Children try their hand at sign language
From swimmer to toast to butterfly, children at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County are learning a new language with their hands.
“M,” they shouted, interpreting a signal in class.
“I,” the next letter.
“N?” this time checking notes, flipping back to the front page of Friday’s handout.
A couple of giggles, several smiles, and now more hands in the air modeling the same signs.
“Oh! MINECRAFT!” the cry repeated in the room.
Another small victory.
“Learning another language, a way to communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing opens up so much opportunity for understanding,” said Board Member Bill Bauer. “I haven’t seen a group of kids so excited to learn sign language in a long time.”
Bauer is spending Friday afternoons this summer teaching the fourth grade through teen groups an introduction to sign language.
And on only the second week of class, students were eager to share what they’d practiced and memorized.
In turns, they jumped up to the front of the room to spell out words from street to monkey before learning gestures to symbolize whole words like camera, legend, lettuce, cabbage and even the entirety of “Happy Birthday” while singing along.
“What’s the one for handbook?” asked Sylas Radabaugh, 9, of Williamstown as he held tight to a handbook on Pokemon and practiced spelling the names of different characters.
This query resulted in the gesture for hand followed by palms opening in a book.
“But that looks like Bible? Like what we sing in church?” he questioned.
“Bible is similar,” explained Bauer. “But it’s this book, with the finger in the center of the palms (symbolizing) Jesus.”
The lesson saw mostly student direction, based upon interest, questions and a form of call and response between repetition.
The educational experience, of course, balances with trips to the pool, roller rink and other adventures for “kids to be kids” like arts and crafts, and a recent field trip to Blennerhassett Island, explained Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the club.
“But we want to try to instill being a lifelong learner,” she added. “We have our key program areas, our five pillars: character and leadership; education and careers; health and life skills; sports, fitness and recreation; and then the arts. And so we do that all year round, even in the summer (to combat) the knowledge slide. For some kids, this is enrichment or maybe things they didn’t master the first time around in class. But because we do all five pillars they are getting a well-rounded experience.”
Janelle Patterson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.