Posted: December 31, 2018
Sign language is in! In Washington, D.C., a new Starbucks opens with deaf baristas who speak sign language for the hearing impaired. Kindergartners in Tennessee learn to sing “Happy Birthday” in sign language for their deaf school janitor. And in Illinois, even babies are talking with their hands!
Abbey Cook meets with babies and parents in a classroom in Peoria, Illinois. She teaches 100 common words to kids between three months and three years of age. Kids in her popular classes crawl, walk around, and make friends. They sing and rhyme. But mostly, they learn sign language. To say “mommy,” the babies hold out the five fingers on their right hands and tap their chins twice. To say, “milk,” babies open and close their fists as if milking a cow.
Sometimes babies and toddlers babble but cannot be understood. That’s because the mouth has a lot of muscles. Before a baby can learn to talk, his or her mouth muscles have to grow strong enough to form words. Often, fine motor skills in the hands develop faster than mouth muscles do. So even tiny kids can send clear messages with their hands. When kids can express what they want, they have fewer tantrums. And sign language isn’t just a temporary helper. Kids are learning a real language they can use even after they’re grown up. But sign language isn’t the end goal of Ms. Cook’s classes. Talking is! An old wives’ tale says learning sign language can slow kids down when they’re learning to speak. Ms. Cook says that isn’t true. She says sign language only helps kids talk.
God made people to use language. As a rule, all kids—no matter where they live in the world—learn to speak in the same way and around the same time. They start with words. Then they move on to strings of words (phrases). Sentences come next, usually before a child turns four years old. When a kid starts to talk—using mouth or hands—you can say, “Hey! Your image of God is showing!” God made people in His image. And He uses language to teach us who He is. John 1 says Jesus is the Word. When kids learn to talk, they are developing one of the main skills they will use to get to know Him.