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Signing With Babies And Children: Music and Sign Language

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Music and Sign Language

From Lora Heller, Music Therapist and Founding Director of Baby Fingers LLC (

By Steve Kokette 1995 (shortened below)

For many years now it has been widely recognized that students benefit from being encouraged to move to music. In this brief essay I wish to propose that the use of American Sign Language (ASL) with hearing children may be a beneficial form of such movement. My reasons for making this suggestion stem from the proven value of using bodily movement in teaching music, especially applications of the "Dalcroze Method," and the proven effectiveness of signing in teaching language arts to children who have no hearing impairments. As early as the 1800's, some educators working with children who had hearing impairments advocated that Sign language be taught to children without such an impairment, because they noticed that the hearing siblings of deaf children often developed better skills in reading, spelling, and writing if they were exposed to Sign language at home. Teachers who knew Sign language and used it while teaching in the classroom observed that children paid greater attention to the lesson. Music teachers noticed that children paid greater attention and learned lyrics better, if the teacher were signing while singing the text. They further observed that children seemed able to recall lyrics more readily, even weeks or months later, if the music educator used Sign while teaching.

Dalcrose theorized that lessons in rhythmic gymnastics helped children in their other lessons, for they seemed to develop keener powers of observation and analysis, greater understanding and more acute memory. Teachers of subjects other than music, according to Dalcroze, often found that rhythmic training to music made students more responsive, more elastic, not only in movement but in personality. Learning signs with words and music enhances the beauty of the song's performance. Sign can improve the motor skills of young people, and indeed it is good exercise for people of all ages.

Music classes are a part of general education for life, and they have always concentrated on the joy of hearing. It is possible that music combined with Sign may make a contribution beyond the joy of hearing and keep communication skills alive, even when hearing is no longer possible.

Short version of an article Copyright 1995 Steve Kokette.


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Anonymous said...

Music is such a beautiful gift for all ages, and especially for young children it has proven to help in remembering those fun things we all get to learn... our alphabet, numbers, days of the week, months of the year, and seasons.

Each of these series have various songs to help learn their sequence. I have been teaching my son pre-school along with other children. I see their eyes light up as I add signs to the "Days of the Week" song or teach them the sign for the first letter in their name as we prepare to sing a song. Their eyes are fixated on me as I sing, and I can only imagine how their little minds are able to grasp onto things more clearly and tangibly!!!