June 25, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment With Sign Language: Post #8

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If your household is anything like mine, summertime can increase sibling conflicts. In a recent post, I discussed how sign language can make it more comfortable for kids to apologize. Today I'd like to share some ideas for how the sign, stop, can help children convey their frustration with one another without using physical force against one another.

When young children are in the midst of conflict, it's not unusual for those conflicts to become physical. Frustrated toddlers and preschoolers might push or hit to express their discontent. Parents can be heard saying, "Use your words. Use your words." When I think of this refrain from the prospective of a young child, (for whom a doll or truck or teddy bear is a large portion of their entire world, and for whom emotional maturity is still in the making), words alone may not cut it. There is ENERGY in those little bodies. Emotional energy that needs to come out somehow, someway. The sign for stop is one of the ways I've seen this emotional energy escape appropriately.

When you make the sign, stop, it looks similar to a laymen's impression of a karate chop. It is physical. It involves sound (try it out and listen). It involves force. It is visually noticeable. It feels satisfying to forcefully say, "Stop" and forcefully sign stop when someone is doing/saying/taking something to or from you that is not welcome. Using the sign for stop provides an opportunity for a child (or a grown up!) to use their words and express their physical energy.

I first heard about using the sign for stop in conflictual situations when I read about a pilot study at Ohio State University back in the late 1990's. Kimberlee Whaley said the initial idea came from watching the occasional conflicts in classrooms at Ohio State’s A. Sophie Rogers Infant-Toddler Laboratory School. According to Whaley, “When toddlers have a conflict, they often will push each other to communicate their displeasure. We wondered what would happen if we could give them another physical way to express their anger. Well, the sign for ‘stop’ is very physical -- one hand slamming into the other -- so we thought that might work.” The experiences at the school (and my own observations) indicate that the sign for stop is an excellent communication tool for children in conflictual situations. Similarly, this journal article summarizes a case study advocating for sign language as a general tool and outlet for students who can otherwise be disruptive.  

In addition to using the sign for stop in situations of conflict, I've used it to convey danger (in place of the over-used "No"), and I've used it in place of the word "Freeze," during dance and movement portions of my signing workshops. (NOTE: If you want ideas for a super fun dance and movement ideas, read this post written by a rockstar librarian).

I'd love to hear your experiences for using the sign for stop (or other signs) to help kids express their physical emotions in positive, acceptable ways.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here. Next time I'll talk about the quiet game.

June 12, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #7

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When I meet someone who signs with their baby, and they find out that I write books and teach classes about signing with infants, toddlers and young children, it's not unusual that they want to have their baby "perform" their signs for me. The mom, dad or grandparent emphatically models some signs, and says something like, "Show Miss Dawn how you can sign cracker . . . or kitty . . . or please and thank you." Parents really love it when their babies can sign please and thank you.

As proud as these mamas and papas may be, in my experience, manner signs come later for babies than need/want-based signs such as more, ball, book. Yes, babies will sign please  but what they mean when they sign it is, "I WANT SOMETHING!" Thank you typically takes some time for babies to produce. Let's face it, when your baby wakes you up at two in the morning, they aren't waking you to thank you for the trouble you've gone through on their behalf. They've woken you up to alert you to their need for a diaper change, or some milk (or in the case of my daughter when she was an infant, an urgent craving for a banana).

That does not mean I would discourage you from including signs for manners in your communication with your baby and/or modeling them for your child. I would encourage you to sign these words regularly, but to do so in addition to signing a rich vocabulary of need/want, action/object words. When you say, "Please," sign please  When you say, "Thank you," sign thank you. When your baby is at the developmental stage of handing a toy to you (and then taking it back, over and over and over again), and you hear yourself saying, "Thank you" each time your baby hands you the toy, that's a GREAT time to also incorporate the sign for thank you  And yes, your baby will follow in your footsteps (or handsteps!) and begin signing those words (it's just not typical that they will sign those words as early as they will sign more concrete need/want words).

That said, manner signs are a fabulous addition to a home/classroom learning environment for older children (toddlers and preschoolers on up). When you say, "Please" and "Thank you" in your classroom, add the signs to your communication. When you notice a child has forgotten to use their manners for something, you can signal them with a signed reminder.

I also like using the signs for your turn and my turn when I'm working with a classroom of students. When kids' hands shoot up at a time when I'm not yet ready to take questions or comments from participants, I will say/sign, "It's my turn to talk. I'll let you know when it's your turn." Then, when I do open it up for questions and comments, I use the sign for your turn and say something like, "It's your/Katie's turn. What is your question?" to call on students.

Share is another great sign for older kids. I remember learning from the Signing Time videos that the sign for share looks like you are "dividing something up . . . some for you, and some for me." What I especially like about the sign is that it requires two hands. When my kids were younger, it wasn't unusual that they would argue over toys. When a conflict arose, they would each put a death grip on the object of interest and start pulling. IF I was having a particularly good parenting moment, I would say something like, "Use your signs. Tell your brother/sister you want to share " They had to put the toy down to produce the sign for share. Now, granted, my daughter, who is three years older than her brother, would sometimes put the toy down, QUICKLY sign "share," and then snatch the toy back up  again, but sometimes, signing would shift their attention from fighting over the toy (to arguing about who was better at signing!).

If you want to practice manner signs using music, one of my favorite songs is the Signing Time Magic Words song.

I'd love to hear some of your experiences incorporating signs for manners in your learning environment.   Send me a message using the form to the left, or leave a comment below.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here.