Thursday, September 4, 2008

Laura Berg of My Smart Hands Responds to Lasting Benefit of Sign Language Question

Laura Berg is the founder of My Smart Hands, a baby signing company. She is the mother of Fireese, the most famous signing baby on YouTube. Here is her insightful answer to my question, Do the benefits of sign language "wear off"?

This is a great question! Before I started my company, My Smart Hands, I was a grade 8 teacher. My principal had asked me to run the literacy program at our school. In trying to find ways to assist these children in their learning I came across a study that showed a significant improvement in students' spelling skills simply by the introduction of the ASL alphabet into their learning routines. The students would learn how to spell using the manual alphabet and in many cases their spelling scores improved by 100%. As a teacher I was amazed and would have been sold on the concept even if there were a 20% improvement. I began to use this method with a group of students at my school who were having difficulty spelling. Within two months of using this method their scores increased from a range of 9-11/20 on their spelling tests to 18-20/20. I was amazed! I wanted to understand why this was the case and share this information with other educators. I have done tons of research on this topic and to put it in very simple terms that makes total sense to me is this: we take in language on the left side of our brain as a sound and we take in sign language on the right side of our brain as an image, this gives us two places to recall one thing. Of course this makes total sense! We are taught to use the VAK method of teaching (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). Using sign language can encompass all those learning styles. I now lecture at universities and colleges to teachers and ECE workers on the benefits of signing with school aged children. I believe that you will find more and more teachers using it in their classrooms as another educational tool.

I think that many parents drop the signing as soon as their child starts to talk but I always encourage parents to continue signing with their children, especially using the manual alphabet with them. It is good brain exercise for them and a fun game to continue to play Whenever we go out to dinner at a restaurant and my daughter gets bored we start playing 'guess that sign' or 'spell that word' where we fingerspell short words with her. My daughter was reading and sounding out words when she was just over two. She is now almost three and is able to read books. I believe this is a result in her using sign language to learn the letters and words. I used signing with my 12 and 13 year old students and I used it with my baby, they have all benefited from it. Basically to sum it up, the learning your child has done will not be undone or lost. Giving them a great language foundation through sign and choosing to continue can only be positive and beneficial, how could learning not be!