9 Useful ASL Signs for the Early Childhood Classroom

9 Useful ASL Signs for the Early Childhood Classroom

Introducing Sign Language in the Early Childhood Classroom

So you’re thinking about adding some American Sign Language (ASL) to your early childhood classroom – that’s fantastic!

If you’ve got questions about getting started or looking for a place to start, I hope this article will help you.

The are so many benefits to using sign language with young children as a learning tool. But if you’ve never studied ASL, it can be a little overwhelming. Which signs should I start with? How do I learn to do the signs? How do I introduce them to the classroom? Am I qualified to teach this?

Teaching American Sign Language When You’re a Student Yourself

I’ll start by saying that, in an ideal world, every classroom would have access to an experienced ASL user and member of the Deaf community, as well as a skilled interpreter, to help you introduce signing to your young students. But since that’s probably not possible, you’ll have to do your best on your own – and you can totally do this. You already teach the little ones in your class songs with fingerplays already (hello “Itsy Bitsy Spider”), and introducing basic ASL vocabulary is basically the same process. You can totally do this!

It’s ok if you are learning the signs right along with your students. You don’t have to be fluent to introduce the basics. Just as you don’t have to be fluent in Spanish to teach your students that rojo = red, you can teach some basic ASL vocabulary in your classroom with just a handful of signs in your repertoire. Just be warned… your little ones will get the hang of signing quickly and start asking you the signs for more items once they get the hang of it…so be prepared to ramp up your learning too.

American Sign Language for Classroom Routines

To get started, I recommend adding sign language to your existing classroom routines. Every classroom, whether an infant, toddler, preschool or mixed-age setting has a daily rhythm and structure to their day. The order will vary from classroom to classroom, as will what you call each activity or time of day, but almost all early childhood classrooms will include some – or all – of the following in their daily routine:

  • Arrival Time
  • Meeting Time (or Circle Time)
  • Play Time (or Free Choice or Center Time)
  • Clean Up Time
  • Story Time (or Quiet Reading Time)
  • Snack Time/Lunch Time
  • Outside Play or Recess
  • Nap Time (or Rest Time)
  • Dismissal Time

Does your daily routine look something like this? If so, you can easily add a few signs into your existing routine seamlessly. Even if your schedule is not super structured, you can easily add a few basics signs throughout the day and before you know it, it will become a fun part of your day and something your students look forward to and enjoy too!

Signs for Daily Classroom Routines

Here are some really easy to learn, basic ASL signs that you can start using each and every day of the week in your classroom:

  • BOOK
  • EAT
  • HELP
  • PLAY
  • WAIT


A Resource to Help You!

We’ve created the perfect resource to help you confidently introduce signs into your classroom! Introducing Sign Language for Daycare – a small collection of videos and a helpful printable so you can start signing today!

Start signing today!

With Sign Language for Daycare, you’ll learn the 9 best American Sign Language (ASL) signs for daycare, tips for using them, PLUS a printable with illustrated instructions to post in the classroom!

Sign & Sing: The More We Get Together

Sign & Sing: The More We Get Together

How to Sign “The More We Get Together” with ASL Signs

Music is a powerful & fun learning tool for young children. Learning familiar melodies through repetition provides opportunity to practice and master new vocabulary – both spoken AND signed. One of my favorite songs to sign & sing with little ones is “The More We Get Together” by Raffi. It has 3 great ASL signs to introduce to young children: more, happy & friend. You don’t have to sign every single word in the song. Picking key words gives you time to model the sign slowly and provides little ones ample time to observe & try it themselves. Using about one sign per line of lyrics is usually about right, but do what feels right for you. If you only use one sign for the whole song, that’s fine too!

Lyrics to “The More We Get Together” by Raffi

The more we get together, together, together
the more we get together the happier we’ll be
‘cause my friends are your friends
and you friends are my friends
the more we get together the happier we’ll be.

How to sign “more” in American Sign Language

To sign “more”  simply bring all your fingertips together, and then tap your two hands together twice. How to sign more in American Sign Language

How to sign “happy” in American Sign Language

To sign “happy” brush your flat hand in an upward motion on your chest twice.

How to sign “friend” in American Sign Language

To sign “friend” hook your bent pointer fingers together (this bent finger handshape is the letter “X” in ASL), and then switch them. How to sign FRIEND in American Sign Language

How to sign “The More We Get Together” in American Sign Language

Here’s a video of me singing & signing at one of my Tiny Signs classes. The video was captured by a mom (hi Anna!) who’s little guy loved it so much, they would watch the video in between our weekly classes. I also add the sign “together” when we do this. You can too! To sign “together” place your two fists (with thumbs up) together and circle them in front of your body.

Video of How to Sign “The More We Get Together”

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You might notice I’m wearing a bear! This stuffed bear was specially made for teaching young children sign language – they love to give “Honey Bear” high fives at the end of class! I don’t know where you can find one (I purchased mine through a sign language training program years ago), but you could easily make one by putting a long sleeve t-shirt over a large stuffed bear and putting your arms through the sleeves.

Free Printable!

How to sign The More We Get Together in American Sign Language with video instructions and free printable

Enter your contact info below to download this free printable!

Add a few simple ASL signs to songs you already know & love is such an easy way to start building your sign language vocabulary. I hope these instructions and video have demonstrated just how simple it is to get started!

To make it even easier for you, I’ve created a free printable you can download and print, to help you remember the signs. To have the printable delivered straight to your inbox, simply enter your name & email below. You’ll also get updates on new lessons just like this as they become available!


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Will using sign language with babies delay speech? What the research shows…

Will using sign language with babies delay speech? What the research shows…

I’ve shared more informal posts about the why signing with babies is so effective and what I love the most about signing with babies, however, I’ve had multiple requests for a more formal summary of what the research on baby sign language shows. In response to that request, I’m pleased to share the following summary…


Babies begin communicating from the moment they are born – using cries, coos & grunts to make their needs and desires known. As their bodies and minds develop, their communication evolves to include eye gaze and even pointing at objects that interest them.

Whether or not they are exposed to sign language, all babies communicate through non-verbal gestures. Most will wave, point, and even lift their arms to be picked up. Babies do this because their receptive language (what they understand) develops months ahead of their expressive language (what they can communicate). How does sign language fit in? Using sign language with your baby simply builds on this natural expressive ability.

Baby sign language is the practice of using this natural ability to communicate using gestures to facilitate quality communication before a baby’s ability to speak has developed.

How Signing Affects Language Development

A question that often comes up when discussing using sign language to communicate with an infant is “how will signing affect my baby’s speech development?”

Let’s take a look at the evidence: in research studies on using sign language with babies, none have shown that using signing causes a delay in language development. In fact, the overwhelming majority of research shows that signing has many positive short-term and long-term effects.

While there have been many studies done on this topic, the most influential research was conducted in the 1980s by researchers at University of California, by Drs. Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. This study was funded by the National Institute of Health and it was inspired by Dr. Acredolo’s personal experience with her own baby…

Dr. Acredolo noticed her infant daughter “blowing” at the fish in the aquarium at the pediatrician’s office. Later in the day, when putting her daughter down for a nap, Dr. Acredolo ‘activated’ the fish mobile above her daughter’s crib by blowing on it to make it spin. Realizing her baby was communicating the concept ‘fish’ by making blowing gestures, Dr. Acredolo (along with Dr. Goodwyn) went on to conduct one of the largest research projects on infants and pre-verbal communication.

The result of the National Institute of Health research project were nothing short of amazing! The researchers compared a group of 11 month old infants who were exposed to signs and gestures to a control group of 11 month old infants who were exposed only to speech only. Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn found the following:

By aged 2, the group of signing babies:

  • Had larger vocabularies
  • Understood more words
  • Had stronger language skills overall, and
  • Used longer sentences

How Signing Affects Cognitive Development

Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn followed up with the infants in their original study when the children were age 8 and found that the children who were signed to as infants had, on average, IQs that were 12 points higher than their non-signing peers.

Other notable research by Dr. Marilyn Daniels studied the impact of using sign language in the early childhood classroom (preschool and kindergarten). Her research focused on how signing affects literacy in hearing children. Her research found that young students in classrooms that incorporated signing into the lesson had many positive effects on young learners and that students in signing classrooms scored significantly higher on vocabulary test than the students in the typical classrooms.

Students in the signing classrooms

  • Had better letter and sound recognition
  • Were better spellers with larger vocabularies
  • Had higher reading levels

Dr. Daniels concluded that signing had a positive impact on test scores and literacy skills because it accommodates multiple learning styles including auditory, visual & kinesthetic learning.

How Signing Affects Social & Emotional Development

Most child development experts will cite that frustration is the main cause of toddler tantrums and meltdown. Often this frustration stems from an inability to communicate and be understood. Using signing to facilitate communication during this challenging time can have an incredible impact on both infants and caregivers.

Some research has been done to study how signing impacts the parent-child relationship. Findings suggest that babies who sign receive better language feedback from their caregivers. For example, a baby who points at a new object might initiate a discussion about the object of interest with their mother.

Studies also suggest that parents who use signs with their babies experience less stress and frustration, and are more affectionate with their babies. Research also has shown that signing babies are more engaged and connected with their parents and initiate interaction more often.

From an evidence-based perspective, the body of research supporting sign language use with infants and toddlers is compelling. The number of studies itself demonstrate the interest and awareness of this enriching way of communicating with babies. In the course of research, popular doubts and concerns such as delayed speech from signing have been effectively debunked. Most importantly, the research helps to validate the curiosity and desire parents have to start communicating with their little ones much sooner than “mama” or “dada” is first uttered.

Research Summary of Benefits of Signing with Babies:

  • Reduced frustration
  • Improved communication
  • Enhanced self-esteem
  • Expanded spoken vocabulary
  • Increased interest in books
  • Higher IQ


“Infant sign language really does deliver on its promise of improved communication.”

– The American Academy of Pediatrics




Acredolo, LP and Goodwyn SW. 1988. Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development 59: 450-466.

Acredolo, Linda P., and Goodwyn, Susan W., The Longterm Impact of Symbolic Gesturing During Infancy on IQ at Age 8, International Conference on Infant Studies (July 18, 2000: Brighton, UK).

Daniels, Marilyn, Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy. Bergin & Garvey, October 2000.

Daniels, M. (1994). The Effects of Sign Language on Hearing Children’s Language Development. Communication Education, October, v43 n4, p291 (8).

Daniels, M. (1996). Seeing Language: The Effect Over Time of Sign Language on Vocabulary Development in Early Childhood Education. Child Study Journal, 26, 193-208.

Gongora, X. and C. Farkas, Infant sign language program effects on synchronic mother-infant interactions. Infant Behavior & Development, 2009. 32: p. 216-225.

Goodwyn, S., L. Acredolo, and A.L. Brown, Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior, 2000. 24(2): p. 81-103.

Iverson JM and Goldin-Meadow S. 2005. Gesture paves the way for language development. Psychological Science 16(5): 367-371.

Claire D. Vallotton, Catherine C. Ayoub, Symbols Build Communication and Thought: The Role of Gestures and Words in the Development of Engagement Skills and Social-Emotional Concepts During Toddlerhood, Social Development 19:3,601-626 (August 2010)

Vallotton, C., Infant signs as Intervention? Promoting symbolic gestures for preverbal children in low-income families supports responsive parent-child relationships. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 27, Issue 3.