Have you wondered how you can teach American Sign Language (ASL) in your homeschool? In many homeschools, high school students are becoming more and more interested in learning ASL for their foreign language credit. ASL is something I became interested in myself as a young child when my 5th grade teacher taught my class how to finger spell. As an adult and registered nurse, I’ve taken a handful of adult education classes to learn ASL so that I was better able to communicate with Deaf patients. And recently, Ben became interested in learning ASL because he’s part of an online gaming community that includes virtual reality games that includes Deaf and hard of hearing members.
Interestingly, I recently started teaching myself ASL again because I would like to volunteer in a local Deaf ministry. I had no idea that at the same time, Ben was also learning. We figured it out one evening when he caught me practicing finger spelling comprehension.
Did you know that ASL is the 3rd most spoken language in the United States and the fourth most popular foreign language studied at colleges and universities in the US? Behind Spanish and French, and closing in on German, more and more students are choosing ASL for their foreign language credits and college majors then ever before. As ASL offerings continue to increase in institutes of higher learning, I don’t think it will be long before it becomes number three.
Sign Language interpreting is a very rewarding career and increasingly in demand since the passage of the ADA Act in 1973, which requires public and private institutions to provide for the communication needs of Deaf individuals in schools, colleges, business, medical facilities, and more. Many churches even employee sign language interpreters or have ministries to the Deaf community. If you’ve spent any time watching your state’s governor give updates on the Covid-19 pandemic, you’ve likely noticed sign language interpretation within government as well.
6 Tips for Teaching American Sign Language in Your Homeschool
Gather your resources. Whether you choose to pay for an official course in American Sign Language for your student, or look through the resources I’m going to share and put together your own study, you’ll want to begin with gathering those resources, just as you would for any other class.
Put it on the Schedule. Make a spot for prioritizing time to teach American Sign Language in your homeschool day. Schedule time for both new learning and practice. in your day to learn or practice ASL. Literally put it on your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself and stick to it! If you have a high school student, about 120 hours of study is equal to one high school credit. Have your student track how much time they spend studying, watching videos, and practicing ASL so you can be sure to give them a foreign language credit on their transcript.
Learn along with your students. Like any new language, your student will learn faster and easier when they have others to practice with. If you only have one student learning ASL, learn along with her. Learning ASL as a family is even better!
Practice. Practice. Practice It’s easy to watch a video or take a lesson and then put it away until next time. But like with learning any language, practice is imperative to really learn and become fluent. One thing Ben and I have done is start using ASL when we’re speaking to each other. Whatever signs we know we use when communicating. We’ve found that we end up teaching each other new signs this way, as well as reinforcing the ones we both know. Your students will have fun taking time to practice communicating only using ASL signs they’ve learned. Be sure to build in time to practice finger spelling as well. If your student is the only person in your home using ASL, try to find other people in your community who are learning and use some of the tools I’ll be listing below to give them practice time as well. At some point it will also be helpful to immerse yourself and/or your student in the culture and those who use sign language. Look for local events and opportunities in your area.
Learning to sign without interacting with Deaf people, is like learning to swim without water. -Bill Vicars
Have your students teach American Sign Language to members of your family. If you only have one student in your household learning ASL, have them spend a little time each day teaching you and their siblings what they have learned, and then practice together. Learning how to finger spell in elementary school is what first piqued my interest in ASL. It’s a skill I’ve never lost after all these years, and one that is each to teach to others. While I continue to work at improving understanding what others are finger spelling, the ability to finger spell has come in handy for me on more than one occasion. Most children will find it a fun skill to learn, even if they recognize the benefits immediately. And spending that time teaching it will help solidify the skill for your learning student.
Use video to help your student critique himself. Have your student record video of himself signing what he has learned and then comparing to their teacher to help understand areas that need improvement. Sometimes the subtlety between different signs can change the entire meaning of what is said. Critiquing their own signing will not only help them find mistakes, it will also help them track their progress see how they improve!
Free Resources to Teach American Sign Language in Your Homeschool
If you would like to teach American Sign Language in your homeschool, I hope that these tips and free resources I have discovered (many of which I have used myself) will help you get started. While many of these suggestions are best for older students (middle and high school) or adults, some can easily be adapted for younger children. And I will also include a couple of resources specifically geared for young children as well. Learning ASL can easily be a fun family activity!
Websites to Teach American Sign Language
There is a plethora of websites available to learn American Sign Language and Deaf culture. While I can’t speak for the quality of every site I will list here, I will try to share the websites I’ve found most helpful in my own quest to learn how to sign, as well as few others that appear to be good options.
LifePrint.com is the home of American Sign Language University (ASLU), a wealth of information, including ASL lessons, a comprehensive dictionary, and lots of videos. One thing I appreciate about these lessons is Dr. Vicars is Df, so there is no speaking in his lessons. This generally causes me to pay much closer attention to the signs. If I had to choose one free resource for learning ASL, this would be the one, especially if you are using it as a homeschool curriculum. However, Dr. Vicars also offers a set of college-level courses in his ASL Training Center for an extremely reasonable cost of $59.95 per year or $9.95 per month. He has 7 complete college courses that can be taken with this membership, and the membership includes any future courses. These are the courses he teaches at CSU Sacramento, but they are not offered on this site for college credit. If your budget allows, this is the resource I would personally use with my high school student for foreign language credit on his transcript.
Gallaudet University offers free instruction in American Sign Language called ASL Connect. There are videos displaying Basic ASL Vocabulary as well as a 4-module course you can sign up for that will track your progress. This course is designed to engage students with live interactions with fluent ASL users and offers a very basic introduction to ASL. This is a really good place to get started with your ASL journey.
SignSchool.com is a free resource to learn ASL at your own pace. They have a modular program with three levels – beginner, intermediate, and advanced. This is the program Ben and I are both using currently. It’s very interactive and uses your own computer camera to allow you to sign along and be able to see yourself/compare your signs to the instructor’s.
HandSpeak.com has been a valuable resource for me not only in my quest to learn more about ASL, but also for learning about Deaf culture. When you are learning or teaching ASL to your students, it is important to also learn about and teach Deaf culture. Their ASL Sign Dictionary is my favorite when I’m looking for a specific sign, and I love that they have a reverse dictionary that makes it easier to figure out what a sign means that I may have seen but couldn’t figure out. They also have an ASL video dictionary just for kids, signed by kids.
Practice your recognition of finger-spelling using drills. Once you have master learning the alphabet, you’ll want to practice both finger spelling and recognizing words using finger spelling. This has been the single best resource I’ve found for improving my ability to understand finger spelling. It’s a very simple program where one word at a time is presented and you are given the opportunity to enter the word and check to see if you are correct. You can replay it as many times as you need. There are also speed options – slow, medium, fast, and deaf. Of course, the goal is to be able to read as fast as possible.
ASLNook.com is a family-friendly website built by a Deaf woman who saw a need online for teaching ASL. It’s chock-full of helpful videos and many of them are done with children signing, so this is a site your younger kids will especially enjoy.
KidCourses.com – For your younger students, this website offers lots of free resources for learning American Sign Language, including videos, printables, and more. There alphabet video series is especially fun. As it teaches the signs for each letter, it also teaches a few words in a rhyming format that begin with each letter. They use kids to teach, which is very appealing for younger students.
ASL on SchoolhouseTeachers.com – While not technically a free resource, if you happen to have a membership to SchoolhouseTeachers, they do offer a course for middle and high school students called ASL Adventures. ASL Adventures is a 16-week video based course (3 days a week) that will teach your student 350 signs, the manual alphabet, numbers, grammar, facial expressions, and basic understand of Deaf community and culture. SchoolhouseTeachers.com offers several membership options – monthly, quarterly, and yearly, and has sales often. If you’d like to try this course as a greatly reduced price you can use my special code benandme for 50% of the Monthly Ultimate Membership or benandmeq for 45% off the Quarterly Ultimate Membership. In addition to the ASL course, your family will have access to over 450 other courses for Preschool through High School. One price covers all of your students. They also offer specials now and then on their Ultimate Yearly Membership, so watch for those.
SignRadar.com allows you to find other signers in your area if you are interested in finding other families who are learning ASL. You may also be able to find a homeschool co-op in your area where ASL is taught or where families come together to practice. It’s important to have ample opportunity to practice signing with others to truly become fluent.
Apps to Teach American Sign Language
SignSchool.com mentioned above also has an app you can use on your phone or tablet to practice ASL on the go. There are apps for both iOS and Android available. This is not their complete course, but more of a way to practice signs and build your sign vocabulary.
The ASL App was designed by Deaf people and is all about teaching conversational ASL. This app contains over 2500 signs for words and phrases and makes both learning and practicing ASL accessible any time. There are apps for both iOS and Android available.
You Tube Videos to Teach American Sign Language
You Tube has been my best friend as I’ve been learning American Sign Language. There are many people offering to help people learn to sign for free. It’s likely your student will quickly find favorite personalities.
Learn How to Sign – This channel has a series of videos called 150 Essential ASL Signs that will go a long way to helping you build your ASL vocabulary. She breaks this series down into 6 videos, so it’s not so overwhelming. My other favorite video of Meredith’s is 25 Common ASL Phrases. Meredith is a hearing teacher, so her videos contain verbal instruction as well as captions. Even your younger children will learn well with Meredith.
ASL with Rochelle – Another of my favorite You Tube instructors is Rochelle. Rochelle is also a hearing instructor and interpreter, but most of her videos only contain captions as she teaches. The first video of hers I used was The First 100 Signs You Need to Know, and I would recommend starting there. I also love that she has videos about common mistakes and regional signs (I bet you didn’t know there are regional signs in ASL!).
ASL Meredith – Not to be confused with Meredith of Learn How to Sign, this You Tube channel is one of my favorites because she offers the option of using English or captions in her videos. Meredith vlogs quite a bit in ASL, which is fun to watch (even if 2020/21 meant she signed a lot about covid. She also has a several videos on similar signs that I have found very helpful. As I’ve mentioned before, the subtle differences in some signs can make a difference in what you’re saying. Some of these types of mistakes can be very embarrassing!
Sign Language Made Simple – I enjoy Chris’ lessons, especially those with practice on receptive fingerspelling. With any other language I’ve tried to learn, my receptive skills have always been weaker than my ability to learn how to speak. Chris has quite a few fingerspelling practice videos, whereby he fingerspells words and gives you time to interpret. I especially appreciate that he will sign each word at 3 different speeds.
ASLU/LifePrint.com – Dr. Bill Vicars’ curriculum for teaching ASL is listed above under “Websites.” You can also watch his videos on YouTube for a less formal approach.
Library Books to Teach American Sign Language
In addition to the online resources that are free I’ve shared, you’ll likely also find many books on ASL at your local library. You may want to choose to invest in a few books and/or workbooks, but in the spirit of keeping these resources free, be sure to look at the library.
Barron’s American Sign Language: A Comprehensive Guide to ASL 1 and 2 with Online Video Practice by David A. Stewart – if you’re going to purchase a book for your high school student who is serious about learning ASL, I highly recommend this one. It is the only book I know of with comprehensive instruction and online graded video practice quizzes, plus a comprehensive final video exam. There are also flash cards that can be used with this curriculum.
Barron’s Learn ASL the E-Z Way by David A. Stewart – this book is excellent for teaching ASL grammar. Learning to sign is not a word for word interpretation of English. It’s important to understand the grammar rules of ASL. In this book, each rule is given a chapter with lots of illustrations to solidify the concepts.
The Joy of Signing by Lottie L. Riedkhof – I have an older edition of this book from the 80s or 90 I think on my bookshelf. It’s a fairly comprehensive guide and one I refer to often.
American Sign Language Dictionary by Martin Sternberg – this dictionary includes more than 5,000 signs and 8,000 illustrations, as well as clear, detailed instructions to help you master each sign.
American Sign Language for Beginners: Learn Signing Essentials in 30 Days by Rochelle Barlow – this beginner’s guide was written by one of the You Tubers I mentioned above – ASL with Rochelle. And while I haven’t personally used it, if its nearly as helpful as her You Tube channel, it is excellent. There is also a workbook to go along with it.
Learning American Sign Language: Levels I & II–Beginning & Intermediate by Tom Humphries – this is an excellent, although dry, textbook for learning ASL that has been around for many years. Information is well-explained and includes signs, culture, and grammar. Your more analytical high school students will appreciate this text.
Religious Signing: A Comprehensive Guide for All Faiths by Elaine Costello – This comprehensive guide gives you all the vocabulary you need to communicate effectively in any religious setting.
Time to Sign: Sign Language for Kids by – written for kids ages 5-9, this sweet little book provides a base for hundreds of words and phrases, including the alphabet.
When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf by Harlan Lange – this book is one you will want your high schooler to read as part of a high school credit. It shares the history of ASL and the important people who are responsible for Deaf education in America.
Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World by Lear Hager Cohen – written by the daughter of the principle of the Lexington School for the Deaf, this book is a memoir of a hearing person raised among the Deaf. Cohen appreciates both the intimate textures of that silent world and the gulf that separates it from our own.
Through Deaf Eyes (DVD) is an excellent documentary that explores nearly 200 years of Deaf life in America. The film presents the experiences of American history from the perspective of Deaf citizens. Interviews include actor Marlee Matlin, I. King Jordan, other community leaders, historians, and Deaf Americans with diverse views on language use, technology and identity.
Social Media to Learn American Sign Language
Because every family has different rules about using social media for learning, I didn’t spend time here listing resources that can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for learning ASL. But they are out there should you be interested. Instagram, especially reels, can be very helpful. Hashtags such as #learnasl #deafcommunity and #signlanguage can help you find them.
I hope you find these free resources for teaching American Sign Language in your homeschool helpful. If you happen to know of others, please leave a comment to let me know. I’d love to keep adding to this list.