Summary of research findings on the impact of signing with children ages three and above. Though there are many benefits for introducing signs to children when they are preverbal, there are
still reasons to introduce signs to children who have already started to talk. Studies show that using sign language with hearing children can lead to improved literacy and language skills, and that using
signs can help older children who struggle with reading.
A. Impact of Signing on Language and Literacy
Research showing that using signs with preschoolers and kindergartners aids their language and
literacy development [3, 8, 58-60] and indicates that it is helpful, not harmful, to continue using
signs with children who are signing. Several studies have also shown that signing can help kindergartners, and even older children, gain bigger vocabularies [58, 59], and improve their spelling
and reading skills [3, 8, 9, 60].
A study by Marilyn Daniels showed that preschoolers whose teachers use both signs and speech
in the classroom have bigger spoken vocabularies toward the end of the school year , and
these gains in vocabulary were sustained into kindergarten .
We also know from the research on preschool and school-aged children, that teaching fingerspelling
is helpful for verbal children’s language and literacy skills [8, 9, 55] and can help those who are
struggling with spelling and reading [3, 8, 9].
Marilyn Daniels studied the use of sign language to enhance hearing kindergartners’ literacy skills
by comparing the first grade reading placement scores of a classroom of kindergartners whose
teacher used signs, and a classroom of kindergartners in the same skills whose teacher did not
use signs. The children in the signing classroom had higher scores in letter identification, word
recognition, and concepts about print . Another study by Laura Felzer showed that signing
helped a group of kindergartners who were English language learners read at or above grade level
by the time they were in first grade .
Further, there have been several studies comparing the literacy skills of children who have been
exposed to signs to children with no exposure to sign. However, these studies have not been rigorous scientific experiments, but rather, quasi-experiments. For example, studies have compared
children’s scores at the beginning of a school year to their own scores at the end of a school year
, or compared the scores of a classroom of children whose teacher used signs to the scores
of children in another classroom . These quasi-experimental results are promising, but this
is definitely a topic that needs to be addressed further through rigorous experimental research.
Signing with Babies and Children: A Summary of Research Findings by Claire Vallotton, Ph.D. 9
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