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Home ABOUT MULTIMEDIA Baby Sign Language and Early Education Blog The Benefits of Music & Sign in Language Development
The Benefits of Music & Sign in Language Development
July  2009 Featured Article
By:Lora Heller
As a music therapist, I knew that my graduate degree in Deaf education would haveto be put to work that included music. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a therapeutic preschool where I had a class of deafchildren whose parents were hearing, together with hearing children whoseparents were Deaf.  Many of the deaf children with hearing parents whodidn't sign, did not have access to language until they began school-their hearing counter parts with deaf, signing parents, were much furtheralong.  So learning Sign in the classroom opened many doors for these 3 -4 year olds.  Finally they knew what to call a table, a book, an apple, afriend... and signing while singing songs helped to solidify their newlanguage.  Seeing the sign for "stop" while watching hearing class mates stop marching, and noticing the vibrations of the drum diminishing, helped themto understand the meaning of stop---both for their movement and forsound.  
In the same school, I had a class of children whose primary/home language was Spanish, and a class of children that had significant behavior issues. While ASL was essential for the children in the "deaf" class, it was equally beneficial in these other classes.  The children whose home language wasSpanish were learning English in school; most of their parents and older familymembers spoke only Spanish.  Using the same signs with the different wordshad a profound effect on their learning process.  Adding songs and musicalplay again solidified their new vocabulary.  Singing a song in English about the snack they were eating was more effective when it included sign---the children were able to easily remember the gestures they had previously learned through song for the Spanish words, and then draw a conclusion about the meaning of the English word.  Since the sign for Milk and the sign for Leche are the same, the children were able to make connections.

Theclass of children with significant behavior issues benefitted in different ways from the sign.  While many of these students had solid language, they lacked the ability to express themselves in times of distress.  That's where the signs played the largest role.  Through songs about feelings,new situations, asking for help, and other such things, the children were taught signs for key vocabulary.  That way when they were acting out, given asimple visual reminder, many of the children were able to calm down and express themselves with a sign.

Aside from my own experience, research does support the benefits of music and sign...An article by Patricia Ivankovic and Ingrid Gilpatric in a 1994 issue of Perspectives in Education and Deafness includes a table of songs that teachparts of speech.  For example, Where is Thumbkin teaches verbs, nouns, pronouns, and sequencing; coupled with ASL, deaf students can fully participate in the learning process.  An article by Heather A. Schunk in a1999 issue of the Journal of Music Therapy focuses on the receptive language benefits of singing & signing for ESL students.  Steve Kokette, the producer of award winning signed song videos featuring Deaf performers, wrotein 1995 on the benefits of sign paired with music--for the level of signlearned when presented through songs, and the memory of rhythms when presentedwith sign.  Also in 1995, Buday wrote an article for the Journal of MusicTherapy highlighting the benefits of signed songs on sign and speech imitationby children with autism.   
The work of Joseph Garcia of Sign with Your Baby, throughout the '80s and '90s, chronicles the delight of parents around the world who have found signingto decrease behavior issues and communication related frustration, while jump starting language development.  In my classes at Baby Fingers, musicis a key component in teaching the signs.  Babies focus for longer periods of time during songs, allowing more eye contact with the teacher orparents.  During these moments of eye contact, a great deal of learning can take place.  The songs also act as a memory aid for the grown-ups, sothey can go home and practice with their child.  Bilingual families in our program have found that translating songs from class into their home language,coupled with the signs also learned in class, appears to "bridge the gap" between English and the family's primary language.  This process ofsigning and singing together provides overall growth in communication and strengthens the bond between parent and child.
Article Submitted by: Lora Heller, MS,MT-BC, LCAT, Certified Sign2Me Instructor, New York, NY
Visit Lora's Instructors' Network web site here...

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