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Kids Playing Treasure Hunt

Why ASL is an Important Life Skill to Learn

By Cynthia Levy

Twenty-two years ago when I started my first teaching job, an unexpected surprise gave me a focus and purpose for my career. I first became interested in learning American Sign Language (ASL) when I was working with a lead teacher who was using ASL to teach math.  And I  remember thinking, “How is she going to teach signs and math concepts at the same time? The math concepts were what were important.” I didn’t even think that children would like learning about ASL. Besides, this group of students was at that time being noisy and not sitting still in the carpet circle.  But, I was completely wrong because the children did a complete 180 degree turn. They went from being 100 percent noisy to almost 100 percent quiet and they loved focusing and learning the signs. They memorized them almost immediately, and it had a huge effect on getting them to learn their addition and subtraction facts. It was then that I saw in ASL a way to reach out to children more, connect with them and capture their attention so that they can learn more. So, from that moment on, ASL has been a huge part of how I teach. 

The ways ASL has been important in my life.

ASL has been important in my life as it has influenced and benefited my career in so many ways inside and outside of the classroom.

Professional Development.  As a teacher, it’s helped me with my professional development and teaching better.  Learning about ASL offers me a stimulating challenge that holds my interest in continuing to learn about it and about how to teach it to children.  I started off by taking classes at my local community college. The teacher was very  knowledgeable, but went over the signs very fast. But that didn’t deter me because I was still hooked and decided that I would just take a class again, which I did, and have been taking  classes ever since. The teacher who first introduced me to ASL has since moved on, but I have  been continuing teaching ASL signs to my students whenever possible. 

Classroom Management.  ASL has given me a unique way to have better classroom management.  As I explained in my introduction with the teacher in the classroom, I found that ASL stimulates and holds students’ focus for learning more. The noise in the classroom lessened and the focus was greater when the lesson was taught using ASL.  

Engaging and Connecting with Students in Ways that Help Them Learn. ASL has helped my students remember me and what I’ve taught them.  I knew that I had to be a little bit different, special, in order to connect with children. The best teachers are the ones where the children can remember teachers and lessons in a positive way.  If the children have positive feelings about the teacher they’re working with, they can remember the information they’re taught more and feel good about learning.  Every child who has come back to me after graduating shows me the ASL signs that I taught them years before.  From this, I can tell that ASL made a good impression on them, as they still remember the signs and that ASL made it easy and comfortable to interact with me.  Positive feelings about me, school, learning -- that was the main goal I was after. And, I don’t think I would have had as long of a career without this connection with children and ASL. 

The ways ASL can be important in everyone’s lives.

There are so many reasons why learning about ASL is important. It is the 4th most popular  second language that people want to learn. In nursery school, ASL can be used to help  children with their reading skills. You can learn your letters with it.  And, you can improve your vocabulary by being shown a picture and given three possible choices to guess what the sign would be. In math, students can learn their facts by adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing using  ASL. As children move on in their elementary careers, they can learn about the reading  comprehension skill of inferences by using ASL. 

ASL can be helpful outside of school too. During the summer months, children might attend  concerts or go swimming a lot more than usual. If they are at a concert and the music is very  loud, children can communicate with their parents through ASL. If children are swimming and  decide to swim a lot underwater, they can communicate with their friends and relatives through  ASL.  

The most important reason to learn ASL. But, the most important reason why learning ASL is important is because it can help increase  communication and reduce the number of relationships that have to end due to someone being  hearing impaired. One out of 8 people have some sort of hearing loss. So the chances of us  knowing someone who is hearing impaired is quite high and the chances of having to end a  relationship where some is hearing impaired is also quite high. So the more you know about  ASL, the easier time you will have communicating.

How I can help make ASL important in your life.
For over 10 years, I have been teaching elementary students about ASL. We start out by  learning the gender signs. Then, we learn verbs and are taught how to play “Simon Says” in sign language. After that, students learn how to ask a question and then we go right into having  conversations. At the same time, we also learn about ASL culture. Part of my new business, Learning with Cynthia, is to learn ASL. For more information, please email me at

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