WITH VIDEO: ‘Talking Hands’ speaks volumes to young sign language learners

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University of Findlay student Stephanie Emerine helps 7-year-old Aubree Alfred practice sign language. A group of university students taught young children American Sign Language during the recently concluded “Talking Hands” after-school program. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

By SARA ARTHURS
STAFF WRITER

College students and young children have been bonding over a shared love of sign language.

Students at the University of Findlay taught young children American Sign Language in “Talking Hands,” an after-school program which recently concluded.

American Sign Language instructor Leah Brant said her students had previously taught children sign language more informally, during events at the Mazza Museum. Parents were eager for children to learn more, and Brant asked her students if they’d be interested in creating a six-week program.

Participating children were from pre-K through fifth grade. When The Courier visited, they were broken into two separate groups, with pre-K through first-graders in one room and second- through fifth-graders in the next.

Brant is finishing her second year in this role. She was a middle school teacher before this, and a sign language interpreter before that.

“I love it, love it, love it,” she said of her current role.

Brant attended the University of Findlay for undergraduate and graduate school, and is now working on her doctorate. She said sign language is different from learning another spoken language, which requires the student to remember tenses, the gender of nouns and, of course, whether to roll your Rs. Here, you are training your hands and face what to do.

“This is all muscle memory,” Brant said.

And the young children are learning that muscle memory at a young age, said Morgan Hollabaugh, one of the university students. She said the children are also learning about deaf culture.
Another university student among the Talking Hands teachers is Bree Loucks, whose brother is deaf. Her parents adopted him as a teenager, and the family learned sign language beforehand.

Loucks said the young children she’s teaching might share their knowledge with their own parents — and might someday become advocates for the deaf community. Loucks said the children are excited to learn signs, and when they do encounter someone deaf it won’t be as foreign.

Loucks said working with the young children on Mondays, seeing little kids excited about signing, is “a nice refresher” after the weekend.

“You can tell they want to be here” and aren’t being forced by their parents, said Téa Hurst, another of the university students.

Hollabaugh said they are getting good feedback from parents.

Brooklyn Iiames, another of the university students, took sign language in high school and said few people learn how to interact with the deaf community and Talking Hands is a great opportunity to spread awareness.

Brant said just one of the students involved is an education major. The rest are majoring in subjects including nursing, criminal justice and pre-veterinary, but they share a love of working with children.

Maggie Jones is the education major, and said this program offers a glimpse into what she might someday do in class.

“You have to make it fun,” she said.

Brant said sometimes university students take ASL because it fulfills a foreign language requirement. Some take a course because they have a personal connection to the deaf community, and others learn signing just because they find it fascinating.

When Brant herself first started learning sign language, she was struck by “how beautiful the language was.” She took other foreign language classes in high school but doesn’t remember what she learned — sign language, by contrast, “just sticks.”

At a recent session, children were practicing signs by playing the game hangman. They’d raise their hand, then sign a letter. When someone guessed “A,” the rest of the group was asked to also sign “A,” and so on. Eventually they spelled out the word “volleyball” and learned the sign for that word, as well.

Stories and songs were also incorporated into the lessons, and the children demonstrated how they had learned to sign colors, animals and days of the week. Toward the end of the session, some of the children gathered to sing a song about a rainbow, and signed along with it.

One little girl approached a university student and hugged her, saying “I missed you!”

“I missed you, too!” she replied.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
saraarthurs@thecourier.com
Twitter: @swarthurs



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