- Written by Silvia Mwendia for KenyaKiz
A newly opened pre-school is training children as young as six months how to communicate without talking by teaching them sign language. This comes on the back of research that has highlighted the importance of baby sign language such as improved mental development, reduced problematic behaviours and better parent-child relationship as published in a paper titled The signs and sounds of early language development by L.P.Acredolo, S.W. Goodwyn, K. Horobin & Y. Emmons.
Dubbed Smart Start Kinder Academy, the school offers a sign language program. Most children are able to commnicate before they an talk and it is on this principle that Smart Start Kinder Academy would like to ride on as they seek to make them more independent when it comes to saying what they require.
“We would like to empower babies from the onset to be able to articulate their needs more because they cannot talk,” said Erem Kassam, the headmistress of Smart Start Kinder Academy.
The teaching of sign language is incorporated into the school's day's activities and not just on an instructional basis per se.
“With the six month old babies for instance, we show them signs for words such as milk and constantly repeat it to them."
The children do not obviously catch on immediately but the continuous repetition of words they may require to use, eventually stick and slowly by slowly, Kassam and her team start to notice the child saying the word or making the sign. This according to the headmistress is an effective way to enhance babies' speech development as they have an option between the two languages which one to use.
The baby sign language program is also extended into the home by bringing parents on board.
“Every day we inform parents on what sign we are working on, teach them and encourage them to constantly repeat it in the house,” said Kassam.
Apart from assisting them to communicate their needs, baby sign language eases the frustration in families because both parent and child can understand each other.
“Both parent and child are usually new to this so more often than not you will see a mother or father playing guessing games when a child starts crying as they try to figure out whether they are hungry or need a diaper change,” said Kassam.
The effects of baby sign language can already be seen as children at the academy are already starting to articulate their needs.
“There was a time a eighteen month old baby wanted to pee but could not say it. They were however making the sign and an older child noticed and told the teacher,” said Kassam.
There is no specific age to start teaching sign language and Smart Start Kinder Academy works with the children at their individual pace. Kassam for instance talks of a two year old who has joined the school not knowing how to speak English. The signing therefore helps her learn the language more easily. Such a learning approach also appeals to children because it is fun to learn while using their hands, more so for the kinesthic learners.
The newly opened school takes in children between six months and seven years. It is also open from 9am to 3pm with different time slots for the three age groups learning there.