How can your pre-school or school be inclusive if one of your students or their parents are deaf or hearing impaired? A very obvious solution when it comes to communication would be to get an interpreter. But what would you do if you were organising a special event, or celebration to be remembered by children and families for years to come? There is more that we can do to be inclusive.
During my teaching years at Korowa Anglican Girls’ School in Melbourne, Australia, where I was Head of Junior Music, I was organising and conducting a graduation night for year 6 students. This was a very important event in the life of the school and every family involved.
In one of my classes I had a student who was a delightful young girl whose family members were all deaf, except for her.
The school had organised an interpreter for the upcoming event, but I wanted to make this occasion more personal and memorable for each and every family whose children were graduating that night.
Long before the event, I started looking for other ideas and searching for appropriate songs, and came across a choral piece by British composer Bob Chilcott, called ‘Can You Hear Me?’. The lyrics and music were beautiful but what struck me most was the use of sign language incorporated into the song.
The school graduation night was coming to an end. The speeches had concluded, and the combined junior school choir started singing…
Picture this: 350 young children singing... signing...telling a story... touching everyone’s hearts. Can you imagine this?
After 20 years, I still get emotional. I remember the power of this performance, the tears of joy on this family’s faces and all the audience. Truly memorable!
Signing and singing benefits all children
Music has long been thought of as a universal language and adding sign language to further express what we sing only strengthens it further. Signing and singing goes beyond inclusivity, adding another powerful dimension to the way we communicate.
Sign language needn’t be just for those who are hearing impaired and is not only for the benefit of those on the receiving end of our communication. Learning and using sign language has been proven to have a range of benefits for children, and even for babies as young as six months old.
Incorporating signing into your pre-school curriculum can enrich your programs and extend children’s development in many ways, including the following:
Rapid language development:
Sign language can be the perfect tool for babies as they develop and learn to communicate more effectively. According to one of the latest studies, 2-year-olds who learned signing as babies had on average a larger vocabulary when compared to those who had not learned sign language.
More effective communication:
If a child is feeling upset or uncomfortable, they may find signing a useful tool for communicating in some situations. For babies and children who are non-verbal, sign language enables them to express themselves and ask for what they need.
Learning a second language grows the brain:
In 2012, researchers at Lund University, Sweden discovered that learning an additional language makes the brain grow. Furthermore, learning a second language is thought to enhance the memory and protect against mental decline as we age.
Improved awareness of body language:
Sign language uses the whole body, including the face. Through learning sign language, children and adults are taught to pay attention to expression and movement. This skill can extend to better visual learning and social awareness for children.
Creating an inclusive learning environment:
With sign language as part of the curriculum for all children, you are creating an inclusive learning environment where all children, families and educators (verbal, non-verbal, hearing and hearing-impaired) can communicate and thrive.
Have a skill for life:
The ability to know sign language and communicate non-verbally with those who are hearing impaired is beneficial for personal reasons and can be useful professionally too.
Sign language is here to stay
With a long history, there’s no doubt that sign language is a means of communication that is here to stay. Publications on the use of sign language date back to the 1600s and 1700s, at which time, or perhaps earlier, deaf communities created these visual communication styles. It is even thought that early humans used signs to speak to one another before verbal communication and spoken language was established.
Today there is not one single, universal form of sign language. British Sign Language (BSL) is used in the UK, ASL (American Sign Language) in the USA, French Sign Language in France (LSF - langue des signes française) and Auslan in Australia. While there may be some similar attributes across them, they are in fact different languages, so learning your home country’s dialect is likely the most advantageous.
Enriching education and lives with signing
A few years after that school graduation night, I started writing my own music and incorporating sign language. In 2009 I was organising a Christmas concert and once again, I was looking for opportunities to maximise inclusive communication to ensure family members and children get the full enjoyment of this special event. This inspired me to write “Ring the Bells” - a song incorporating Auslan so that deaf and hearing-impaired children (and adults) can get into the Christmas spirit too. It has now been sung by thousands of children across Australia, spreading the message of Christmas, community and inclusivity for all.
Similarly, combining signing with singing has immeasurable rewards for all involved, and expanding ways of how we communicate with others can only be a good thing.
Sign language is a powerful tool. When it is combined with song, not only does it bring a sense of inclusion but also creates more awareness and an amazing and memorable experience.
About the author
Galina Zenin (B.Mus. Ed., Dip. Teach.) is a presenter, early childhood educator and qualified music and voice training teacher, author, composer and storyteller. She writes her own music and brings to her programs a wealth of European and Australian experience, together with a high level of professionalism.
Her Bonkers Beat® programs are breakthrough multi-award winning music and wellbeing programs for early years that enrich the lives of young children and boost settings’ occupancy at the same time. They have been introduced in many settings across Australia, empowering educators and enhancing the wellbeing of hundreds of children and families.
Galina is a recipient of the 2015 National Excellence in Teaching Award by Australian Scholarships Group (ASG) and the creator of Bonkers Beat Music & Bonkers Gym Wellbeing Programs. From keynote address to small group workshops, she has inspired audiences on 4 continents and has been widely featured in the national media.
You can follow Galina on: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @bonkersbeat
LinkedIn: Galina Zenin