Sign language for toddlers boosts development

Liz Ersoy is to take her classes to a wider audience of eager early years learners. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Liz Ersoy is to take her classes to a wider audience of eager early years learners. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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THEY’RE set to become the ultimate tantrum soother and could even help toddlers learn how to read and write.

Sign language lessons for infants aged as young as six months have been piloted at an Edinburgh pre-school in a bid to cement parent-child bonds and boost long-term literacy.

Youngsters at Fort Early Years Centre in Leith are being taught signs for basic words including “drink”, “home” and “ill” – often long before they can speak.

Although traditionally aimed at those with hearing difficulties and other support needs, the sessions have led to changes in the communication ability and behaviour of young children who would otherwise have struggled to express themselves, parents say.

Now Liz Ersoy, head of centre, is poised to take the classes to pre-schools across Edinburgh after education bosses decided to give her city-wide responsibility for early years childcare.

She said: “Children are physical before they’re verbal.

“The ‘terrible twos’ are notorious as a time when children cannot express themselves and develop an internal language – these sessions are all to help early language and communication.

“It reduces frustration from the child’s point of view and for parents who have a bit more understanding of what children are asking for, it reduces their frustration as well. All of the staff here have really embraced this initiative.”

The Edinburgh project comes after the publication of studies showing that exchange of signs helps the development of speech and may even increase IQ.

It is also thought signing to babies provides parents with an effective means of communication several months earlier than those who rely on verbal speech.

The classes are being offered with the support of Signalong group, which specialises in services for people with learning difficulties and is about to offer further training to childcare workers in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

“Key to this is parents and children, or carers and children, having that communicative link with each other,” said Ms Ersoy.

“It supports bonding and relationships generally, and in terms of long-term literacy, it provides confidence. If you are a confident communicator, it gives you the best possible start.”

Parents at the Fort have been quick to praise the new approach.

Bernadette Sutherland, 40, said her children, Jahmal, two, Jarell, three, and Jayon, four, had all been helped by signing sessions after they were introduced about a year ago.

“Before, Jarell wouldn’t speak at all,” she said.

“He would just moan and make noises. As soon as they introduced signing, he started to speak and it was sustained.

“Now he’s speaking away brilliantly – the sign language has brought him along. I don’t think Jarell would be as far as he is now without sign language.”

City chiefs said the Fort’s sign language lessons were an example of their drive to boost communication and literacy at the earliest stages of childhood.

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, said: “There’s a lot of fantastic initiatives in our early years centres and the signalong project at the Fort is a perfect example.

“Anything that can help improve long-term literacy can only be a good thing and reinforces the Capital coalition’s aim to ensure every child in Edinburgh has the best start in life.”