By Debi Polen
Growing Up with the Love of Signing
When I was a young teen, my sister and I devised a way to communicate secretly: we learned the alphabet to American Sign Language (ASL). It was all for fun for us to “fingerspell,” but my grandmother saw when we signed a “G” that we always seemed to be pointing at her. She always took offense when we shared our little secrets, and since “Granny” does indeed start with the finger-pointing “G,” it made her paranoia all too real! We were taught the rudeness of our ways, but my desire to learn sign language continued.
A few years later, I was traveling alone on a bus to visit family in another state. When in line to board the bus, I noticed a couple signing to each other. This was my first introduction to “real world” applications of the language. I thought that I’d say hello, and fingerspelled H-E-L-L-O to them. The thrill on their faces has stuck with me ever since. It was like a bridge had been opened between two very different worlds. I had to tell them that I could only use the alphabet, but they didn’t seem to mind to slow down to talk with me. Our conversation made a boring bus ride enjoyable and incredibly memorable.
At my first job, I found that they had a video course on ASL, but it was merely teaching the signs for words and not the grammatical structure of the language, which at the time I didn’t realize differed from how the hearing world speaks. When I tried signing complete sentences, what I was actually doing was Signed English, which is the use of signs of ASL to correspond with the grammatical structure of English. This is the common way young hearing children are taught in school or Sunday School when they sign to Bible verses or songs.
Although I chose to learn computer programming languages over ASL in my professional life, my love for signing stayed with me.
Signing to Music
After our decision to home school, we participated in a co-op, a loosely-organized group of homeschooling families who would design our own classes and activities and assemble on a weekly basis. I decided to resurrect my love of signing to teach a course that had elementary-aged children learning to sign to worship songs. I found lots of books helpful in teaching this class, especially the Parents’ Choice Award winning Signing for Kids by Mickey Flodin. Conveniently, this book was divided into ten chapters, which corresponded to the number of weeks in a term in our co-op. It was great fun for the kids to learn signs and at the same time learn a song to perform at assemblies. The beauty of watching young children signing in unison in a song of worship is something I hope that they will cherish as much as I still do to this day.
Our Mini-Catalog for American Sign Language
Below is a selection of ASL resources that we currently have in our catalog, many of which were some of my resources that I used in designing my Signing with Music co-op class. This catalog is also available on the American Sign Language page in our Subject Index. If you have similar resources that you’d like to see listed below, please consign with us.
"Children remember more easily what they learn when you involve both their bodies and their minds—and we want them to remember Bible verses! Sign and Say Bible Verses for Children will help your children learn Bible verses using the hand motions of American Sign Language." — Daphna Flegal, Editor
More Sign and Say Bible Verses for Children will help preschool through elementary children learn Bible verses using the hand motions of American Sign Language." — Abingdon Press, Publisher
"We hope that you can use Hymns for Signing as a tool to help make worship services accessible to those persons who depend upon American Sign Language." — Curt D. Keller, Editor
"Whether you are learning sign language to communicate with a family member, co-worker, student, or friend—or just for fun—learning this beautiful, expressive language is an interesting and rewarding challenge." — Linda Lascelle Hillebrand, Author
The Joy of Signing: The Illustrated Guide for Mastering Sign Language and the Manual Alphabet, Second Edition (Hardback)
"The acceptance of The Joy of Signing has been and continues to be extremely gratifying. It has been used as the main vocabulary reference for sign language students in schools and colleges across the country, by parents of deaf children, by professionals, and also by deaf persons themselves." — Lottie L. Riekehof, Author
"The signs presented in this book have been collected from various denominations working with deaf people." — Elaine Costello, Author
"This scrupulously researched book sollidifies the position of American Sign Language as a rich, vibrant, living language. It is a welcome addition to the shelf of anyone interested in the wonders of ASL." — Lou Ann Walker, Author of A Loss for Words: The Story of Deafness in a Family
"Now kids can learn to communicate in American Sign Language too!" — Perigee Books, Publisher
There are two forms of sign language used in North America: American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English (SE). ASL has its own syntax, while SE uses the signed vocabulary of ASL, but follows the word order, sentence structure, and grammar of spoken English. This publication is a basic guide to sign language for the complete novice.
"Since the 1960s, people with disabilities have slowly been brought into the mainstream of society because others have recognized that having a physical or mental impairment does not prevent someone from leading a productive life and being part of society." — From "The View From the Crow's Nest" (page 5)