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5 Reasons to Teach Children Fingerspelling

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Plus, a Fingerspelling Game for Kids


During the four years I was learning American Sign Language (ASL), I had the pleasure of teaching ASL to hearing students in grades two through four.


Teachers and parents know that we learn by teaching. The first steps were teaching the children the ASL alphabet and how to fingerspell their names. The ASL alphabet correlates to the English alphabet—all twenty-six letters have a specific hand shape. Two of the letters have movement attached (those are J and Z).


While teaching these lessons, I needed a tool to help introduce these concepts. How would I engage second graders in learning the alphabet in a new way with a new language? I came across Nellie Edge’s book, ABC Phonics.


We began with A is for alligator, B is for bear, and so on. The students were engaged; the book gave us a fun way to explore the alphabet and twenty-six signs in the process.


The most important word any child wants to fingerspell is their own name. That is a perfect place to start a child’s fingerspelling practice. Using their names, I was able to help these students build a solid foundation for their ASL learning journeys.


Are you interested in teaching a child the basics of ASL? Download our free instructional sheets about ASL Basics and an ASL alphabet chart. Read on to learn about the benefits of starting this practice, as well as a game to get kids started with ASL!


Why Teach Fingerspelling to Both Hearing and d/Deaf Children?


1.

Fingerspelling helps the child recall how to spell a word better than verbal processing alone. When children fingerspell, it triggers the letter-sound memory. Fingerspelling becomes a memory hook, a touch point, and a muscle memory for recalling words (Garcia n.d.).


2.

Learning to fingerspell builds children’s pride in mastering a new communication skill. It teaches children to focus, observe closely, work hard, and develop visual-motor integration.


3.

Exercising those little fingers while fingerspelling develops fine motor skills, which aids in pencil grip and handwriting proficiency. Fingerspelling also builds hand-eye coordination for writing, develops strength and dexterity for sports, and strengthens the hands for playing musical instruments.


4.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have found that children who fingerspell may have a greater recognition of printed English words. Fingerspelling may also help build phonological awareness (meaning the ability to work with sounds in spoken language) (“Our Research | Fingerspelling Our Way to Reading | University of Colorado Boulder,” n.d.).


5.

Fingerspelling can be fun, and learning together builds positive relationships!





Dr. Joseph Garcia writes, “When I first discovered the contribution the Deaf Community has made to our society through its American Sign Language, the practical applications fingerspelling had when introducing reading to young children was a hidden gem” (n.d.)


My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me introduces readers to thirty-two signs. Because the ASL alphabet is foundational to ASL, we also created an ASL alphabet chart, which is included in the book.



Michelle Osterhout is a Deaf storyteller who signs two of the four videos we offer through the QR code in My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me.

She helped me and Praise Saflor, the graphic designer, understand each and every letter to perfection to get each letter illustrated perfectly from the reader's perspective—so each sign appears as if you were looking in a mirror.


We also have an ASL alphabet chart for you to use with your child to fingerspell their name and begin spelling words in a new way. What’s so perfect is that their hands are the only tools needed to practice—no paper to find, no pencil to sharpen, no book to carry.




Don’t miss it! ASL is an untapped resource with limitless potential.








American Sign Language (ASL) Telephone Game


Remember the game Telephone from grade school? Well, with this game, you sign it instead of saying it.


To play, everyone lines up or forms a circle. The first person taps the second person on the shoulder and signs something to him or her. Then, the second person signs it to the third person, and so on.


It may be best to ask kids to close their eyes until they are tapped so that people further down the line don’t see the signs!


When the sign gets to the last person, write down or say what the secret word or phrase is—and see how much it’s changed!


This link also includes some other ASL game ideas: https://www.startasl.com/sign-language-game/




“Kindergarten and PreK Teacher ABC Phonics Resources - Nellie Edge.” 2016. Nellie Edge Seminars and Resources. September 1, 2016. https://nellieedge.com/teacher-resource-blog-abc-phonics/.


“Our Research | Fingerspelling Our Way to Reading | University of Colorado Boulder.” n.d. https://www.colorado.edu/program/fingerspelling/our-research.


Garcia, Joseph. n.d. “Why Fingerspelling Helps Children Learn to Spell and Read.” Baby Sign Language by Dr. Joseph Garcia. Accessed October 12, 2023. https://drjosephgarcia.com/blogs/news/why-fingerspelling-helps-children-learn-to-spell-and-read.







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