Preschool at Lexington School for the Deaf (Queens)
Age 3 - 5 years old (class size 4-6)
Today I brought the blanket and building blocks to a school for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) at Lexington School for the Deaf in New York City. It was really brilliant. The first class I met with is taught by Amanda and all the children (ages 3 to 4 years) practiced sign language and all but one had Deaf parents. So, needless to say their range of speech/vocabulary and sign was amazing! I found myself having a brief conversation with every one (some more animate than others).
They got really excited about the blocks. Especially those blocks that rattled or had crinkly affects such as plastic or paper on the inside. It is very important to note, and I am sure it will only become more obvious, the acute need to concentrate heavily on material and textures.
I first asked the children what sign the picture was that I held up to them. They most always responded in the correct sign. I then showed them the other side of the block and automatically the kids started listing off what they saw: boy, hair, baby, 'sign for cow', mouth open).
Second came the blanket, and that was a winner! Opposed to what mothers and infants said/responded to it at the YMHA, these 3/4 year olds loved it and responded to the signs. Obviously it is because they are immersed in the language, but it is important to note nonetheless.
The second class i sat in was taught by Judy and all students have Cochlear Implants. These children ranged in age from 3 to 4 years old and are not allowed to sign whatsoever - as in it is strictly prohibited. This is because of the belief that sign stunts speech and language growth (which I am about to disprove in just a second).
These children were not as animate and there was difficulty communicating with them. I found myself struggling not to sign and instead slowing my voice and making gestures with my face/mouth. This, for me, was awkward. Secondly, the children responded to the images but half the time they stared at me confused and instead of answering current questions, reverted to answering the previous question with the previous answer/sign.
These kids, like the last liked the blanket alot and played on it, and really rough. But that is okay, that is why I made it. The children of this age range, though not versed in sign (one girl's parents are Deaf) were responsive to the signs and mimicked them quite well.
What is sad, and this is solely my opinion, is that these children's ability to communicate thoughts and wants was severely stunted. Instead, emphasis was on pronunciation and not actually being able to label their environment to the best of their ability. This resulted in smaller (apparent) vocabulary.
Personally, these children can get so much more if they signed. They are Deaf and always will be. Cochlear implants are just a tool and do not erase that. Secondly, sign is shown to help facilitate language. The problem, as I see it, is when children learn sign, but not voice/sound/mouth ques. Then one sense (voice I suppose) becomes useless and therefore it is determined that sign language is detrimental to the child's ability to speak. The problem are the models or teachers, if they've no faith or discipline in catering to all of the needs of a child, regardless of hearing ability, then this absence or delay in speech wouldn't exist.
Opposed to what I learned from hearing parents at the YMHA yesterday, the 3 and 4 year olds were really engaged by the blocks and blanket; specifically the imagery. This confirms that animal signs and perhaps even feelings (a topic averagely covered and understood at this age)should be considered at an older stage of development. Yet the age in between (14-18 months) seemed transparent to the blanket. Hence there is a market gap but that is okay.
Hand signs were slightly confusing. Children confused 'cat' with the sign for 'sad'. Again, a method of resolving this is by extending the picture/characters fingers. This makes them more recognizable and less stylized.
(I do not currently have consent for photography or video recording from parents in these particular sessions.)