Introducing Your Child to Body Sign Language
As a visual means of communicating using gestures, facial expressions and body language, sign language is a vital skill, especially for those who are either deaf or hard of hearing, and for those who are speech impaired.
Knowledge of sign language also happens to be useful for people who have no hearing or speech challenges, as it can help them communicate effectively with those who do. Therefore, regardless of which group they belong to, getting children to learn how to sign, especially in their early years, is wise.
Our discussion in this piece centres on introducing your child to sign language – specifically the BSL (British Sign Language) which, as an official language recognised by the United Kingdom, has its own grammar and structure, and uses a combination of hand signals, lip patterns, and body language to communicate.
How to Familiarise Your Child with Body Sign Language
You can provide your child with opportunities of learning BSL by
- enrolling them in a high-quality kindergarten where BSL is included in the curriculum;
- hiring a BSL tutor to teach them at home;
- teaching them yourself if you’re reasonably proficient at it;
- teaching yourself (with videos for instance) and letting them learn alongside you.
Now if you want to introduce BSL to your child at home, here’s a procedure/method you could follow.
You can start by teaching your child the fingerspelling alphabet. This can be done using something like a BSL alphabet mat which, for clarity, features a pictorial aid that shows the hand position for each letter.
This mat is a useful resource your child can always refer to whether in class or at home. From it they can quickly learn how to represent all the letters of the alphabet with their two hands; they can also learn how to spell different words that don’t have their own unique sign – such as their name, other people’s names, and names of places – by signing the letters that make them up in the correct sequence.
Numbers are another basic and essential aspect of BSL, and when they are able to sign the alphabets fluently, you can introduce your child to the set of signs that represent numbers. They can start by learning to sign numbers 0 – 30, then progress to learning the numbers 31 – 100 and beyond.
When you expose them to a variety of resources that teach BSL numbers, your child learns to use signs to count, say their age, communicate the time or date, and so on.
Unlike the BSL alphabets which signing requires the use of their two hands, signing numbers requires the use of only one hand; so the first thing you have to teach your child when it comes to signing BSL numbers is to use their dominant hand to form the signs while positioning their non-dominant hand by their side; this prevents confusion with other signs.
It’s also necessary for them to learn to mouth – not say – the numbers they are signing as they sign them, as this also helps the person, they are communicating with understand that they’re signing numbers.
BSL Days and Months
After learning the basics of signing numbers, the next aspect of BSL you can familiarise your child with is the days of the week. You may do this using bold and colourful display posters, or other resources that illustrate the hand signs for each day of the week.
Such resources are engaging visual aids that teach children to communicate the days of the week in BSL using their two hands, with the dominant hand doing most of the signing; they also teach your child to use the right facial expressions, as well as mouth the weekday they are signing so that their lips can be read.
As they learn to sign the days of the week, you can, in addition, teach your child how to sign related words, such as today, tomorrow, yesterday, and weekend.
From learning the days of the week they can progress to learning to sign the months of the year, and the different seasons experienced within the year, which may include spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Being able to recognise and talk about their emotions is part of a child’s emotional development; and so, another important aspect you shouldn’t leave out while introducing your child to BSL is that of emotions.
Get them to master not just the signs for words that have to do with emotion, like happy, sad, angry, excited, upset, and frightened, but also those representing the feelings that may give rise to some of these emotions, such as hungry, thirsty, and tired.
By learning these they become better at expressing their emotional state and physical needs without words.
More Introductory Aspects of BSL
As they continue to practice signing the alphabets, numbers, days, months, and emotions they’ve learnt so far in BSL, consider taking your child on an exploration of everyday words that that have to do with family relationships (including father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, aunty, nephew, niece, cousin).
Don’t forget words that have to do with hygiene (clean, dirty, wash hands); hobbies and activities (singing, painting, etc.); personal possessions (shoes, socks, books); appreciation (thank you, well done); colours; animals; food and drink; as well as words commonly used in the classroom, such as sit down, wait, listen, again, stop, take turns, your turn, share, play time.
When they achieve a reasonable level of proficiency in signing most of these letters, numbers and words which are generally regarded as the basics, you can further your child’s BSL education by introducing them to more advanced aspects of it, such as sentence formation which may include introductions, descriptions and conversation.
Teaching your child BSL (or learning alongside them) can be a fun as well as rewarding experience; it’s also easier and more convenient to do so now that technology and the internet has made it possible for experts in the field to create and share ample learning resources, including videos, printable or downloadable flashcards, posters, and so on, which can easily be accessed online – and a good number of them for free.
The Benefits of Introducing Your Child to BSL
At The Apple Tree International Kindergarten our curriculum and daily timetable includes the teaching of BSL, and we try to use any BSL that is lesson-related throughout the day at school because we recognise its immense benefits to children with or without special needs.
Among children who are not audibly impaired, there may be those who start school with a limited vocabulary which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to communicating with their counterparts with better communication skills. Such children can benefit from an introduction to BSL, as it will help them access the curriculum and communicate better with their peers and teachers.
For children suffering from hearing loss, complete deafness, or some sort of speech impairment, being able to communicate their thoughts, feelings and emotions is extremely important, as they may succumb to frustration and depression if they are unable to do so.
BSL provides such children with a much needed avenue of expression and helps them feel more accepted. In fact, according to Simon Harvey of British-Sign, “sign language promotes inclusivity with those within the school who rely on sign language, as well as with the wider community.”
Overall, an introduction to BSL can help support your child’s fundamental language development and give them an educational boost. For anyone wanting more information about using BSL at home with your child, please check the BSL website at https://www.british-sign.co.uk/ or download the ‘Sign BSL’ app where videos of the signs are available.