ASL University

 American Sign Language: "Sign Language in the Preschool Classroom"

In a message dated 3/7/2015 11:56:02 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, Diana Stanley writes:

Hi Dr. Vicars!
I am a Head Start preschool teacher, currently in Prescott, Arizona. I have been teaching preschool for 18 years. I have worked with a number of students having various Special Needs including speech delays, Childhood Apraxia of Speech Disorder, and a couple of students who are Deaf. This year, I was aware I would likely be getting a student who is Deaf about a month into the school year so began introducing my students to sign language from the beginning. When my student started, he had a LOT of behavioral challenges (he had only recently been exposed to sign language and was used to communicating his wants/needs through aggression). It is exciting to see how much he has grown, developing friendships and communicating with other children in the classroom. I continue to build on my knowledge and usage of ASL especially as all my students use me as their resource for ASL communication. Thank you so very much for having your site so readily available and user friendly!!

I am also working on a research paper on the benefits of sign language in a preschool classroom. I would greatly appreciate it if you could find the time to answer some (or all) of the following questions. While these questions relate to my research paper, I am also concerned about what comes next for my student who is Deaf (he will be going on to Kindergarten next year).

Thank you again!

- Diana Stanley

A brief interview of William (Bill) Vicars, Ed.D. by Diana Shipley:

1. What do you think about the use of sign language in a preschool classroom?

Answer: I am totally in support of sign language being used in preschool classrooms. The language exposure is extremely good for the cognitive development of the children. (Plus it is fun!)

2. Would it be confusing to use songs with sign language at times and other times use songs with (non-ASL) fingerplays? Or a mixture of ASL and non-ASL gestures within a single song?

Answer: Your question is a very "American" question. Here most people are monolingual. I invite you to consider language acquisition from a more "European" perspective. Many children in Europe (and numerous other areas of the world) grow up being exposed to multiple languages -- often in the same household. They go on to later become very powerful communicators. The beautiful thing about the human mind (and particularly the minds of children) is that eventually we tend to "sort it all out."

3. Would the use of sign language in a preschool classroom be beneficial or detrimental (or both)? Why?
It is good for the brain. Google this phrase: "research shows learning a second language delays dementia" (without the quotes).
It is fun.
It is quiet.
It engages a different sense than simply talking.
It can be used to reinforce certain utterances.
It can be used in place of certain utterances.
It may lead to eventual fluency in a second language which will likely benefit these youngsters in a decade or two if and when it comes time to satisfy second-language requirements at schools and colleges.

There are few defensible arguments against the inclusion of sign language in a preschool classroom.
One of the few arguments would include: If the child learns to sign at school and then goes home to a house where no one signs he or she will likely experience some degree of frustration being surrounded by non-signers.

4. Are these benefits/detriments impacted by the inclusion of a student who is Deaf?

Answer: If there is a Deaf student in the classroom it would be negligent of the faculty and staff to "not" provide sign language. However the issue is complex and a "couple of sentences" aren't going to "cover it."

Regarding a student who is Deaf:

1. In your opinion, what are the benefits to attending a specialized school for the Deaf?

Answer: Multiple skilled language models (instead of all language being channeled through an interpreter or by rudimentary signers). Peer socialization. A culturally supportive environment where being Deaf is the norm -- not a ridiculed aberration. Self-esteem is key.

2. In your opinion, what are the benefits to being mainstreamed into local schools?

Answer: You get to live with your family. That is good if your family is supportive. Sometimes local schools have size-related opportunities such as sports teams that may not exist in small, specialized schools.

3. What aspects should be taken into consideration when determining the education placement?

Answer: Family support, amount of residual hearing, personal aptitude, personal choice, social support, the presence or absence of extended family support, the presence or absence of local friends and peers, the competency of staff, and the quality of the target program. The list of placement factors to consider is long and there are papers and books already written on this topic. I suggest you visit the "knowledge center" section of the American Society for Deaf Children website:

Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy Dr. Bill's "Superdisk."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of -- less traffic, fast access).

You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University
ASL resources by    Dr. William Vicars




back.gif (1674 bytes)