Thursday, July 14, 2011

Signing in Child Care Centres

In 1994, I did a placement as a Communicative Disorders Assistant student at Georgian College. One of my placements that winter was with the Sault Ste. Marie Children's Treatment Centre. On my caseload were school children who stuttered, had language disorders or reading disabilities. One little one on my caseload had just moved to Canada from China and I was also teaching him English. It was a wonderful experience ... it's hard to think about how old those kids are now! I had my challenges as a shiny new student but one of the most challenging tasks I was assigned was 'playing' with a young non-verbal toddler! My, how times have changed!

Fast forward to 1997 when I was working as a Communicative Disorders Assistant at Surrey Place Centre working within their Infancy & Early Childhood Division – who would have thought babies and toddlers were going to be my thing! I was in the library at work researching intervention strategies and stumbled across an article about using sign language in child care centres.

In this particular study, a child care centre was signing with one young child with Down syndrome who was in their care. The staff at the centre had gotten into the habit of signing so they ended up signing with all the children in their care. This resulted in fewer challenging behaviour occurring in the centre.  There were fewer children hitting and fewer children biting. This makes sense because the main motivators behind challenging behaviours are a desire (1) to request tangibles, (2) to request attention, (3) to request escape or (4) for sensory reasons.

This makes sense because if a toddler doesn’t have the spoken words to appropriately request something they want, get your attention or to say that they’ve had enough of an activity, a tantrum or other challenging behaviour may result.

Sara Bingham is the founder of WeeHands and the author of The Baby Signing Book. WeeHands is the world's leading children's sign language and language development program for babies, toddlers and preschool children.
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