More milk, please? Daycare’s sign language curriculum helps toddlers communicate needs, express emotions

Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 6:30 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) -A St. Peters daycare is helping teachers and parents communicate with their toddlers using sign language.

A growing number of daycares are adding sign language to their curriculum, introducing children as young as infants to another way of communication.

The Learning Experience, an early childhood care center in St. Peters, caters to children from infancy to kindergarten, offering an in-depth curriculum incorporating both social and educational programming.

Language and early literacy programs have several components, including phonics, foreign language and sign language.

“They start to see our basic 12 signs when they’re in the infant room, and as they continue through our program they get to 50 signs of more,” said Erin Hollenbeck, Center Director at The Learning Experience.

By introducing sign language, Hollenbeck said teachers aim to help children learn how to communicate their needs and express their emotions.

“We use the sign language to communicate so we’ll know if they want more of something or if they’re done,” said LaKeshia Turner, a Toddler Teacher at The Learning Experience. “Or, just to communicate with us or their parents on a daily basis.”

While the attention span of the average 18-month-old is short, Turner admits, the repetitive nature of sign language programming while in the classroom translates into quick results.

“They’re like little sponges,” she said. “It’s funny because you start off and they look at you like, ‘what are you doing?’ As time goes on, they mimic you. It’s amazing to watch them sprout.”

While many of the toddlers are not fully speaking, Hollenbeck said the use of sign language and verbalizing the corresponding word helps with speech development.

“When we introduce the sign language and say it at the same time, they’re more likely to start using the words sooner than without introducing the sign language,” Hollenbeck said.

Zula Patel owns The Learning Experience and her daughter is currently in Turner’s class. Teachers send information home to parents about the signs being used in the classroom, in order to continue their use and practice at home.

“I think it helps for me to be able to know what she likes and be able to understand that instead of her just crying and not knowing what that cry is for,” she said. “When she’s upset, I’ll use the signs she knows and she’ll sign back and sometimes being able to communicate like that, she will stop crying.”

The St. Peters location is the only one in the area, with other branches in Kansas City. To learn more, click here.