NITA’S FIRST SIGNS is available now!

“Nita’s First Signs demonstrates the value and fun of learning sign language for ALL infants, toddlers children AND adults, regardless of whether they are Deaf or hearing or hard of hearing.” – Marlee Matlin

Published by Familius Press!

  • Text by Kathy MacMillan
  • Illustrations by Sara Brezzi
  • ASL/Deaf Culture Advisor: Dr. Barbara Kannapell

American Sign Language makes it easy to communicate with your child, and Nita makes it fun! Nita’s First Signs teaches ten essential signs for every parent and child to know, including eat, more, hungry, milk, all done, ball, play, love, please, and thank you. A simple story about Nita and her parents teaches each sign in context, and repetition throughout each story makes them easy to practice. Even better, each page slides open to reveal accurate instructions on how to make each sign, plus tabs on the side of each page make it simple to locate every sign for later reference.

Makes a great baby shower gift!

Order now at | | or ask for it at your local library!


Register now for Sign Language for Children in Storytime or in the Classroom

Sign Language for Children in Storytime or in the Classroom: A Practical Guide eCourse

Instructor: Kathy MacMillan, NIC, M.L.S.

Asynchronous eCourse beginning Monday, May 7, 2018 and continuing for 6 weeks (Participants will have 12 weeks to complete course materials)


Click here to register.

Estimated Hours of Learning: 36 (Certificate of Completion available upon request)

Sign Language is most commonly used in storytimes for babies, but the applications can go much further. In this new 6-week eCourse, Sign Language expert Kathy MacMillan explores the benefits of signing with all children. In addition to learning basic American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary appropriate for use with children in library and classroom settings, you will also learn to teach stories, songs, and other activities that incorporate ASL. MacMillan provides you with a linguistic and cultural context to help make your programming more accessible.

After participating in this eCourse, you will:

  • Have a working knowledge of approximately 180 signs (introduced through video)
  • Create two storytime/classroom activities using the featured vocabulary that you can implement in your storytimes
  • Understand relevant aspects of child development and early literacy
  • Understand signing in a linguistic and cultural context

Instructor Kathy MacMillan is a writer and nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter. She is the author of Nita’s First Signs (Familius Press), as well as the author or co-author of many books from ALA Editions, including Little Hands & Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together and the Storytime Magic series. She was the library/media specialist at the Maryland School for the Deaf from 2001 to 2005 and has worked in public libraries since 1996. She presents storytelling programs introducing sign language through Stories By Hand and offers training and resources for enhancing storytimes through Storytime Stuff. Her debut young adult novel, Sword and Verse, was published by HarperCollins in 2016.

Nita’s First Signs now available for pre-order!

Coming June 15, 2018 from Familius Press!

Nita’s First Signs by Kathy MacMillan

illustrated by Sara Brezzi

Baby sign language makes it easy to communicate with your child, and Nita makes it fun! Nita’s First Signs teaches ten essential signs for every parent and child to know, including eat, more, hungry, milk, all done, ball, play, love, please, and thank you. A simple story about Nita and her parents teaches each sign in context, and repetition throughout each story makes them easy to practice. Even better, each page slides open to reveal accurate instructions on how to make each sign, plus tabs on the side of each page make it simple to locate every sign for later reference. Baby sign language collections aren’t complete without Nita!

Preorder now at | |

Recommended Viewing: The Sign Language Storytelling Series from Weston Woods

These excellent videos are perfect for both Deaf and hearing families!  Native signers Missy Keast and Manny Hernandez appear in front of the pictures and English text, telling the story on each page in American Sign Language.  Weston Woods, long known for its high-quality visual adaptations of picture books, applies its signature style to these DVDs, making them fully accessible for both Deaf audiences and hearing non-signers.  Each DVD also features:

  • optional English text on screen and English voiceover
  • a vocabulary section showing featured signs in isolation, arranged alphabetically by English translation
  • a 10-question quiz that assesses comprehension and memory
  • an optional read-along feature that highlights each word as it is spoken

Titles available in this series:

es Very Young Vol 1 DVDBig Al by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Yoshi: Big Al is large and scary-looking , so the little fish are afraid of him.Then he gets to prove what a good friend he can be!




s Very Young Vol 1 DVDBlue Burt and Wiggles by Derek Anderson: An unusual friendship develops between a bird and a worm, showing how common concerns lead to unusual friendships.




9780977097470_lgA Creature Was Stirring by Carter Goodrich: A little boy says that, despite what everyone thinks, he was the only creature stirring in the house that Christmas Eve.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDFive Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow: As soon as they say goodnight to Mama, five little monkeys start to jump on their bed. But trouble lies ahead.




s Very Young Vol 1 DVDGladys Goes Out to Lunch by Derek Anderson: One day Gladys smells something delicious and leaves the zoo to find out what it is…and the adventure begins.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDLittle Quack by Lauren Thompson: Splish! Splash! Splosh! Can Little Quack find the courage to join his brothers and sisters in the pond?




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDA Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman: Corduroy, a lovable stuffed bear, gets lost. After an all-night adventure he is rescued by his owner.




ies Very Young Vol 1 DVDThere’s Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer: A brave little girl captures a ngihtmare to show her parents that there really is something in the attic.







You Simply Must Meet ASL Nook!


If you are interested in signing with children, don’t miss ASL Nook!  Featuring Deaf adults Sheena McFeely and Manny Johnson, and two absolutely adorable little girls named Shaylee and Ivy, each short ASL Nook video features a theme, from school signs to patriotic signs to animal signs.  But instead of just the here’s-the-picture, here’s-the-sign approach that so many videos use, ASL Nook presents language in context, showing the adults and children interacting.  Funny, entertaining, and completely accessible to both hearing and Deaf audiences, ASL Nook is a game-changer in the world of signing with children. You can subscribe to receive updates when new videos are posted, or you can catch the videos on the website, or you can follow ASL Nook on Facebook. But whatever you do, don’t miss out!

Woodpecker, Woodpecker: A Signing Rhyme

Woodpecker, Woodpecker: A Signing Rhyme

Direct Link:

Begin by teaching the ASL signs TREE and BIRD. Explain that in this rhyme, you will be learning about a specific kind of bird called a woodpecker, and will be using the signs to show how the woodpecker uses the tree.

Woodpecker, woodpecker, time to eat! (sign BIRD)

Woodpecker, woodpecker, fly to the tree. (sign TREE with your other hand and move the BIRD to your forearm)

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap! (make the bird’s beak tap quickly on your forearm, which represents the tree trunk)

Now eat up the bugs you found, just like that. (move fingers to show beak eating bugs)

Woodpecker, woodpecker, time to sleep! (sign BIRD)

Woodpecker, woodpecker, fly to the tree. (sign TREE with your other hand and move the BIRD to your forearm)

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap! (make the bird’s beak tap quickly on your forearm, which represents the tree trunk)

Now nestle in the hole you made, cozy as can be! (nestle bird in palm of hand)

MacMillan_cover_1p.inddFind lots more great storytime activities in More Storytime Magic, the latest volume in the Storytime Magic series!

Signing with Your Child: Myths and Realities

“Isn’t it too late to start signing with my child?”

“If I can’t learn lots of signs, it’s not worth doing at all.”

“My child’s not signing back yet – I should just give up.”

False, false, and false.

Despite the spread of information about signing with young children, there are still lots of myths out there.  Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.H.C. debunks five of the most common in her great post on the Signing Time website: Click here to read “5 Myths About Signing With Your Child” – and spread the word!

The “Baby Fingers” Series: Cute AND Accurate

Over the years I have made no secret of my disappointment with a certain high-profile, slickly produced series of glossy board boards about signing with young children that completely disrespect American Sign Language and its users by mingling made-up gestures with actual signs and not indicating which is which.

That’s why I am so glad that the Baby Fingers series by Lora Heller (Sterling Publishing Company) exists!  This board book series combines adorable photos of young children signing with instructions for basic ASL signs that parents and children can use every day to make communication easier, reduce frustration, and increase bonding.  With topics ranging from feelings to signs to use throughout the day, this series proves that sign language board books can be both adorable and accurate.


How Signing Enhances Early Literacy

Excerpted from Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Little Hands and Big Hands coverTogether by Kathy MacMillan (Chicago, IL: Huron Street Press, 2013)

Whenever you communicate with your child in an involving way, you are helping her develop early literacy skills.  Because signing encourages communication and engagement, it supports early literacy.  But that’s not the only way signing helps your child develop language and literacy skills.  In her groundbreaking book, Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy (2001), Marilyn Daniels describes her research on using American Sign Language in preschool classrooms with hearing children.  More often than not, her research was disrupted when the parents of her control group (a preschool classroom where the teacher was not using sign language with the students) heard about the amazing gains the signing classrooms in the study were making, and insisted that their children be exposed to sign too!   She found that hearing preschoolers and kindergarteners in the signing groups achieved significantly higher scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test than those who knew no sign.  In addition, teachers in the signing classroom reported that their students were less frustrated, got along better, and were more excited about learning than their previous, non-signing classes.

How did signing with these groups produce such extraordinary results?

  • Sign language supports different learning styles.  Signs provide a visual cue and give kinesthetic learners, who learn best through physical activity, a way to interact with letters and vocabulary.
  • Knowing the names of the letters of the alphabet is an important first step on the road to literacy.  Using the manual alphabet with children helps them learn, remember, and use the letters – long before they have developed the fine motor skills to write them clearly.
  • As children move into the preschool and early elementary years, knowing signs and the manual alphabet allows them to access two different “memory stores” in their brains for reading, spelling, and vocabulary.  For example, if a child cannot identify a letter’s sound, signing it to himself may help jog his memory to make the connection.
  • American Sign Language, like any language, stimulates the language centers of the brain, strengthening synaptic connections and preparing them for further language learning.
  • Young children tend to be more visually attuned than adults, and so signing to them naturally captures their attention.  In addition, our visual sense works best when our eyes are moving, as when one is observing signs.
  • The areas of the brain that control movement develop earlier than those that control speech.  This is why even six to seven month old babies can produce signs.  As children grow up, their motor centers continue to develop ahead of their speech centers, allowing them to express more thoughts more clearly through signs than they can through speech.
  • Adults tend to use writing as a way to process and understand information.  Young children do not have access to this tool yet, but they can use signs to serve the same function.
  • The hands are connected to the brain.  Developing the tactile sense (touch) and the kinesthetic sense (movement) helps the different hemispheres of the brain communicate with one another, allowing for more seamless processing of information.
  • Before children can understand the abstract shapes of letters, they must first develop their proprioceptive system, or a sense of where they are in space.  When a child moves, proprioceptive development is triggered as muscles, joints, and tendons make contact and brain connections develop (Johnson 2007).  The movement of signs naturally encourages proprioceptive development.
  • Signing in itself seems to be intrinsically motivating for children; as one United Kingdom study reports, “Children’s motivation for acquiring basic signing skills does not appear to stem from interaction with Deaf children or adults as much as from the language itself” (Daniels 2003).
  • Signing with children facilitates a sense of play.  Play is far more than just simple entertainment – it is the number one way children learn about the world in the first five years of life.  Play allows children to make connections between concepts and understand how the pieces of the world fit together – and if children figure these things out for themselves, the resulting brain connections last far longer than if they had received direct instruction.

For more about the benefits of signing with young children, as well as fun signing activities to use with children, see Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together by Kathy MacMillan (Chicago, IL: Huron Street Press, 2013), available now!

Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together

by Kathy MacMillan. Huron Street Press, 2013.

AVAILABLE NOW!  Click here to order.

Little Hands and Big Hands coverResearch shows that signing with young children can

-reduce frustration for both parent and child

-increase IQ

-stimulate language learning

-enhance bonding

-raise a child’s self-esteem

All those reasons are great, but the best reason to start signing with your child is that signing with babies, toddlers, and young children improves everyday life and communication. A child who can express him or herself with the aid of signs is far less likely to get frustrated and throw tantrums, and can initiate conversations about topics that interest him or her, which leads to adults talking more about those topics, which leads to a motivated and interested child absorbing more spoken language, which helps develop spoken language skills.

Signing with children naturally complements other language and literacy activities such as books, fingerplays, rhymes, and songs. Little Hands and Big Hands offers solid background information on signing with children ages birth to five, along with hands-on games, fingerplays, songs, and more that parents can use throughout the day to smooth transitions, calm a fussy child, or engage a stubborn one. Each activity is accompanied by photos of the relevant signs.

Even better: the book features American Sign Language, which, as a real language, stimulates children’s language development in a way that made-up gestures can’t. Author Kathy MacMillan is a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter and has been sharing the joys of signing for years through her “Little Hands Signing” programs for children and families. Find out more about her signing classes and storytelling programs here.