The Benefits of Using Sign Language in Early Child Development


man in yellow jumper doing sign language

To some extent, we all use sign language to support our spoken communication. Whether that’s waving to someone or pointing towards an object, these gestures are very natural in our everyday lives.

Sign language builds on these hand movements and acts as a tool to communicate and interact with people. Whether you’re deaf, hard of hearing, struggle with the English language, or communicate perfectly well, sign language creates an open line of communication between all groups of people.

There are many benefits of using sign language in early child development as this creates a far more inclusive setting. By teaching children how to sign from a young age, they can successfully interact with a variety of children and adults instead of being hindered by communication barriers.

In this blog post we’ll explore what sign language is, who uses it, and the many benefits it brings to your child’s development.

What Is Sign Language?

Sign language is a visual language that uses hands, shapes, movements, and facial expressions to communicate words and sentences.

Within Britain, the most commonly used sign language is called British Sign Language (BSL). As a communication method, BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax, and is not strongly related to spoken English.

For example:

In spoken English, you would say ‘My name is Jack.’

In BSL, it follows ‘Name me Jack.’

BSL also includes finger spelling as every letter of the alphabet has a sign. This can be used in case you ever forget certain words and sentences as you can spell out words instead. For younger children, or for those just starting out with sign language, this is highly useful as it still allows people to communicate.

In the UK, this BSL is used by over 145,000 people. After a lot of campaigning, sign language was finally recognised as an official minority language by the UK government in 2003. Since then, funding has increased to support those who are dead or have hearing impairments. It has now earned a similar status to other minority languages such as Welsh and Gaelic.

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Who Uses Sign Language?

Sign language is a communication method which is usually associated with people who are deaf or those who are experiencing communication difficulties.

Even the Oxford Dictionary defines sign language as “a system for communicating with people who cannot hear…” which overlooks other groups of people using this form of communication.

An increasing number of people who can hear perfectly fine, are starting to learn sign language. There are many reasons for this which we’ll explore below, but signing should not be limited to only those who are deaf.

People might use sign language if they struggle with the English language due to a disability or condition. Furthermore, individuals might choose to learn signing if they have deaf family members as this allows them to communicate with them.

Sign language is inclusive and is a great way of connecting with those people who are unable to hear. More people are taking this approach as they want to broaden the groups of people they can communicate with and hearing should not be a barrier to this.

What Are the Benefits of Using Sign Language?

There are lots of benefits of teaching sign language to all children, and many educational settings are now including this into their practice.

According to ​Action on Hearing Loss there are “more than 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, or one in six of the population.” These figures are also expected to increase by 2035 to one in five.

As a result, learning this language brings many advantages not only to those who cannot express themselves verbally, but also those who can. Let’s explore some of the other benefits below…

Enables Children to Communicate Effectively

If a child has hearing difficulties and problems with their communication, then sign language is a great way for them to express themselves. Even if you are still in the learning phase, you can overcome communication barriers by being patient and practicing different signs.

In addition, if children are unsure of a certain sign, they can always finger spell the word in the air. As a result, this improves their spelling as they have to use the letters of the alphabet to express what they are trying to say.

If a child is unsure of the spelling, then they will be encouraged to check the words to see if they have got it right.

child in blue t-shirt smiling

Decreases Frustration

There is nothing more annoying than wanting to say something but not being able to get it out. Especially when children are young, and are yet to learn verbal language, then signing provides them with a way to communicate.

This makes them feel less frustrated as they can tell you what they want/ need through gestures. For example, when they are hungry or want you to pick them up. This allows you to respond to their needs quicker as you understand how they are feeling. In turn, this leads to your child feeling happier and more fulfilled as they can get their message across without using words.

It’s believed the ‘terrible twos’ are a result of children not being able to fully express themselves. They get annoyed, frustrated, and irritable as parents do not understand what they are trying to tell them. This leads to tantrums which is very stressful for both the child and the parent. Learning sign language, or having an understanding of different baby signs, is a great solution for this problem.

Improves Child-Parent Communication

When your child is crying and you’re unsure why, it can cause a lot of stress and confusion. When they are struggling to tell you what they need or want, it can turn into a bit of a guessing game. Are they tired, cold, or hungry? Have they hurt themselves? Do they need their bottle? There are several reasons as to why your child might be unsettled.

However, by using sign language they can clearly communicate what they are trying to say. This means you can resolve the situation much easier, which puts any parent at ease.

You should never feel guilty for not understanding what your child is trying to communicate, but by using sign language, this process becomes much easier

Helps Children Remember Words

Sign language increases a child’s vocabulary and helps them remember words as there is muscle memory involved. The more senses involved in their learning, the greater a child’s memory retention will be.

Furthermore by seeing words in actions, it provides an additional way for children to recognise different words and phrases. At a young age, children are visual learners so being able to see words in motion is a great way for them to retain information.

This also helps them to form longer sentences as they understand how to put different sets of words together. In addition, signing improves their attentiveness to the gestures of other people as they start to become more familiar with what people mean through their hand movements.

Increases Self Esteem

Being able to express their thoughts and feelings is key for any child’s well being. If they can’t get their message across, then they will never feel included in conversations or activities. This can be very problematic when children start nursery or school as they should be able to fully participate despite having a communication barrier.

Sign language provides children with an alternative way to make themselves understood. This extra tool enables them to express how they feel, their thoughts and wants, so that they can take part in learning and social activities.

This not only gives a child a ‘voice’ but is also important when building relationships. This is something which remains important as these early interactions shape their perception of the world moving forward.

Provides An Insight Into Your Child’s World

Understanding what your child is thinking is something every parent wishes they could master. This would make life much easier when trying to work out why they are crying or why they will not go to sleep.

Sign language provides a window into your child’s way of thinking and allows you to better respond to their needs. You can gage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours through gestures and hand movement and respond accordingly.

As we’ve discussed, this not only reduces frustration for your child but also your frustration as a parent. It also brings you closer to your child as you have a clearer understanding of what is going on inside their own mind and how you can meet their demands.

child in play area smiling

Sign language Is for Everyone

Although signing is usually used by those with developmental delays and communication problems, there are lots of advantages for other people using sign language too. By implementing sign language in mainstream nurseries and schools it creates a more inclusive culture.

Instead of children feeling excluded, signing is something everyone can do and provides a sense of openness and acceptance. When it is incorporated into the broader early years setting, it becomes a ‘normal’ way to communicate and allows children to interact with each other much easier. Activities such as assemblies, music performances, and storytelling can be done through sign language so that everyone can be engaged.

Also, by learning new words and songs through signing it provides children with a visual prompt to reinforce what they have learned. In addition signing supports memory and recall as children are using both parts of their brain instead of just one.

Builds Relationships

One of the key barriers when building relationships is problems with communication.

If two people are unable to express their feelings, it is very difficult to build a relationship and progress. No matter what stage of life a person is in, relationships are important for confidence and self esteem.

If children start nursery and are unable to form friendships with their classmates from an early stage, then this can have long lasting effects. This is not only limited to their education, but can also cause problems in later life, including personal relationships and work.

Sign language opens up these communication barriers and allows someone who is deaf to freely interact with other people. Furthermore, learning how to sign for someone who can hear perfectly well is also advantageous, as it introduces them to a new language. This enables both parties to meet new people and make new friends as they are learning and progressing together.

It’s important children have an awareness of the deaf community from a young age as this allows them to be more understanding when they meet someone who is deaf. Through education, they can learn more about the deaf community and how they should respond.

Common Baby Signs

There are some common sign languages that are useful for babies to know from a young age. This helps them express important thoughts and feelings such as needing to be fed or understanding when it is time to go to sleep.

You should practice these signs with your child as the more they do them, the more comfortable and confident they’ll feel.

  • More – Pinched index fingers touching at midline
  • Where – Palms facing upwards
  • Eat – Bring pinched fingers from one hand towards mouth
  • Drink – Bring thumb to mouth
  • Book – Open and close palms of hand
  • Smelly – Bring finger to wrinkled nose
  • Thank you – Palm to lips, then extend forearm outward and down
  • All done – Forearms up, rotating hands
  • Bed – Palms pressed together next to cheek, leaning head towards hands

Although these baby signs seem very simple, they can be very useful when it comes to looking after your child. As we’ve covered, tantrums are usually a result of your child being unable to fully express themselves.

By being able to use the above signals, it makes life much easier for both you and your child, as these visual cues provide a quick means of communication. It’s also believed that children who use signs from a young age have better language skills moving forward, and also score higher in exams.

toddler in grey top shouting

The Benefits of Using Sign Language in Early Child Development

Sign language brings many benefits to all children regardless of whether they are deaf or struggling with their hearing.

As well as helping children to communicate and fully express themselves, it also improves their social skills by increasing their confidence and self-esteem. This is a key part of being able to build relationships with their classmates and peers, as well as other adults.

This extends beyond the classroom and is a necessary part of everyday life. All children need to feel included and accepted regardless of any communication difficulties otherwise they will be disengaged.

Similarly for those who can communicate perfectly well, learning sign language is hugely beneficial as it opens up many opportunities. Not only does it broaden their awareness of different people, but it also enables children to be more understanding and sensitive.

By teaching this from a young age, parents and nursery practitioners are developing well-rounded, kind individuals who will understand how to respond when they meet someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Having a communication issue should not hinder a child’s development. At Learning Journals we understand just how important development is for each and every child. As a parent, you want to be part of this important journey and feel included at each stage. Especially if your child is struggling with their communication, you want to feel reassured that their needs are being met.

With our online platform, you can record, share, and upload limitless observations of your child regardless of where they are. If they’re learning sign language then they need to practice both at home and at nursery to build up their confidence. With Learning Journals, you can easily monitor their progress and build up a bigger picture over time. Request your free trial today to see how the product works for yourself!

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