If Gesturing Helps Children Retain What They Learn, Can Learning to Sign Also Help?

Movement helps to boost children’s learning – it is a theory called “Embodied Cognition” where the link between the brain and the body can help children to gain a deeper understanding of the material they are learning. In “How Acting Out in School Boosts Learning“, the article cited a study that shows how gesturing can help children retain the knowledge that they have learned.

For example, when faced with a problem such as “6+ 4 + 3 = ___ + 4,” many children interpret the equals sign to mean, “add up all the numbers,” and they put 17 in the blank space. What is the best way to teach children the “equalizer” strategy (i.e., make one side equal to the other side)? The researchers taught some children to say, “to solve this problem, I need to make one side equal to the other side.” Other children were taught to use the left hand to sweep under the left-hand side of the equation and the right hand to sweep under the right-hand side of the equation, that is, equalizing in gesture. A third group was taught both the verbal and the gestural equalizer strategies. On a long-term test of strategy use, the children taught to use a gesture (alone or in combination with the verbal statement) retained the strategy better than did the children taught only the verbal statement. – Scientific American

Gesturing Helps Children Retain What They Learn

If gesturing can help children retain what they’ve learned more easily, I wonder what the implications of signing and Sign Language would be? Could this gesturing explain why infants that learn to sign have more rapid development of language skills compared to children that do not sign – because signing reinforces their learning of language? And if signing (or gesturing with our hands) is good for learning, could there also be benefits for teaching older children how to sign?

Previously, the purpose for teaching infants to sign was so that they could communicate their needs and wants with us while they are still learning how to speak. Once they are capable of speaking, the urgency to learn Sign is no longer there. However, if gesturing can help children learn, then perhaps it would be beneficial to continue teaching children to sign even after they’re past the toddler stage? Food for thought…

Image Source: Signing Time

Learning to Sign with Signing Time

The program I used to teach G1 to sign when he was a baby was Signing Time. With their catchy tunes and video lessons, it was easy to learn how to sign regular everyday words. Now Signing Time has released a free online dictionary of signs that you can refer to to learn how to sign simple, everyday words. They are adding more signs to the dictionary regularly, and if there is a specific word you want to learn how to sign, you can write in to ask them how to sign it.

More Signing Time


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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