Creating a Language-Rich
Environment with ASL #3

Jenning Prevatte, M. Ed.

All children learn to gesture, it is natural. However, there is a way to make that gesturing meaningful… learn American Sign Language. In our previous Creating a Language Rich Environment with ASL blog, we shared a strategy around labeling the classroom to promote visual literacy and vocabulary development. 

In this blog, we would like to deepen our understanding of using ASL to support language and literacy development. ASL supports receptive and expressive language development in hearing children as well as children with exceptionalities. ASL incorporates multiple modalities and makes the language more tangible. Children can experience language through movement, making language come alive. Using ASL with young children is a fantastic way to bring language alive and help create strong brain pathways! Research shows that ASL enhances pre-literacy skills and helps build the bridge of communication with pre-verbal children. 

Children that learn ASL have increased early literacy skills

Children that learn ASL have increased early literacy skills. Therefore, it is an effective intervention model for developing pre-literacy skills and ASL is easily incorporated into all aspects of language development. Using ASL as a strategy to support vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, letter-sound relationships, and spelling ability makes it an engaging way for children to develop language and literacy skills.

Using ASL with children helps them learn from an early age that the sounds they hear have a visual representation

“Research has proven using ASL as a supportive factor in an early literacy curriculum, as it increases pre-literacy skills in the area of vocabulary development, phonemic awareness, letter-sound relationship, and spelling ability.” (Prevatte & Matthews, 2013) Once young children begin to recognize letters and understand that each letter makes a sound then it is time to start learning that when you put certain letters together, they make a word. It is important to provide many opportunities for children to explore and discover words. During literacy centers’ having a word work center gives children the opportunity to experiment with spelling patterns (word families), memorize the spelling of high-frequency words, and develop a genuine curiosity and interest in words. By playing with words and looking for word patterns children increase their knowledge about words and writing skills. Integrating American Sign Language fingerspelling with building words enhances students’ ability to learn words by sight. The outcome of this play with words will be stronger readers that are independent and successful at spelling and decoding words.


Using ASL with children helps them learn from an early age that the sounds they hear have a visual representation. For instance, as you introduce ASL into your daily routines you are saying the word ‘milk’ and showing your child a visual representation of the word ‘milk.’  Then when you read to them a story about cows making milk, they will learn that the letters m-i-l-k visually represent the word ‘milk’ in print. ASL sign language builds the ability to achieve substantial literacy skills at an early age that will last a lifetime. Research suggests that labeling objects and activities, using ASL fingerspelling to teach the alphabet and spelling, as well as using ASL to teach vocabulary during reading aloud is beneficial for diverse learners, which stimulates and increases brain growth. What a wonderful gift you could give a child. American Sign Language is truly the best gift you could give a child. It supports the whole child, every child. 

As an affiliate of Sprouting New Beginnings, I recommend their wonderful resources around integrating ASL into your early childhood classroom. Sprouting New Beginnings has a variety of resources around American Sign Language to help support building words by highlighting visual literacy, making books, and providing children the opportunity to interact with text & vocabulary. To view their abundant resources please visit their TPT online store.

Want to learn more? Now available, Using ASL in the Classroom
eLearning course. 

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