July 2009 Featured Article
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.
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