ASL Tales
© ASL Tales:2015
ASL and Early Childhood – More Than Teaching Signs With so many tools available for an early childhood classroom, there needs to be a pretty good reason to encourage teachers to add more to their palette.  We think we have those reasons. Visual storytelling incorporates visual and kinesthetic learning, along with the known benefits of introducing another language.  The English-ASL pairing in ASL Tales products engages non-readers and supports their curiosity for learning to read and develops pre-comprehension skills. (See article by Kennedy and Ryan)   The research points to remediating common challenges for young learning: comprehension, decoding, and attention disorders.  Because our tools allow non-signers to understand and enjoy the ASL message, children also get the benefits of a bi-lingual experience without knowing a second language.  Sign language is a tool that has long been used in early childhood settings.  Some of the researched claims include increased intelligence (Goodwyn), communication skills, (Layton), improved vocabulary, self-esteem, and confidence (Daniels) and better interaction with peers.  That research is based on the simple addition of sign language vocabulary!  Imagine the possibilities for young children, when language is paired with literacy, and kinesthetic learning, employing visual-spatial skills and the encoding and decoding practice that’s available in paired literature. One limitation of sign language vocabulary-only education is that it misses on one unique, and vital, component of ASL – how ASL incorporates the experience of the character in the message. Labeling emotions is an important component of both communication and ultimately early literacy.  Our master storytellers leave young learners in no doubt about the emotional experience of the characters in the story and can become an important foundation for discussing emotions and giving young learners practice in identifying and expressing emotion.  See this simple example of how ASL Tales gives teachers a clear example for teaching the concept “lonely”. Early childhood classrooms are a sandbox for learning about the world, and educators, of course, want to teach children correct information about another language in culture.  This is perhaps one of the most valuable opportunities for teachers using ASL Tales.  Teaching sign vocabulary, rather than supporting the goal of cultural understanding, perpetuates a myth that the Deaf community has long tried to dispel – that ASL is signs for English words.  In fact, visual languages present messages in 3- dimensional space, sometimes making the “words” the least important part of the message.  The most compelling way to describe this is that of the 2,500 words in our book Princess and the Pea, only 65 of them are a one-to-one match to the ASL sign.  This huge difference in how 2 languages express ideas presents an opportunity for a better understanding of the American Deaf Community, but also the foundation for discussion how all languages express ideas dependent on their culture (See Multiculturalism and ASL Tales). We know that it’s difficult to identify all children who will later have language impairments.  And we know that the earliest possible exposure to language and literacy is the best inoculation for limiting the impact of those language challenges.  Using ASL Tales has a positive benefit for all children, but can function as a “universal precaution” for children who might be missing out on benefit from standard language instruction.  Sign language is often used in later years for these children, but imagine the benefits of them having the cognitive benefit of language input before we’ve identified that they are missing it?!  We believe that one storybook that can be accessed by all children in the classroom provides an even more important opportunity for those children who can truly share the same materials with their classroom peers. We know there are classrooms using our products with their children for benefits we have not yet identified (and we haven’t listed all we know here!).  We invite you to collaborate with us in discovering other ways that our products can make a difference for you students.  Please Contact us  if you want to be part of a pilot project.