Promoting Early Visual Language Development 

VL2's Translating Research to Practice Series

This is the second in our series of monthly emails with information sharing the research finding at VL2 center, activities to support your child’s development, links to other resources, and more.
If you have missed the first one in our series, please click on the link: Eye Gaze and Joint Attention.

For the new parents of a deaf or hard-of-hearing child, the first reaction may be- "What will my child’s future be like? Will my child learn how to read or to speak? How can we communicate?" Your child will thrive, and the future will be bright as long as she is learning both languages (Sign Language and printed/spoken language) at a very early age. 
Studies have shown that those who are exposed to sign language can positively influence spoken language and English literacy because you are providing them with a solid foundation in a language. Signing does not prevent the child from learning to talk or read. In fact, of those children with cochlear implants, those who signs perform better on every oral-related tasks than those who don't sign. 

Additionally, the researchers tracked children for 3 years- from ages of 3 to 5, and they found that when parent or caregiver signs, even if they are not fluent, the children still benefit. They showed evidences of literacy skills- letter writing and letter recognition- as early as 3 years old.  (Please see below for references.) 

Below are recommended activities and resources for you to support your child's language acquisition at home and at school. Enjoy!  If you have any questions, please contact us at 

Signing Activities With Infants/Toddlers (0-24 months old)

  • Follow your child’s lead when conversing with her. When a conversation has started, get down on her level. Talk about her interests and use facial expression to convey your absorption in what she is saying. Pause and give her time to respond to what you say.
  • Imitate what your child says. This shows your interest in what she is signing and allows you to model correct use of language without correcting your child. Imitating your child also helps both of you to learn to listen. Give meaning to your child’s signs even if you are not exactly sure what she meant. When your child signs something that you might not have understood, tell her what you think she means. Model the correct usage of signs.
  • Expand on what your child says. Your expansions should be just above your child’s level of language skills. For example, if your child is using one-word sentences then your expansions should be two- or three-word sentences. Expansion gives your child more information about the world around her.  (For example:  nod head-affirm, point, and repeat signing what she/he said. If your child points at the stuffed bear’s nose- you point at the nose and sign, “YES, (repeats- points) NOSE. BEAR NOSE. BLACK.” [points at your own nose then points at the bear’s nose—and baby’s nose, too])

Signing Activities With Toddlers (12 months or older)

  • Discuss what you did that day or explain what you are doing right now. Keep talking to your child. Take advantage of teachable moments wherever you go. (e.g. What’s the name of the store? (fingerspell name of the store) What’s that vegetable? What color is that? Help me find this food..) 
  • Show pictures of events, family members, and/or common things- and point to picture and sign what that is. After several repetitions, expand on what the child says- add more vocabulary. (e.g. TREE- BIG TREE- GREEN LEAVES)
  • Discuss what you and your child just did together. (Where did we go? Shopping! Why? We need food to cook. What did we buy? Etc.)  Keep talking to your child even if you are not sure they are listening to you.
  • Invite Deaf friends and/or Deaf children over to your home for your child to interact with
  • Attend ASL/Book Storytelling events with your family. 
  • Watch ASL storytelling or ASL poetry DVDs or videotapes.  (see below for tips on where to find ASL Stories)

Signing Activities at School
Language Experience Approach (LEA)


Hands-on activities will help students with diverse background build common experience and knowledge which makes it easier to introduce new vocabulary and concepts that are used during this activity. LEA can be used with individual students as well as with small groups. LEA can be very successful when students work together with a “more knowledgeable other.” This person may be the teacher, a more experienced student, teacher aide, or parent. This approach can be used with younger students (pre-k- 2nd grade), but this will also be very effective for older students who are struggling readers (3-8 years old or beyond). By giving them an authentic hands-on activity, the students will be motivated to learn new words and even learn to read those words. 

Recommended steps for LEA: 
  1. Focus on an experience that is either common to all students from outside their school experiences (e.g., going to the grocery store) or an experience that is the result of a class trip, class lesson, or activity (creating an english muffin pizza, planting a seed, etc.). Take pictures or show them pictures.
  2. Show pictures and introduce vocabulary words that are used in that activity.
  3. Have them sign aloud explaining what is being done in that picture. Model signs if needed. You may take pictures of each sign and place them next to the picture. Create a booklet or slideshow.
  4. You sign aloud the whole event, model appropriate signs.
  5. Invite students to view and retell them retell what happened to their partner or to an adult.
  6. Publish that book and show it to their parents.. And have them retell it to their parent and share what they did in this activity.
It is also recommended to model how to write what they signed in English as well in that book. Show them vocabulary words in English that aligns with the sign they made. 


Websites links- Resources for you and your child
VL2 Parent Information Package
American Society for Deaf Children
Deaf Education and Families Project
Parent Links
Advantages of Early Visual Language. (Research Brief No. 2)
Clerc Center: Leading from Behind: A Language Experience in Action.
 A Parent Guidebook: ASL and Early Literacy
Language Experience Approach

To learn ASL signs, click on the website links provided below.
VL2 Parent Toolkit

Apps and DVDs
The apps and DVDs shown below have nice storytelling features as well as a "glossary" for individual signs. The Baobab and The Boy Who Cried Wolf are VL2 Storybook AppsThe Signed Stories app can be downloaded on your mobile phone to purchase a compilation of e-books. Click on these app icons below to be directed to the Apple Store.

Click on the DVD icons to be directed to their sites for more information. You may find some of these DVDs at your local library or on YouTube. By the way, each time you purchase a video from Signing Times, a portion of the sale will be contributed to the American Society for Deaf Children. 
The Baobab
Scholastic Books
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Signing Time
Signed Stories
ASL Tales


New VL2 Storybook App!

The classic Aesop's fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is brought to life in a wholly new medium with vivid American Sign Language storytelling, adding cinematic elements to a  timeless tale. Accompanied by detailed paintings that evoke times of yore, this storybook app for the iPad comes with over 140 vocabulary words, signed and fingerspelled. The app design is based on proven research on bilingualism and visual learning from the Visual Language and Visual Learning Center. Click on the app icon to make a purchase!

Visual Language and Visual Learning "VL2" is a Science of Learning Center at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Our purpose is to advance fundamentally the science of learning related to how aspects of human higher cognition are realized through one of our most central senses, visions. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 
Copyright © 2014 |Visual Language and Visual Learning, All rights reserved.

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