Creating a Language Rich
Environment using ASL Series # 1

Jenning Prevatte, M.Ed.


Use index fingers and cross repeatedly in front of you

For over 30 years the use of sign language with young hearing children has been an area of interest in the education field.  There have been several research experiments, both qualitative and quantitative, on the use of sign language with a variety of hearing children from birth to six.  The research has demonstrated that there are many benefits to utilizing sign language with hearing children.  Some of the benefits noted in the research are developing larger vocabularies, possessing greater self-esteem, and increasing phonemic awareness and spelling skills.  The research has deemed that American Sign Language (ASL) is a useful intervention for early education curriculum and is not only for deaf children.  This gift from the deaf community is a hearing child’s blessing.

Building language-rich environments for young learners is critical.

A recent focus across the nation has been on developing readers by third grade. The focus has been on the science of reading and using research-based reading instruction to support developing readers. Creating a language-rich environment in early childhood classrooms provides the best environment for our youngest learners and supports their development in this area.  ECE professionals at all levels; infant-toddler, preschool, and kindergarten – 2nd graders are excellent at creating spaces that support children’s physical, social, emotional, language, and cognitive development.  Building language-rich environments for young learners is critical. I have experienced amazing results with intentionally infusing American Sign Language (ASL) into daily routines, literacy activities, and even math. “As educators, it is important to incorporate interventions that will facilitate the highest level of learning.” (Prevatte & Matthews, 2013) ASL can be an intervention tool for early childhood educators. 

Where to begin? 

Integrating ASL into daily routines and rituals is a fantastic place to begin building vocabulary. Within these routines and rituals, the child has multiple opportunities to engage with ASL vocabulary and build a bridge between pre-verbal and verbal expression. Simply begin by choosing the main concept in your daily routine, for example, ‘please sit’, or demonstrate kindness by saying, “thank you” in sign language while speaking the word simultaneously. This tandem approach supports memory, synapse connections, and a larger vocabulary. Another strategy to build vocabulary is to choose words in ASL that highlight and communicate with the child what is happening in their environment, as well as name and label objects and events.  It is important to speak while signing key vocabulary words to build a bridge of communication. While you communicate with a child, you are attending to their needs, showing them that they are important and that their thoughts and feelings are meaningful.  All this supports a positive connection and bond, which is critical to learning success.  Since ASL is a visual language and a child will have to look at you to understand what you are saying to them in sign you will be supporting their visual development as well.


Take open hand and make a circle in front of you

Children who sign tend to have higher 

self-esteem, stronger problem-solving skills, stronger leadership, and more empathy and accept diversity

The positive effects of ASL do not stop there.  ASL supports the whole child, physically and emotionally.  Developmental milestones are supported and encouraged as you incorporate signs into your daily routines.  For example, an infant learning how to sign ‘milk’ is strengthening their palm grasp as well as effectively communicating their basic needs.

Emotionally ASL is wonderful for child development.  Children who sign, tend to have higher self-esteem, stronger problem-solving skills, stronger leaders and are more empathetic and accept diversity.  ASL has also been known to decrease behavior challenges and minimize those terrible twos.  Think about it, if you are meeting your child’s basic needs and they can communicate their needs effectively to you wouldn’t life be easier?  ASL builds positive relationships and bonds and a stronger relationship with a child will lead to fewer behavior issues.

Thank You

Take open hand and start at you lips and wave down

So, start today and add in a few key vocabulary words in ASL in your class's daily routines. A wonderful place, to begin with, is with words like:


Use thumb and little fingers on both hands and wave in front of you

Ready to integrate ASL into your classroom?

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