Why is the manual alphabet so important??
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge advocate for teaching and using the manual alphabet with babies (and children of all ages). Offering children a visual breakdown of each letter allows them to easily see and differentiate each letter of the alphabet. This is especially helpful at the "LMNOP" part.
I believe that using the manual alphabet with my children has genuinely helped them foster a love for reading! I started fingerspelling short words to both David and Zeke when they were around 18 months old. Once they figured out what word those 3 or 4 letters represented they were technically reading (and didn't even realize it). By age 3, they were both spelling out words on their own; in spoken and signed language!
When my boys started reading I noticed that they were making the handshapes of the letters as they sounded them out. They preferred to spell it out on their hands before writing it down on the paper. I found that fascinating and started asking some friends who use sign language with their kiddos if they experienced the same thing around that age. I was thrilled to learn that they all noticed their kids fingerspelling in their laps as they were sounding out new words!
Many of the handshapes used to represent a letter are challenging to produce. We have to bend, twist, and mold our fingers in new ways. Practicing these handshapes requires dexterity and coordination and really promotes a child's fine motor skills.
If your child is hearing and you sign the manual alphabet to them while listening to the ABC song, your chid is getting the benefit of seeing the ABC's visually while also receiving the auditory input from the song.
Practicing the manual alphabet is helpful to you and your little one(s) because many of the signs that we are learning are initialized. This means are are using the handshape of the first letter of the word/sign. For example, when we make the sign for BLUE we simple make the "B" handshape, then give it a little twist. I have learned that the more comfortable you are with the manual alphabet, the more comfortable you will become with sign language in general. I cannot encourage you enough to practice every single day.