Teaching American Sign Language: 5 Fun Activities is a post from contributing writer Megan Spires from Devotional Family.
Have you ever considered teaching your children American Sign Language (ASL) as their second (or foreign) language?
Does the thought of it sound a little intimidating?
Maybe you’re like I was and just never know where to begin. Previously, here at Real Life at Home, we explored a few of the many benefits of signing with your kids, why it would be a great second language choice in your homeschooling efforts, and how to get started teaching it.
When we began learning ASL, I was struck with how easy it was to implement into our normal everyday activities. Sign language can be a natural extension to planning school lessons, field trips, and even reading stories together.
When you’re first learning ASL, there are a few resources that are very helpful in learning the actual signs so that you can begin teaching and practicing them with your kids.
Library: You can find many books and videos at the library, but two of our favorites are Signs for Me: Basic Sign Vocabulary for Children, Parents & Teachers by Ben Bahan and Joe Dannis and the Signing Time! DVD series. Once we realized how much we loved these, we bought both the book and DVDs.
Online ASL Dictionary: There are several to choose from, but two of our favorites are LifePrint and ASL Pro.
Five fun ways to learn sign language in daily life
Guess What I Am!
This is one of our favorite ways to include ASL in our learning fun. Here’s one you can play anywhere and all it requires is your thinking skills. It’s the old classic, “I’m thinking of a….” and then you go on to describe it. We call it the “Guess What I Am!” game.
Think of some ASL signs you’ve been teaching your kids, such as animals, food, or objects found in your home. Then describe it using as many signs, charades, and spoken words as you can. Aim for using fewer and fewer spoken words as their ASL vocabulary increases.
What’s the Word?
Another fun game to play is a game we call “What’s that Word?” Most homeschooling families have a stash of various kinds of flashcards laying around somewhere. We have many sets that hardly ever get used, so we made up this little game and dug out several sets of flashcards.
To play, pick a theme set that you would like to either practice words you’ve been learning or use to learn some new vocabulary. For instance, if you’re using ABC flashcards, show your child the picture on the front and ask them to sign the letter that the picture begins with. Then, work on finger-spelling the whole word together. Then teach the ASL sign for that word or quiz your child on this word if it’s previously been taught.
Classic Games with a Twist
As you think about the games you play with your kids, begin to think of ways you can add in ASL. Other traditional games to consider are Pictionary, Boggle, Scrabble, BINGO and Simon Says.
From the time our boys were very young, we included signing in our reading time together. We were introduced to shared reading techniques and read-aloud strategies that helped to create richer reading experiences for our kids.
The stories themselves seem to come alive as we “animate” the descriptions and “label” the pictures with sign language. Try to choose books that include vocabulary words you and your kids are currently learning and use lots of dramatic expressions when reading the stories together.
These are almost always a big hit with kids and can be another great way to practice and learn sign language. You can hold your very own scavenger hunt anywhere you choose.
All you need to do is create a list of items for your kids to hunt for, write them down or draw pictures of them on a sheet of paper (depending on their reading levels), send them off hunting and then ask them to sign the words or teach them the signs.
You could have them search for all the colors of the rainbow outside, find various foods at the grocery store, or collect books with chosen themes at the library. All of these ideas would make for great sign language learning opportunities. This is how we enjoy our scavenger hunts.
Learn more: Studying Rainbows: Crafts, Activities, and Science Experiments
There’s nothing like gathering around our kitchen island to create a yummy meal, snack, or dessert together. So, it makes perfect sense to mix in a little ASL with our recipes. With cookbook in hand, take note of the ingredients, utensils needed, and cooking/baking instructions to create a list of words that you will use to teach your kids some new ASL vocabulary. They’ll be so engaged!
Learn more: Saying Yes To Cooking Help (Even When I Don’t Want To)
Field Trips & Outdoor Fun
When getting out with your kids, don’t forget to plan ahead a bit and find the ASL signs for some of the things you’ll come across while out and about. We love practicing and learning new signs at the zoo, the lake, our local fire station, and in our own backyard.
Learn more: Outdoor Activities: A Great Way For Families To Spend Time Together
Many Benefits To Learning ASL
The added benefit to learning American Sign Language while engaged in other homeschool activities is that anything they are learning becomes cemented in their brains that much more. Including ASL helps them focus more, remember and retain information and engages more of their senses causing their love of learning to increase.
Let me know which ways of teaching ASL work best for you!
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This post was originally published on June 6, 2012. It was last updated in September 2016.
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Great ideas! You could use this format with just about anything you want to study. We have a homeschool group where one of the moms has deaf parents. She teaches ASL to our kids for 1/2 hour each week. It’s been great to have this resource.
We are also learning German at home so my son likes to say things in German while doing the motions in sign language.
Megan Spires says
That is awesome that one of the moms teaches ASL each week to your homeschool group. That is a wonderful resource. And learning two languages at the same time, literally is pretty amazing. We are beginning to do the same thing with Spanish.
Teaching children ASL is a great activity! I think it gives them an understanding of the deaf “culture”, and makes them realize that just because people talk with their hands, they aren’t different than we are.
I learn sign language with the children in my care. My favorite part is watching them concentrate on their fingers and hands to get them in just the right position to say the word. We mostly sign at the lunch/snack table. The older ones (4 & 5yrs.) are signing in sentences since we naturally add words as some are mastered.
Another great sight for learning ASL is Signing Savvy. My son wears hearing aids and we are learning so we can communicate with him. I will definitely take some of your advice and use it. Thanks!