Sign Language teaches children at a young age to communicate

PULLMAN, WA - Children can communicate with sign language much sooner than they can talk, and Washington State University's Children Center is using that to their advantage.

"Oh No!" said a child.

Early Childhood Program Specialist Martha Chan is telling her students a story.

"Gigantic whale..." said Martha.

And while she's at it, she is also teaching them sign language.

"Can you say, 'More, please.'?" said Martha.

Sign language is used at Washington State University's Children Center to help kids communicate before they can speak using words.

"Practically, if they want water, they're just going to let me know that they want water, and I don't have to guess," said Early Childhood Program Specialist Martha Chan.

They start using sign language with infants, and the children typically start signing on their own when they're nine months to a year old.

"I think it's good to incorporate it into the classroom just because children develop at so many different levels," said WSU Children's Center Assistant Director Rose Jackson. "Some develop verbal communication much earlier, and some much later, and it just gives an alternative."

At the Children's Center, they're teaching kids very simple signs, like more, please, and thank you.

These kids haven't mastered the signs yet, but if they want more food, they know how to ask. And as the kids develop, so will the sign language.

"Eventually, they'll start doing more complicated sentences," said Chan. "Instead of just saying 'more,' they may want to say, "more water, please.'"

Sign language makes the teacher's job a little easier.

"It allows our teachers to be more effective in their teaching strategies with the children because they have more than one way to communicate," said Jackson.

"It helps me serve their need, so I need to do a lot less guessing work," said Chan.

And it helps keep the kids happy.

The language of signing becomes more complex for children that are more than a year old, but it also starts to fade away as they develop verbal skills, which is typically around 18 months old.