and pull them up as if the fingers are jumping.

    Walk: Flat hands facing down. Shuffle them back and forth like you are walking.

    Run: Start with two fists with thumbs touching and index finger pointing up. Move hands forward and bend index finger.

    Dance: Open palm of one hand. The other hand has the index and middle fingers swinging over the open palm.

    Stand: V hand (index and middle fingers) placed on top of the palm of the other hand.

    Sit: Bent index and middle fingers of one hand tap the bent index and middle fingers of the other hand.

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    Farm Animals

    Dog: Pat your leg and snap fingers as if calling a dog.

    Cat: Use one hand to pretend to pull whiskers from the side of your mouth

    Bird: Index finger and thumb form a beak next to your chin

    Cow: Place a Y hand (fist with thumb and index finger up) at your forehead to form a horn

    Chicken: Begin with the bird sign (see above) then bring fingers down to the palm of the other hand and peck the hand.

    Horse: Place thumb, index and middle fingers open at your forehead and bend fingers down.

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    Games

    You will be able to adapt several familiar games and use the signs you’ve learned. Here are ideas:

    • Play Simon Says with the action signs. “Simon Says ____” fill in the blank with a sign.
    • Sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm with the animal signs.
    • Role-play a scene using a tea set, table and chairs and use manner signs.
    • Make animal signs and have the students make the matching animal sounds. Then you make the sounds and the students sign the animal.

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    Keep It Going!

    As you learn each letter of the alphabet, introduce the sign for that letter.

    asl fingerspelling alphabet american sign language Starfall has a website for children that shows the signs for each letter.

    Click on the signing symbol to learn the sign for each letter. Then practice the letter signs that you have learned.

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    Resources and References

    A sign language preschool theme presents information that can be used all year long. It introduces a second language, helps with small motor skills and helps children understand a little bit about special needs in people. In addition it is fun and engages everyone in the class.

    References:

    The reason for sign language: http://www.apraxiaeducation.org/WhyTeach.aspx

    Sign Language children's books and Image Source: http://web.me.com/dawnprochovnic/DawnsBooks/Books_%26_Events.html

    Sign Language for Kids by Lora Heller

    Signing Fun by Penny Warner

    Image Source: signing alphabet: http://learnthefiddleonline.com/fingerspellingalphabetx/fingerspelling_alphabet_printout_sheet.php