Using sign language in family life
Remembering to practise your sign language between lessons can be tricky! Signing key words during everyday activities is a great way to practise and introduce new signs. When you’re signing, encourage people around your child, such as family members and friends, to sign too. This will help your child to feel more confident about communicating with others.
Even if you're not signing to your deaf child, using signs with other family members can help them to learn. Hearing children learn lots of their vocabulary incidentally, while listening to conversations which don’t involve them. Using signs while talking to hearing members of the family can help deaf children to pick up signs in the same way. It will also help you get into the habit of signing during everyday activities!
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Mealtimes are a great time to get the whole family together to practise signing skills. You could sign about the food on each person’s plate, what food everyone does and doesn't like, or what you've been up to that day. Oyin’s family have a daily circle time!
Use these tips to make your mealtimes deaf-friendly.
- Position your deaf child where they can see the whole family. If possible, sitting at a round dining table instead of a square table means that everyone has a good view of each person’s face and hands. If your table is rectangular, seating your deaf child at the end of the table will allow them to see everyone.
- Sitting in the same seats for every meal can make it easier to follow conversations.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full, or with your hands covering your mouth.
- Get your deaf child’s attention before you start discussing a new topic, so they can choose to join in if they want to. You could tap on the table, wave your hand or touch your child’s arm
- Even if your child doesn’t want to join in with the conversation, continue to use signs during the meal. This means that your child can join in when they want to.
Watch how the Fitzgerald-Woolfe family involve everyone at mealtimes.
Playtime gives you lots of opportunities to introduce new signs and concepts. Here are a few tips.
- Sign the name of each toy, book or game as you pick it up.
- When you’re playing together, make sure your child can see your face as well as your hands.
- Use role-playing games to discuss real-life situations, like crossing the road or paying for items in a shop.
- Exaggerating facial expressions helps young deaf children to understand emotion in the same way that you might exaggerate the tone or pitch of your voice when playing with a hearing child.
- Play signing games to practise things like handshapes or fingerspelling. For example, you could ask each person to think of a sign which uses pointed index fingers, such as ‘who’, ‘pizza’ or ‘next week’.
- Incorporate signing into games you already play as a family. For example, you could play ‘I spy’ using fingerspelling.
Just as we need to be able to explain where we are, what we’re doing and what we want, we also need to be able to explain how we feel. Understanding and identifying our feelings and the feelings of others helps us to manage emotions, develop empathy and build problem-solving skills.
Before we can tell others how we feel, we need to have the vocabulary to ‘label’ those feelings. Learning the signs for different feelings helps deaf children to understand their emotions and process them in a healthy way.
Try to get into the habit of signing about your feelings and the feelings of others. For example, you could make a point of asking your child how they feel when you pick them up from school, or asking how a character might feel at the end of a TV show.
For activities to help you practise signing about feelings, visit our webpage, talking about emotions. You can also watch Holly demonstrating the signs for different feelings on our website.
It can be harder to remember to sign when you’re out and about, especially if you’re driving, pushing a pushchair, looking for traffic or trying to follow a map. Here are some times when you might be able to make time to sign.
- Tell your child as much as you can about where you're going in advance, so that they’re not relying on you explaining information while on the way to a place or event, especially if you’re going to be driving there.
- Show your child pictures of where you’re going so they know what it will look like.
- Involve your child in getting ready and packing for a trip to give them an idea of what will happen, and explain why you need certain things you’re taking. This can be a great opportunity to practise signs you don’t often use, like ‘binoculars’ or ‘beach.’
- If you’re using public transport, practise the sign for the mode of transport before you go, and again while you’re travelling. This helps to associate the sign with the vehicle.
- Use signs to point out local landmarks, such as ‘church’, ‘river’ or ‘Tesco.’
- When you visit a new place, take lots of photos when you’re out so you can go through them and talk about your trip afterwards. These can serve as visual reminders if you go to the same place again.
Visit our section on storytelling and watch our videos about other families using BSL to discover more ways to communicate using BSL while making the most out of your environment.