Integrating Sign Language into Children’s Ministry

Throughout the course of our time spent together, she will say any number of words to me from “silly bird” to “milk” to “thank you” and “cold.”  She is just 16 months, so her verbal skills aren’t there yet, but her sign language communicates most everything she needs. 

He was ten years old when he sat behind a desk in my fourth grade classroom in South Korea.  Communication with him was a challenge due to his autism, but sign language broke down many barriers that year.  It alleviated frustration, allowed an avenue for understanding, and stimulated language development.

Sign language is no longer utilized for those who have hearing impairments alone.  Today, many parents are using baby sign language with their infants and toddlers.  Early intervention educators teach sign language to help foster expressive communication.  In addition, research suggests that the use of sign language has been very beneficial to children with other special needs such as Autism and Down Syndrome.

That being said, children’s ministries of many different kinds could benefit from the use of sign language in their programs.  “Baby Signs” would help those serving in the church nursery better help understand the needs of the infants and toddlers in their midst.  In the classroom, sign language could be a valuable tool to help make our churches more inclusive of others with special needs, to help with traditional classroom management challenges, or to engage a multi-sensory approach to teaching Bible verses, worship songs, or other classroom lessons. 

It wouldn’t take much to include sign language into children’s ministry.  Nursery workers can learn the most common baby signs in a fifteen minute training session.  Some of the most common signs include:  milk, more, pacifier, mommy, daddy, diaper, cold, food, tired, all done, drink, and book.  A good resource for baby signs is www.babysignlanguage.com, but there are multiple sites out there with great resources available.

For more advanced signing, www.lifeprint.com is an expansive resource for ASL.  In addition, access your church congregation’s skillset.  You never know what unique skill sets or interests could be on hand! Speak to other educators about resources or community contacts that would be accessible for training purposes.  One year, we realized that two of our youth group students were fluent in ASL – they were just young teenagers at the time, but they had a love of learning and were sensitive to special needs populations. They were a phenomenal young resource. 

Integrating sign language into our varied children’s ministries has multiple benefits, beginning in the nursery and extending up through the intermediate grades.  In the comments below, please discuss how you have used sign language in your ministry and what resources you have found valuable to you.  I hope you can see my silent gesture of, “Thank you.”