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Boosting skills through sign

Communication development is a steep learning curve for infants, toddlers and preschoolers – but New Zealand Sign Language is giving children a flying start at ACG Strathallan Preschool.

Baby sign language

One of New Zealand’s three official languages, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is recognised as a valuable form of communication within our Early Childhood Curriculum (ECE), Te Whāriki. Not only that, but current research indicates that babies who sign, speak earlier, have a bigger vocabulary, and go on to perform better at school.

For ACG Strathallan ECE teacher Donna Martin, integrating sign language into the preschool day has brought a slew of benefits.

“It has created new communication opportunities for both our babies and our teachers as well as supporting communication development throughout the children’s varying cultures, ages and abilities,” says Donna, who introduced NZSL into the ACG Strathallan nursery last year.

“It is also another way for us to embrace and celebrate diversity and acknowledge NZSL as one of New Zealand’s three official languages alongside Māori and English. And, with some of our families beginning to use the signs at home now, the potential is very exciting!

It has had an empowering effect on everyone.”

Initially, teachers at the centre began incorporating signs that expressed emotions, actions, and requests, supporting tamariki to convey their needs. Sign language was included in the mealtime karakia, and before long whanau began sharing signs they wanted to see their children learning – from greetings and manners, to colours and animals. Now the junior and senior rooms have learnt to sign the days of the week and even some of their favourite mat time songs.

“Even before words emerge, infants and toddlers communicate through their own forms of body language and gesture. Tuning into these attempts and using sign language as an additional mode of communication, provides another way for children to express their needs and desires while their verbal language is still developing. Responding effectively and respectfully through sign also deepens bonds and affirms children’s sense of belonging and wellbeing.”

New Zealand Sign Language is now well and truly woven into the fabric of ACG Strathallan Preschool life.

“We have continued to add new signs in authentic ways which are relevant for the tamariki and it has been wonderful seeing the benefits of this journey for everyone involved.”