Sign Language is a way of communicating visually, using hand gestures, expressions and body language. British Sign Language (BSL) is a type of sign language that is used in the United Kingdom. In 2003, it was recognised by the government as a language in its own right. It is the first and preferred language for tens of thousands of deaf people in the UK .
But, before we go into how to support a child learning BSL, it is important to explain why i think we should support children learning BSL.
Why Should We Support Deaf Children and Children with Additional Needs to Learn British Sign Language?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a copy of Let’s Sign Early Years by Cath Smith & Sandra Teasdale (DeafBooks). The introduction of this brilliant resource (which can be found here) is a personal account by Sandra Teasdale, who is profoundly deaf. My eyes were opened to the fact that sign language used to be banned in schools in the UK. Sandra Teasdale was a student in a school during this time and she explains, that teachers were ‘trained at university to believe that using sign language would stop us from speaking and learning English‘
Before you start thinking that this is in the past, and not applicable to deaf children today in our education system, although large numbers of children with Special Educational Needs are now learning BSL, Sandra Teasdale states that only ‘10% of deaf children‘ use BSL. She explains that she believes this is partly because of some professionals still holding onto the belief that if a child learns to communicate through sign language, it will hinder their ability to speak English.
The thought that some deaf children aren’t be encouraged or even supported to learn BSL due to lingering beliefs that it would be detrimental to them, really struck a chord with me.
In my opinion, supporting deaf children to learn BSL can enable them to communicate with others, express themselves effectively, learn and access information easier, be part of the Deaf community and reduce potential isolation.
It’s not just children and adults who are deaf (and their friends and families) that can benefit from learning BSL. Some children with other Special Educational Needs benefit from learning BSL. In addition, babies and young children can also benefit from learning the language. In fact, baby/toddler signing classes are incredibly popular nowadays- as a way of helping young children to be able to communicate their needs, likes and dislikes easier and even before they are able to speak. Understandably, this is is incredibly desirable- as not only could it provide an insight into your baby’s thoughts, but it could also reduce a child’s frustration and increase their feelings of contentment – if they are able to communicate effectively.
How Can You Support Children Learning BSL?
Parents are the experts of their own children and as a result they can make a huge impact on their child’s learning of BSL. Here’s a few suggestions of ways parents can help support their child learning BSL:
- Practise BSL as Often as Possible– As with any language, the more you are exposed to it, the easier it is to learn it. So help your child learn BSL by making it an integral part of their day to day life. We found the Let’s Sign Dictionary by DeafBooks really helps support with common signs*. DeafBooks also have new Early Years Publications that can be found on Amazon here covering everything from greetings and manners to useful BSL signs for meal times.
- Encourage Family and Friends to Use BSL- To enable your Deaf child to communicate effectively and be included in conversations it’s great to encourage family members and friends to learn and use as many BSL signs as they can. One of our favourite resources for supporting younger children learning basic BSL signs are the BSL Early Years & Baby Signs Flash Cards and the book Let’s Sign Early Years BSL Building Blocks Child and Carer Guide. *
- Meet other members of the Deaf Community– If your child is Deaf but you yourselves as parents are not, it can be a good idea to try to arrange for your family to meet other people (adults and children) who are also deaf and use BSL. Not only will it help your child to see there are lots of other people who are deaf and use BSL, but you may find you can learn a lot from the Deaf community about how to support your child effectively.
It’s vital that schools, mainstream and Special, fully support children who are learning BSL to ensure they can access the curriculum effectively and are fully included in school life. The child may have a communication support worker (CSW) who helps them in lessons but it’s still vital that teachers and support staff also support children learning BSL:
– Encourage Staff to Learn BSL- The more staff who learn BSL signs in the child’s school the better, as it means the child has more people that they can communicate with. Our School Signs Book* is a great resource for staff members to learn useful BSL signs. The book can be accessed on the kindle or printed on demand and contains signs such as Facebook, Instagram etc.
- Raise Awareness- To create an inclusive environment make sure awareness is developed. For children this can be through assemblies, PSHE, reading etc. For staff this could be through training.
- Support Children Throughout the Day– In my opinion, school isn’t just for children to learn skills and knowledge, but is also important for children to learn social skills. With this in mind don’t just focus on supporting the child in lessons, ensure that they are fully included during break times and during other social activities. This could be by using a buddy system, teaching BSL to their peers and also educating lunch time support staff on ways to support the child.
- Create Your Own Materials for Lessons Using BSL Signs– Adapting lesson resources such as worksheets or whiteboard presentations to include BSL is a great way to help include a child in your lessons who uses BSL . You can buy and download BSL Signs graphics from DeafBooks to create your own resources, for example for Science. More Information can be found here.
*Please note wherever possible, face to face learning of BSL is advised, these books and resources are designed to support learning of BSL.
Please note we were also sent copies of some products for review, however as always all thought and opinions are our own.