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May 30, 2003

Youngsters make signing strides

Newark Advocate, OH - May 30, 2003

Advocate Reporter

NEWARK -- Three, four- and five-year-olds sang Thursday at the top of their lungs and signed, "Lion, lion prowls through the jungle."

All eyes were on Debbie Clement, a children's performer who wore a brown and yellow tutu as a lion's mane around her face. She led the group in American Sign Language the Child Development Center on the Newark campus of Ohio State University.

When Clement taught Columbus preschoolers with disabilities, she often used sign language to communicate with the children.

Signing is a great tool for typical kids too, Clement said. It works both sides of their brains at once, it's active and energizing, and it's another sense teachers can use to engage children in learning.

Bonnie Baker and Cassie Kibler, two teachers at the center, have been signing with their 27 students since taking an American Sign Language class in February.

The children are proud of their sign language vocabulary, which ranges from "milk" and "more" to "thank you" and colors, said Kibler.

"They're so quick to pick up on this," Baker said. The children continuously ask to learn more signs.

The lessons are linked to literacy.

Baker was impressed when Philip Hall, a 5-year-old boy, spelled out her first name using sign language as he read her name off a poster.

Philip also is quickly spelling out his parents' names in sign language and racing through the alphabet with ease, his parents, Jeff and Helen Hall, wrote in a letter to Baker.

Especially with preschoolers, the more ways they can be engaged in learning, the more likely they are to get the message, explained Linda Acredolo, a psychology professor at the University of California-Davis, and author of "Baby Signs: How to talk with your baby before your baby can talk."

Research has shown that the gestures we all use help us get information out of our brains, Acredolo said.

"There is, in the human brain, a close alliance between the verbal and gestural modes," she said.

Back in the Child Development Center, Baker said, "Since we've been doing this, we have a little a little boy in the afternoon who has opened up."

The child, whose speech development is delayed, now asks for help when he needs it and tells the teachers when he is done eating or with an activities.

"He's more willing to participate because the kids can understand him," Baker explained.

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