What is Key Word Sign and why is it useful in Early Childhood Education

Carey’s commitment to developing lifelong learners is not just aimed at the children and students, but it is a commitment for staff as well. Last week, the ELC team attended a full-day workshop of learning Key Word Sign. As a staff team, we have been thinking about the opportunities that this would offer to all children in the ELC: for children who are pre-verbal, to those who have a language delay or disorder, and those children who have English as a second language or no English yet at all. For fluent English speakers, it would offer the opportunity for some commonly accepted signs to be used in communicating with the groups outlined, but also when staff are busy to not interrupt but also have their needs met, such as the sign for ‘toilet’ or ‘drink’, for example.

Key Word Sign is called an augmentative communication tool, meaning that it supports or augments general communication; speech is still used with the signs as the signs do not replace every word in a sentence or replace speaking, unlike the different sign languages around the world. Key Word Sign is the use of manual signs and natural gesture to support communication. The signs and finger spelling principles are taken from Auslan, the Australian signing language. Key Word Sign is multi-modal, meaning that we use our voice to support with expression and also the sign and gesture of what we are meaning as well. Directionality and placement are large components of Key Word Sign too.

Directionality incorporates the dynamic interaction between the speaker and the listener. Some examples are ‘go’, ‘give’ and ‘put’, which are signed in the direction the verb required. Again, the difference in gesture between ‘help you’ or ‘help me’ involves moving the sign from one person or group to another. In placement, the sign is produced in reference to the relevant object. The sign is placed where you want them to ‘sit’ or ‘put’ an object.

The day was a huge success with hundreds of signs being taught to the team and practised together, with a great deal of laughter and staff having to remember which was their right and left hand and dominant hand as well. The signs are functional and are directionally based, many include gesture and we have already seen a great uptake in the rooms. Like with any new skill, practice is the only way forward. Children, as we know, are fabulous imitators and, just like with language development, we accept approximations of signs as we begin this process with the children.

Apparently, Emma Wiggle does a lot of work outside of her Wiggles role supporting the use of Key Word Sign, and we have also discovered that there are many songs that are being performed that are using sign to support their communication, like in K-pop band BTS’s most recent music video.

The opportunity to support communication to all and reduce frustration supports our commitment to all children and their wellbeing and right to be heard.

We would love to hear some feedback from you – remember it is early days for the staff, but we are committed to continuing to develop and use this skill throughout the centre.

Warm regards,

Wendy Seidler

Director of ELC Kew