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!
I am so pleased to share with you this article by my good friend, early childhood educator Louise Rollins of Maryland/DC Hands & Voices. Though this article specifically addresses techniques for using wordless picture books with deaf and hard of hearing children, these ideas will benefit hearing children as well. So if you thought wordless picture books couldn’t make for a satisfying storytime – think again! This article originally appeared in the Hands & Voices Communicator, Summer 2015, Volume XVIV, Issue 4 and is posted here with permission.
When you search for books for your child, you can identify high-quality children’s books in part because they convey much of the story through the pictures. This is especially important for children who are learning language, as our deaf or hard of hearing children are, since they may not always understand the story through language alone. Wordless picture books are a category of books with very little or no text, where the story is conveyed entirely through the pictures. The same skills that children practice while reading books with text can apply: retelling, understanding story structure, taking multiple perspectives, and making predictions, inferences, and personal connections. Additionally, wordless picture books present unique benefits for deaf or hard of hearing children using any communication modality.
Wordless picture books are excellent for helping your child understand the sequence of events in the story. During book sharing with a traditional book, a child sees part of the story in the picture and perhaps understands part of the story through the text that is read to her, then has to piece together a narrative from those two fractured elements, filling in the blanks on her own as she is able. Using a wordless picture book, your child can understand the events through the picture first, then learn from you the language that describes what she sees. This process helps develop your child’s story comprehension and build her vocabulary.
Because the pictures may be open to some interpretation, wordless picture books create an interactive reading experience where you and your child can discuss what you think is happening in the story. You can encourage your child to take on the role of narrator; even if your child cannot read print yet he can “read” these books independently or to you. Storytelling opportunities help your child practice organizing his thoughts, including sufficient information for his audience, and selecting relevant details. In other words, while practicing reading, your child is also practicing important writing skills, without even picking up a pencil.
When you read wordless picture books, you can modify your storytelling to use single words or shorter phrases. You might want to do this if your child does not yet understand longer strings of connected language, or is still developing his attention span. If you are learning to sign, you do not have to feel bound by the print and feel pressure if you don’t know every sign in the text. If you are learning to cue, you do not have to worry about cueing long passages at one time. Instead, you can focus on telling the story and enjoying book sharing with your child.
What about older children?
Wordless picture books are not limited to simple stories aimed at younger children. You can find intricate and sophisticated stories appropriate for older children as well. The flexible nature of these books fosters creativity and reduces the pressure for your child to produce the “right” answer. If you have a reluctant reader who feels anxiety when presented with print, she may be more comfortable with a wordless picture book. Successfully interacting with a book can empower your child to see herself as a reader and engender a love of reading.
The genre of graphic novels has been rapidly expanding over recent years, creating more age-appropriate opportunities for older children and teens to enjoy wordless picture books. You will find graphic novels that range from little or no text to very print-heavy, but all are sure to convey the story clearly through pictures. An excellent graphic novel to check out is El Deafo by Cece Bell. Although it is text-heavy, it features a deaf main character and positive themes for deaf and hard of hearing readers, and has been well received by fans and critics.
Favorite wordless picture books
By Lita Judge:
By Suzy Lee:
By David Wiesner:
I had such a hard time paring down the list of my favorite wordless picture book titles or authors! For many more titles, click here and look for “wordless” in the book descriptions.
A final thought
Wordless picture books can provide you and your child with less pressure and more freedom to enjoy story time together. Please remember that you can try every single one of these suggestions with traditional books as well. Ignore the text, read the story in a way that matches your or your child’s language skills, make up your own story, let your child take a turn – whatever you do, make reading fun!
Louise Rollins has worked with deaf and hard of hearing children and their families in early intervention, school, and recreational settings in Maryland for thirteen years. She loves high-quality children’s literature and book-sharing with families.
Hands & Voices is a non-profit, parent-driven organization dedicated to supporting families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Author Dawn Babb Prochovnic answers the question: “How do you physically hold a book and sign along with it?” with a series of links, videos, and more to help you put more signs in your stories! Check out the post at Dawn’s blog.
Congratulations to Greenberries on the opening of their second location! I am proud to continue to bring parent-child sign language classes to the Columbia location and excited to start up at the new Hampden location!
Diaper & Potty Signs: Saturday, January 31 at 9:00 am at Greenberries Columbia, 6925 Oakland Mills Rd, Columbia, Maryland 21045
$14 per adult | $20 per couple Click here to register.
First Signs: Sunday, February 22, at 11:00 am at Greenberries Baltimore, 915 W 36th St, Baltimore, Maryland 21211
$14 per adult | $20 per couple Click here to register.
Hands and Hearts by Donna Jo Napoli. New York: Abrams, 2014.
I have long been familiar with Donna Jo Napoli’s fiction for young adults, especially her achingly beautiful Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale and the fairy-tale retellings Beast, and Zel. But until I read the afterword of this picture book, I had no idea that Napoli is also a linguist and an activist supporting the language rights of Deaf children! You can find more about her linguistics work, including links to a really cool series of bilingual ASL/English ebooks she helped develop, here.
Back to the book at hand: on the surface, this is a simple, lyrical tale of mother and daughter spending a day at the beach, but every bit of it is built around the things their hands do: waving hello to the waves, digging in the sand, making a tent, and even being “Yak yak hands/yak yak fingers/telling as we run/out the gate down the path.” It’s a subtle reference to mother and child signing, and indeed, each page is accompanied by illustrations teaching a relevant sign such as RUN, WATER, or SUN. Amy Bates’ dreamy illustrations make this a sweet, gentle tale of family togetherness. A lovely addition to the ASL picture book canon.
Click on the covers above for previews of each story and purchase information.
ASL Tales proclaims itself to be “a new way of experiencing American Sign Language and English” and these engaging DVD/picture book sets truly deliver on that promise. Each DVD features a story told by a master ASL storyteller, incorporating illustrations from the accompanying picture book. Viewers can choose to engage with the story on many different levels – by watching the story in ASL only, in ASL alternating with the book illustrations, in ASL with voiceover and/or captions, or in multiple combinations of these options. Voiceover narration is available in 11 different languages – English, Cantonese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Spanish, Bosnian, French, and Portuguese – making this product an ideal learning tool for families from many different language backgrounds. The ASL storytelling itself is absolutely masterful, with native signers providing beautiful language modeling.
But where ASL Tales really stands out from the pack is its “ASL Clues” feature, which allows viewers to see each individual sentence of the story in slow motion, with relevant ASL grammatical features explained on the screen. These features include use of role shift, classifiers, nonmanual signals, directionality, and nuances of vocabulary – but you won’t see linguistic terms like these on the screen. Instead, you will find user-friendly explanations of the grammatical features that can be understood easily by all. The producers have pulled off quite a feat here – making big-picture language information accessible to a wide range of learners, while at the same time providing detailed, hands-on information about the nuances of the language that will aid even upper-level ASL and interpreting students.
This feature takes ASL Tales far beyond the typical list-of-vocabulary approach (though each DVD also features a useful video glossary of relevant signs) and helps viewers understand how to put sentences and stories together in ASL. The producers have created an incredibly flexible product that is both enjoyable and enlightening, one that can be enjoyed by hearing and deaf audiences alike, and one which manages to support written, spoken, and sign language development all at once. Bravo!
Today we have a special treat – an interview with Dawn Babb Prochovnic, the author of sixteen picture books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series (Abdo Publishing Group) and the founder of SmallTalk Learning. Each Story Time With Signs & Rhymes book focuses on a different topic, from animals to food to school signs, and introduces basic American Sign Language through a fun rhyming story and colorful illustrations. Dawn blogs at http://www.dawnprochovnic.com/
Without further ado, here’s the interview!
1) How did you first become interested in sign language (and in particular, signing with hearing children)?
I took an interest in sign language as a young child. I was raised on three episodes of Sesame Street a day and enjoyed watching Linda Bove use sign language to communicate. When I was in grade school I volunteered in what was then called the “special education classroom” and enjoyed using sign language in that environment.
When I started planning for my own family in the mid-1990’s, I learned about the idea of signing with hearing babies. I read books, watched videos, researched web sites and took signing classes in my local community to expand my signing vocabulary. When my first child was born in 1999, our family embraced signing as an important part of our early communication with our daughter. Signing made it possible for her to tell us what she was thinking and what she needed before she was able to clearly communicate verbally. Back then, signing was more of an alternative thing to do with your hearing baby—it was definitely not mainstream. Our positive experience garnered the attention of other families around us. Soon, friends began asking for informal workshops.
I have an MA in organizational communication, and much of my pre-kid professional life was in the field of corporate training and development, teaching grown-ups how to communicate with each other. In the year 2000, I left my corporate job and started SmallTalk Learning (www.smalltalklearning.com), a company that specializes in teaching sign language workshops to hearing families and educators. I love teaching, I love writing, and I deeply value family and communication. Teaching signing workshops and writing books for children enables me to blend all of these interests.
2) How did you come to write the “Story Time with Signs & Rhymes” series?
When I started teaching infant/toddler sign language workshops, I quickly discovered that the most effective way to help participants learn and remember particular signs was to teach them catchy songs they could sing and sign while they interacted with their babies and toddlers. I wrote all kinds of ditties for this purpose, modeled after familiar children’s songs and rhymes like “Old MacDonald Has a Farm” and “Oh My Darlin’ Clementine.”
Over time, I became more interested in the early literacy benefits of signing in addition to the pre-verbal benefits, and I discovered that preschoolers and elementary school children were especially keen on sign language. I wanted to share the extraordinary experience of signing with more children than I could reach in my own classes. The “Story Time with Signs & Rhymes” series grew out of that vision.
In the summer of 2004, I attended my first of many writing conferences, and I formed a critique group so that I could refine my writing skills, transform my classroom songs into stories, and learn about the business of publishing. After many rounds of critique, countless revisions, and heaps of submissions and rejections, I signed my first publishing contract in March of 2008. I currently have 16 books that have been published in the series.
3) What made you decide to take a story-like approach to the series, when so many ASL books take a nonfiction approach?
I was trying to fill an unmet need. As baby signing shifted from alternative to mainstream, a variety of sign language resources became available: board books and picture dictionaries for babies, instructive books for middle graders, “How to Sign with Your Baby” guidebooks for parents, and many different videos and websites. At the time, there were a few fairy tales and nursery rhymes translated into Signed English, but there were no original, story-based picture books for preschool and elementary aged children that incorporated sign language. The Story Time series was designed to give children interested in ASL a logical next step after board books and picture dictionaries.
The playful, rhythmic, nature of the stories encourages parents and caregivers to read, sign and rhyme with their children, which helps build early literacy skills. My overall goal for the series was to create stories for children to interact with and get hooked on reading and signing.
4) Tell us a bit about the process for each book. How do you decide on the topics? How much do you collaborate with the illustrator?
Most of the themes for the stories grew out of the songs I sing in my signing workshops to teach the signs for early childhood concepts such as animals, colors, and things-that-go. Each book tells an original story that is fun to read/chant/sing with children while they sign along with key words in the text. Think: “The Wheels on the Bus,” or “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but instead of incorporating random hand gestures for “round and round,” and “up the water spout,” children can sign along with key words like “red,” “blue,” and “green” that repeat throughout the story. Each page spread includes a small “sign language reminder picture” to encourages readers to sign along with at least one word on each page.
The series illustrator, Stephanie Bauer, had a lot of autonomy in creating the traditional picture book art, but we both worked closely with the ASL Content Consultants (William Vicars, EdD and Lora Heller, MS) on the non-fiction aspects of the books. Each glossary illustration went through several rounds of review before they were finalized. It is very difficult to convey a three-dimensional language via two-dimensional artwork, but Stephanie did a great job.
5) Do you have any new books in the works now?
I have several new projects in the works, but nothing currently under contract with a publisher. I have written a new character-driven sign language series, and I’ve completed several new picture books that are completely unrelated to signing. Two of my favorites: LUCY’S BLOOMS, about the magic of childhood firmly rooted in unconditional love, and WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY?, about a pirate’s quest to find the right spot to leave his . . . uh, treasure. [Note from Kathy: Can’t WAIT for this one!] I also have a few grown-up projects under development. My current professional goal is to sign with a literary agent so I can focus on writing new books and engaging with readers.
6) Tell us a little about what you do in your presentations at schools and libraries.
I teach a wide variety of classes for a wide range of participants including Baby and Me classes for preverbal infants/toddlers and their parents/caregivers; Early Literacy Enrichment classes for toddlers and preschoolers; Young Writers Workshops for school-aged children; and Professional Development workshops for caregivers, educators, and librarians. Just about every workshop includes some singing, a lot of signing, some moving and grooving, and a sign-along story time!
I share some of my workshop content on my blog at this link: http://www.dawnprochovnic.com/p/summary-posts_10.html
And, examples of some of my workshops and sign language story times in action can be found on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/dprochovnic/videos
7) How do you respond to people who are hesitant to sign with their children due to concerns that signing will delay/interrupt speech?
Ah, the persistent myth . . .First, I take a deep breath. Then, I point them to the research that indicates that just the opposite is true (babies who sign tend to verbalize sooner and have broader vocabularies than babies who do not sign, and there is a growing body of research that shows that early exposure to sign language contributes to future literacy benefits).
I encourage folks to think about anecdotal evidence that points to the idea that signing does not interrupt the developmental milestone of speech. For example, when a child is diagnosed with a speech delay, it is quite common that sign language will be prescribed as a therapy to help stimulate speech and language development. With this in mind, it is quite illogical to think that signing is the cause of speech delays.
I also suggest folks think about how babies naturally learn to point and reach and wave, and how that does not inhibit their ability (or interest in) in saying, “Look,” “Up,” or “Bye-Bye.” And, I encourage folks to think about the relationship of crawling and walking. Babies are developmentally able to crawl before they can walk. We do not think of crawling as an inhibitor to walking. In fact, it is widely believed that crawling is an important developmental milestone that should be accomplished prior to walking.
Finally, I invite people to stop by my house to see if they can get a word in edgewise with my two kids (both prolific signers in their pre-verbal days). : )
8) What are your favorite resources for those interested in signing with their children?
There are many good resources. For “How To” books, I especially like Monta Briant’s Baby Sign Language Basics and your book, Little Hands and Big Hands, in addition to Joseph Garcia’s Sign with Your Baby. For children, I like my books (of course!), all of the videos in the Signing Time series, and the Pick Me Up! CD produced by Sign2Me. For older children I like Lora Heller’s Sign Language for Kids and Penny Warner’s Signing Fun. I also like to steer people to the “ASL University” run by Dr. Bill Vicars at Lifeprint.com and to the “Start to Finish Story Time” series on my blog.
9) What have I not asked that you would love for people to know?
I’m quite proud of my “5th Grade Pleasure Reading Award.” It’s the only trophy I’ve ever won.
10) What is the best way for people to get in touch with you or get their hands on your books?
Through my blog at www.dawnprochovnic.com or via email at email@example.com. You can also order all of my books directly from my publisher, ABDO Publishing Group, http://abdopublishing.com/series/457-story-time-with-signs-rhymes. I should also mention I’m a huge library advocate. My books are in libraries throughout the U.S. and even as far as Singapore and Australia. Check ‘em out!
“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!
I am excited to announce that I will be visiting several libraries and bookstores on the eastern shore of Maryland and Delaware over the next week (full schedule below)! Join me for a free program to learn more about the benefits of signing with young children, and purchase a signed copy of Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together. The book was featured in a recent edition of the Cape Gazette:
“There are many great books out there about the basics of signing with babies,” says MacMillan. “In ‘Little Hands and Big Hands,’ I wanted to go beyond just the signs and give parents specific, age-appropriate activities they could use to make everyday life with their kids more harmonious while also enhancing early literacy. Many people assume that signing is something you do only until your child is speaking, but in fact there are tremendous benefits to signing with preschoolers as well – signing gives them more tools in their language and communication toolbox. That’s why the book includes activities for kids ages birth to 6.”
Schedule of Events:
- Tuesday, July 15 at 10:30 AM: Storytime for ages 0-6 with parents at the Ocean City Library (10003 Coastal Highway, Ocean City, Maryland 21842)
- Tuesday, July 15 at 7:00 PM: Meet and Greet at Bethany Beach Books (99 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, Delaware 19930)
- Wednesday, July 16 at 9:00 AM: Storytime for ages 0-6 with parents at Bethany Beach Books (99 Garfield Parkway, Bethany Beach, Delaware 19930)
- Wednesday, July 16 at 2:00 PM: Storytime for ages 0-6 with parents at the Ocean Pines Library (11107 Cathell Road, Ocean Pines, Maryland 21811)
- Thursday, July 17 at 2:00 PM: Storytime for ages 0-6 with parents at the Berlin Library (220 North Main Street, Berlin, Maryland 21811)
Now kids and parents, deaf and hearing alike, can enjoy and learn ASL through this cool storytelling app! An all-deaf team at the Center for Access Technology at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, through a collaboration with Gallaudet University’s Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2), has released “The Baobab”, the first of a series of American Sign Language/English bilingual storybook applications for iPads and Android tablets.
According to RIT University News:
“‘The Baobab’ tells a children’s story about a curious girl who goes on an adventure. Parents may read the story to their young children, and they together can watch the story with a professional deaf storyteller. Children can learn vocabulary through the 170-word index highlighted within the story. When those words are tapped, videos show the word being signed and fingerspelled…’The Baobab’ can be downloaded for $4.99 on iTunes.”