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
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? Answer: Beneficial:
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
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
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
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,
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: http://Deafchildren.org/
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