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Sign of the Day - BEAUTIFUL

Blog Articles by: John Miller

Raising Deaf Children From a Foreign Land

Raising Deaf Children From a Foreign Land

Deaf Culture   |  Wednesday, May 2, 2018

By John Miller

The DNA heredity companies are very popular right now. Every time you turn on the television you see a new touching commercial of how people’s lives have been changed. While watching a recent commercial, there was a woman who, all her life, thought she was primarily from one genetic background and her ancestors came from one place and lived her life accordingly. However, after getting the results of her DNA test, she realized her ancestry really was from a totally different part of the world. The commercial ends showing her standing in front of a mirror wearing the ancestral clothing of her "new" native country and embracing and celebrating her new found information about herself.  

This got me thinking about deafness. I wish more people could have this reaction when they first find out that their child is deaf. Unfortunately, many in the medical field approach deafness from what is known as the Medical Model and see it as a disability that needs to be fixed, rather than a part of an ancestry that needs to be explored, learned and cultivated. 

This may stem from the often unknown fact that over 90% of deaf and hard of hearing children are born into families that are NOT deaf themselves. This is not common knowledge to many people. When I have posed the question to my sign language students and families I’ve worked with over my career as an educator, many believe that the percentage of deaf children that are born to hearing families is low, like 3-5%. I think their thought process is that the hereditary gene of deafness is the major factor in determining a child’s deafness. That is not, however, accurate. 

The families that make up this over 90% are busy with their lives and most likely have many other things going on like work, schooling, raising other children, etc.. so when a child with a different "genetic background" enters their family, it can seem like an unexpected challenge. Often times this child requires another language to be brought into the home. Things may have to be taught and communicated in a way that is different from what has traditionally been done in this home. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  It just means that extra time and effort and systems are going to have to be put in place so this uniquely different child can still be a part of their biological family, as well as the child’s "ancestral Deaf family."

Many of these hearing families aren’t familiar or educated on Deaf culture and don’t realize it has a rich history, customs, and community. Just as the woman in the DNA commercial put on her "new" ancestral clothing at the end of the commercial, families can education themselves on Deaf culture and choose to embrace and celebrate it.


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Teaching Language Through Play: Lessons Learned While Playing Restaurant and Getting Started with Introducing Food

Teaching Language Through Play: Lessons Learned While Playing Restaurant and Getting Started with Introducing Food

Teaching Tips   |  Wednesday, November 1, 2017

By John Miller

Kids naturally learn while they are playing. Introducing activities that allow them to learn through play lets them explore their curiosity, have new experiences, and better connect and retain what they have learned.

Lessons Learned While Playing "Restaurant"

One great example of a learning through play activity is setting up an area to play “restaurant” in the classroom (or at home). Playing restaurant is a very successful way to cover several areas all at the same time – vocabulary, health and nutrition, math, time, professions, and manners.

Think about a restaurant experience, including:

  • Choosing a restaurant
  • Getting to the restaurant
  • Parking the car
  • Talking to a hostess
  • Being seated or seating yourself
  • Looking through the menu and deciding what to eat
  • Ordering
  • Setting the table
  • Where the food comes from and cooking the meal
  • The people working in the restaurant and what they do
  • Serving the meal
  • Table manners and eating
  • How much things cost and paying
  • Taking payment and giving change
  • Feeling thankful and showing appreciation

Many lessons can all be taught through fun and interesting role play that involve tons and tons of lessons and vocabulary. These are all concepts that not only provide education related to curriculum goals, but allow the child to experiment in a safe environment and experience through play, which can help them be better prepared for real world situations.

One example of this is confidence building when ordering at a restaurant. It is not unusual to see young deaf teens that don’t feel comfortable enough in a restaurant environment to make their own order. Often their parents jump in and “rescue” them because they naturally want to protect their child from an uncomfortable situation. That is part of what this activity and lesson is all about. The more you educate and familiarize your students with these situations, the more prepared they will be to handle real world situations.

Through a series of blog articles, I will provide example lessons and activities related to playing restaurant. To get started, this article will discuss the first step of introducing food.

Lesson: Introducing Food

Take the time to introduce food through a formal lesson. I like to introduce real food and pretend food together. Allow the students to touch and taste the real food before they interact with the play food. Show them how to prepare it (do you have to peel it? remove seeds? cook it first?), ways to eat it, and examples of how to use it in dishes. You can share nutritional information and health benefits about the food. Anything you can do to expand their experience with the food will help them to remember both the signs and also any facts you teach about the food. 

This is a fun activity that students will be excited to share with their parents. Letting parents know the signs used in this lesson will encourage them to keep the discussion through signing going on at home. If you are a member on Signing Savvy, you can create your own word list for this lesson or you can use one of our pre-built word lists (this can help outline your lesson plan also!). Then send the link to the word list(s) home to parents so that they can easily access them and learn them for themselves, or support the learning that happens at school (they don’t have to be a Signing Savvy member to view the signs in your word lists). Additionally, Signing Savvy members can use word lists to practice vocabulary through quizzes and digital flash cards.

Below are some posters and word lists to get you started.

Vegetables in ASL

Vegetables in American Sign Language (ASL)

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
Corresponding Wordlist: Vegetables in ASL poster wordlist

Fruit in ASL

Fruit in American Sign Language (ASL)

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
Corresponding Wordlist: Fruit in ASL poster wordlist

Supplies Needed

Unfortunately, we can’t always have access to a variety of real food to taste test in the classroom! To get students engaged in this activity and to prepare for future restaurant play-based lessons, it is important to establish a good supply of pretend foods that would cover not only the food groups, but also be able to make up meals that would cover breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is good to have a variety of pretend foods, even if there is some overlap, to be able to show your students that the food they consume can come in different colors and sizes (a cut up carrot as opposed to a whole carrot or even a shredded carrot; OR the fact that a whole peach looks much different than a sliced, peeled, or canned peach).

Below is a list of many great options you can purchase directly off Amazon to get you started.  Some of them even come with different lesson suggestions and activities you can do with your children as well. We’ve also created pre-built wordlists of signs to accompany each set of play food.

Peel N' Play Veggies Playset (By Small World Toys)

View word list of ASL signs for Play Veggies Playset

Farmers Market Color Sorting Set (By Learning Resources)

View word list of ASL signs for farmers market color sorting set

Cutting Food & Fruit Sets (By Melissa and Doug)

View word list of ASL signs for cutting food and fruit sets

Tote with Fruit & Veggies (By New Sprouts)

View word list of ASL signs for tote with fruit and vegetables

Healthy Dinner Set (By New Sprouts)

View word list of ASL signs for healthy dinner set

Grocery Basket with Fruit & Veggies (By Casdon)

View word list of ASL signs for grocery basket fruit and vegetables

Large Variety Pack of Food (By Liberty Imports)

View word list of ASL signs for large variety pack of food

Fast Food & Dessert Play Food (By Liberty Imports)

View word list of ASL signs for fast food and dessert play food

Burger, Hot Dog, Chips, & Onion Rings Food Set (By Liberty Imports)

View word list of ASL signs for fast burger, hot dog, chips, and onion rings food

Introduce your children to food and establish a good supply of pretend food, then watch for future blogs discussing other play-based lessons for your classroom restaurant.


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5 Tips for Overwhelmed Parents of Deaf Children

5 Tips for Overwhelmed Parents of Deaf Children

Learning Tips   |  Tuesday, May 16, 2017

By John Miller

Overwhelmed… The look on the faces, or the words that came out of the mouths of almost every parent of a deaf child I’ve ever met with during a home visit. The first thing I want to say is, “Move over because you aren’t alone on that bench,” and secondly, “Stop feeling guilty about anything and everything and lets make a commitment and move forward now, looking in the rearview mirror is only good to learn from, NOT to see your future.”

Many parents seem to carry this tremendous amount of guilt about the way things are going with their parenting of their deaf child. They know that it’s a bit of a different “play book” than with their hearing children, and the fact that their deaf child’s native language isn’t even their own, causes great confusion and frustration. The fact that they have to now adapt into this whole new culture and community in order to gain a greater understanding of their deaf child’s identity can be very… overwhelming!

My first suggestion is to acquaint yourself with someone who has a good (nonbiased) understanding and connections with the Deaf Community in your area (if there is one). Contacting the school systems and the interpreting population or County offices can be a helpful resource to begin.

There are so many slippery slopes that hearing parents of newly identified deaf children can encounter. I once had a mother come into my classroom in tears because she referred to her daughter as “hearing impaired” in a setting that included many people from the Deaf Community and she was pretty much attacked by them and had no idea why. I had to explain to her that although both the medical and educational systems have used that terminology, it is NOT the accepted, preferred terminology of the Deaf Community and she needs to avoid the use of the word “impaired” if she wants to be on good terms with the community. Instead of using the term "hearing impaired," simply say "deaf" or "hard of hearing." 

I had another set of hearing parents mortified at a suggestion that was said to them – it was said to them that because their child was deaf, they should give them up for adoption to a deaf family so that they could be “properly raised in a home where sign is their first language.” I had to explain to them also that although that is pretty extreme, it shows how strongly some deaf people feel about the idea of proper communication and the use of sign language, and also the years of ignorance on the part of the hearing community that shaped the landscape. It is then that I recommend the book Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America by Jack Gannon. This book has been around for a long time, yet gives a pretty clear explanation of Deaf history and why some of these strong feelings still exist today.

I guess the idea I like to get across to parents at this point is this: If you commit to communication with your deaf child that includes sign language as their primary mode of communication, then commit to learning it yourself! No, it’s probably not going to be easy, but what part of parenting is? Here are some tips that can help:

1. Learn sign langauge along with them.

  • Learning sign language as your child is learning it is helpful and, if possible, it is even better if you can keep yourself a few steps ahead of them. This can be easier when your child is very young and just learning to communicate. If your child is older, although it’s going to be more challenging, it’s never too late! Try to learn sign language as they are learning it, even if you aren’t able to keep up with their pace of learning.

2. Tackle things in logical chunks.

  • Starting off, the goal isn’t to know arbitrary vocabulary for a test, or even to be fluent (that’s something to work towards). You just want to be able to communicate with your child, so focusing on the vocabulary you need to do that is what is most important.
  • Start with experiences you share together and work from there.
  • Think about your interactions with them, the language and vocabulary that would be involved in those daily interactions.
  • Create Signing Savvy word lists that focus on key vocabulary and then review those lists and use the digital flash cards and quizzing features to help you become familiar with the vocabulary. 

3. Practice, practice, practice.

  • Sign with your child. You can't learn if you don't try.
  • Along with using word lists to customize vocabulary you want to learn, use of the Signing Savvy Member App on your smart phone to look up signs you don't know while you're on the go. Using the App will allow you to become more fluent.
  • Watch our videos of ASL glosses to see full sentences and phrases signed and to start to get more comforable with ASL syntex.

4. Reach out for help.

  • There are people and programs to help. It takes time and a little research to figure out who the local people and what the local programs are, but it can be worth the investment of effort.
  • The IDEA federal law requires every state to have programs for children with delayed development (such as delayed language development) for both infants and toddlers (birth to 3 years old) and children and youth (3 to 21 years old).
  • Contacting the school systems and the interpreting population or County offices can be a helpful resource to begin.
  • Stay in touch with any teachers, interpreters, or other aides or specialists that work with your child so you can stay in the loop and on the same page. Not only is it helpful to get updates and feedback from these people that work with your child, but communicating about what’s going on at home with them can also help form a better plan to meet their needs.
  • If possible, acquaint yourself with someone who has a good (non-biased) understanding and connections with the Deaf Community in your area (if there is one).

5. Create a support system.

  • In addition to reaching out for help to people who can work with your child (or already do), capitalize on your close social network to create a support system. Encourage others to learn sign language and to use it to communicate with your child, especially close family and friends that are a regular part of you and your child’s life.
  • You can share the Signing Savvy word lists you have already created with family and friends to help them get started with basic vocabulary (they do not need to be Signing Savvy members to view your lists).
  • You can also create special word lists tailored for people like babysitters or substitute teachers, or for specific events, like Thanksgiving dinner and share that list with everyone that will be coming. Sharing word lists gives people an actionable way to learn some vocabulary and, more importantly, is a reminder that communicating with your child is important and that one of the best ways they can help is to support language learning and the use of sign language.

I can guarantee your child will appreciate the effort and the ability to communicate with their parents. Stick with it, nothing happens overnight. You can’t just try it out and then back out. It’s something that has to be worked on and added to daily. The learning never ends, but the rewards can be great!

Books Recommended In This Article


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Exploring Holiday Family Traditions at School and ADDING LANGUAGE

Exploring Holiday Family Traditions at School and ADDING LANGUAGE

Teaching Tips   |  Wednesday, November 30, 2016

By John Miller

We are constantly posting tips, facts, and learning resources related to sign language and Deaf culture on our Signing Savvy Facebook Page and Twitter @SigningSavvy. Occasionally we get questions about our posts and explain them further with a followup article. This article expands on one of our Parent/Teacher Quick Tip of the Day posts (Tip #60) from Facebook, which is also often tied to our Sign of the Day

Typically, Deaf Education Classrooms consist of a low number of students per class.  This allows teachers and staff to explore in a little more detail each of their student’s lives and lets them dig a little deeper.  It’s so important for the home/school connection to be strong enough and “fluid” enough so that information can easily be passed back and forth and language connections can be made to ensure communication is maximized.

Because every family is different, it’s never safe for any of us as educators to believe that just because we grew up celebrating things one way, that everyone else is familiar with these same traditions and/or follow them.  A safe way to cover this issue is to send home a survey before the planning for the holiday season happens.

Ask your students’ families to describe how the holiday season is covered and what it looks like in their child’s home.  We all know language acquisition comes from exposure and actually living the experiences life has to offer.  Having families fill out this survey will allow families to tell things about their student’s lives in a way that they want to share.  Be sure to let those who participate know this is primarily for educational purposes and the information provided will be used to gain a better understanding of their student’s backgrounds, and also provide language and vocabulary for their student.

What do holiday traditions look like to your family?
What do holiday traditions look like to your family?

One example I experienced while teaching was the mere concept of a Christmas tree and the traditions and processes involved in that activity.  Through doing the surveys and having student’s send in photos and “home papers” surrounding this experience, I quickly found that one of my students was Jewish and didn’t put up a tree at all, another was allergic to real trees and, therefore, the parents elected to not have a tree in their house.  They instead decorated a tree outside, which had only ornaments made from things found in nature or could be eaten by animals and not harmful to the environment.  Others had real trees and went out and cut them themselves (after going on a horse drawn sleigh ride), bought them from a store parking lot, or put up an artificial one.  In just that topic alone, there was sooooo much vocabulary and concepts to cover.  These students were young (3-8 years old) and could have never fully expressed these differences on their own, yet with the help of stories and photos provided by their home, we were able to fully explore the concept of getting a Christmas tree and how it may look very different in everyone’s household.

The point I am really striving for here is to be sure to ask the right questions and listen to the answers so that you can then take that information and build on it with your student’s best interests at heart.  It needs to be handled in a way to ensure that you aren’t trying to be nosey; you are trying to be a facilitator of language!

Here is an example of a letter to parents explaining the Holiday Family Survey. Feel free to use this example as a starting point and edit it for your own needs. For Signing Savvy Members, we have several downloadable files available for you, including ready-to-go printable PDF files and editable Microsoft Word templates. See the end of this article for all downloadables.

Printable PDF - Holiday Letter - Option 1 Ornaments

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

A great thing to do after the holidays, once the students return, is to take any pictures or stories the families will send in and create a great classroom book to share so that all the families can see what it was you were striving for.  Include the various sign vocabulary to help them read the book at home to their children.  Create word lists from Signing Savvy to correspond with the book as well.  It’s all a great way for students to share their experiences using their language!

Downloadable Resources to Help You Get Started

For Signing Savvy Members, we have several downloadable files available for you, including ready-to-go printable PDF files and editable Microsoft Word templates. Members can click the images below to download the corresponding file.

Ready-To-Go Printable PDF Files

Printable PDF - Holiday Letter - Option 1 Ornaments  Printable PDF - Holiday Letter - Option 2 Mixture  Printable PDF - Holiday Letter - Option 3 Tree  Printable PDF - Holiday Letter - Option 4 Candy Cane Line

Editable Microsoft Word Template Files

Editable Microsoft Word Template - Holiday Letter - Option 1 Ornaments  Editable Microsoft Word Template - Holiday Letter - Option 2 Mixture  Editable Microsoft Word Template - Holiday Letter - Option 3 Tree  Editable Microsoft Word Template - Holiday Letter - Option 4 Candy Cane Line


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Avoiding Stereotypes with Gender when Teaching Sign Language

Teaching Tips   |  Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By John Miller

We are constantly posting tips, facts, and learning resources related to sign language and Deaf culture on our Signing Savvy Facebook Page and Twitter @SigningSavvy. Occasionally we get questions about our posts and explain them further with a followup article. This article expands on one of our Parent/Teacher Quick Tip of the Day posts from Facebook, which is also often tied to our Sign of the Day.

Each day I look at Signing Savvy’s Sign of the Day and reflect on what might be a good tip or antidote to share related to that sign or topic. As an educator and administrator, my tips are often geared towards parents and teachers. When the Sign of the Day was BEAUTIFUL, I started thinking about a lesson I once did with my students about different descriptive words.  This lesson simply consisted of an activity where students would take adjectives written on index cards like strong, pretty, colorful, beautiful, smart, kind, interesting and associate them with pictures of people, animals or places.  The students would then have to use them in a complete sentence.

One student in particular was sure that only girls could be beautiful. The discussion led me to teaching a lesson about “girl words” and “boy words” (the student’s title, not mine). It was amazing to me how these young children who couldn’t hear and were just learning the language, had already developed a sense of what was “the norm” as far as words used to describe the different sexes.

Think of how often you hear the word beautiful used for little girls, but very seldom with little boys. Think of how often you hear the word tough or strong used for little boys, yet not for girls. As a father, I can say I want my daughter to be just as strong as she is beautiful, and I want my son to be tough just as much as I want him to have a gentleness about him.

The lesson also led us to discuss the signs for man and woman, and girl and boy etc… and how the location of the signs on the face/head can be thought of as sexist as well. In ASL, masculine roles such as boy, father, uncle and grandfather are located at the top portion of the head, while female roles, (girl, mother, grandmother) are signed at the bottom portion of the face.  This has been pointed out over the years by many as being sexiest and feeds the perception of men being the superior race to women.

It can be interesting yet important to have discussions on gender and to address stereotypes that can be found in sign language as well as life. Be careful as you address your students or children not to fall into this trap. Boys can be beautiful, sweet and kind just the same as girls can be smart and athletic and tough!


Here are some commercials that tackle gender stereotypes. These are great examples to check out and share with your students (the content of each video varies and would be appropriate for different age groups depending on the age and maturity of your students). Watching a video(s) with your students is a good way to start a lesson and engage a comprehensive discussion on gender stereotypes.

Pantene Advertisement: Labels Against Women

This video is great to make students think about language and how words and labels are sometimes unfairly assigned based on gender. (Caption Note: There are no captions in this video, however, there is no talking in it, only written messages and background music.)

Always Commercial: Like a Girl

This video makes you think about the meaning behind sayings and how they can create unhealthy gender stereotypes. (Caption Note: Remember to turn the captions on for this video.)

Verizon Commercial: Inspire Her Mind

This video focuses on the words adults use when talking to girls and the messages they send. The video says instead of just telling a girl she is pretty, “Isn’t it time we told her she’s pretty brilliant too.” (Caption Note: Remember to turn the captions on for this video.)

Time Magazine: One Login Campaign: #ILookLikeAnEngineer

This Time Magazine article: Female Engineers Are Using the Hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer To Tear Down Gender Stereotypes talks about a campaign that aims to redefine “what an engineer should look like.”

These videos would all be great resources to start discussions in your classroom about gender stereotypes. Good Luck! 

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