Why children should learn to sign


    In light of short film The Silent Child scooping an Oscar, we look at the importance of children learning to sign

    Author Joe Jacobs was overwhelmed when Maisie Sly, the profoundly deaf four-year-old star of Oscar-winning The Silent Child, thanked him in person for the sign language books he’s written for children. Like Rachel Shenton, the ex-Hollyoaks actress who wrote the film script, Joe wants sign language to be recognised and taught in schools. He puts forward five reasons why all children should learn to sign.

    1. Fewer tantrums

    “Babies taught to sign can communicate with you months before they say their first word,” says Joe.” That reduces their frustration, gives you an insight into their world, and strengthens the bond between parent and baby.” Physically, it makes perfect sense: “The arm and hand muscles needed to sign develop more quickly than the muscles in the mouth and larynx required for speech.”

    1. Speak sooner

    The trend for hearing parents using sign language to communicate with hearing children began with baby-signing in the 1970s. “Studies show that babies who sign will learn to speak sooner, so long as you say the words as you sign them and your baby can see your face. The evidence also suggests that children who learn to sign have a larger verbal vocabulary.”

    1. IQ boost

    Psychologists Dr Linda Acredolo and Dr Susan Goodwyn have conducted one of the largest studies into the benefits of baby signing. “Observing 140 families over two years, they found that at seven and eight years old the mean IQ of those taught to sign as babies was 12 points higher than that of the control group.”

    1. They’ll love it

    “Children love sign language and pick it up quickly, perhaps because they think visually and enjoy performing actions to words. Signing can relieve the frustration of trying to express ourselves, especially in the early stages of language acquisition. It can enrich the lives of all children.” And it’s easier than you think – children and parents can learn the sign language alphabet in an hour.

    1. Inclusivity

    Of the 40,000 plus deaf children in the UK, 78% attend mainstream schools with no specialist provision. “Learning just ten signs with your child could make a huge difference to the lives of deaf children,” believes Joe. “Signing can also help children with language, speech and learning difficulties, autism and Down’s syndrome, as well as aid comprehension for those with English as a second language.”

    Author and illustrator Joe Jacobs published his first book, How to Sign Animals with Terry the Monkey, in 2017. Other titles in the Terry the Monkey series include How to Sign Halloween and How to Sign Christmas. Joe is now working on a screenplay for a Terry the Monkey cartoon.