International Day of Sign Language: Celebrations in ECE - Sticks & Stones Education

International Day of Sign Language: Celebrations in ECE

International Day of Sign Language: Celebrations in ECE

International Day of Sign Language is part of our Celebrations in Early Childhood Education Series. Communication is the cornerstone of human interaction. It helps us to overcome boundaries and foster social connections with one another.

We acknowledge  the richness and diversity of sign languages around the world. This special day serves as a reminder of the importance of inclusivity and accessibility for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Let's delve into the significance of this day, its history, and some engaging activities educators can incorporate into their plans to mark the occasion.

The Significance of International Day of Sign Language: Bridging Communication Gaps

The International Day of Sign Language, observed annually on September 23rd, is a testament to the power of sign languages in promoting communication and inclusivity. Sign languages are complete, natural languages with their own grammar and vocabulary, allowing individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to communicate effectively and express themselves on par with spoken languages. This day raises awareness about the importance of recognizing and supporting sign languages as a means to break down communication barriers and create an inclusive society.

The History of the International Sign Language Day

The roots of the International Day of Sign Language can be traced back to the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), an organization established in 1951. The WFD recognized the need to advocate for the rights of deaf individuals, including the recognition of sign languages as legitimate means of communication. In 2017, the United Nations General Assembly officially designated September 23rd as the International Day of Sign Language, coinciding with the International Week of the Deaf. This day is a culmination of efforts to promote linguistic and cultural diversity within the deaf community.

What is the Australian Sign Language, Auslan?

In Australia, the primary sign language system catering to both children and adults with hearing impairments is Auslan. This language forms a vital bridge of communication, enabling interaction and understanding between individuals in the community. The structure of the Auslan alphabet aligns itself with the widely recognized Latin alphabet employed throughout Australia. 

Tracing its roots to the nineteenth century, the origins of the Auslan alphabet are deeply entrenched in contemporary Austlalian history. However, it wasn't until the latter half of the twentieth century that Auslan gained formal recognition as a distinct language. The nomenclature "Auslan," an acronym for 'Australian Sign Language,' was coined by the visionary Trevor Johnston.

What Happened to Makaton in Australia?

For some of us old timers, we were using Makaton instead of Auslan with our students. I remember there being books at one long day care service where I worked, and I remember there were courses on it. Makaton disappeared though in 2010 as it is a trademarked term for the use in the United Kingdom where its origins lie. So, in Australia, it is now known Key Word Sign. You can learn more about Key Word Sign at Key Word Sign Australia.

International Sign Language Day and links with the EYLF: Early Years Learning Framework

The celebration of the International Day of Sign Language aligns with the principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). The EYLF emphasizes the importance of creating inclusive learning environments that cater to the diverse needs of all children. By incorporating sign language or key word signs into early childhood education, educators foster a sense of belonging, support communication development, and promote an understanding of different cultures and ways of expression.

Experience Ideas for Educators: Making the International Day of Sign Language Memorable

  1. Sign Language Introduction: Invite a sign language expert to introduce basic signs to children. Teach them essential signs like greetings, colors, and animals. Encourage children to use these signs throughout the day, and continue to use them within your practice and curriculum.
  2. Storytime with Sign Language: Choose a captivating story and integrate sign language while reading aloud. Use signs that correspond to keywords in the story to engage children in a multisensory experience.
  3. Art and Expression: Provide art supplies and encourage children to create artwork inspired by sign language and deaf culture. This could include paintings, drawings, or collages that incorporate handshapes and symbols. Further extend on this idea and reserach deaf artsist (hint, there is a very famous composer who became deaf!).
  4. Cultural Exploration: Explore different sign languages from around the world. Play videos of signers from various countries and discuss the similarities and differences. This activity fosters cultural awareness and global understanding.
  5. Community Involvement: Invite members of the local deaf community or sign language interpreters to share their experiences and knowledge. This interaction offers children a firsthand perspective on the significance of sign language.
  6. Music and Movement: Incorporate sign language into music and movement activities. Teach children sign language songs and dances to enhance their motor skills while learning signs.
  7. Sign Language Pledge: Encourage children to make a pledge to use sign language in their interactions with peers. This is especially important and useful in regards to children who may be deaf, or children who can use key word sign to support their communication. 

The International Day of Sign Language is an occasion to embrace the diversity of communication and to nurture an inclusive mindset within our learning community. By recognizing the significance of sign languages, educators play a crucial role in shaping a world where every child's voice is heard, regardless of their modes of communication.

Further Reading + Resources for Auslan:

The Auslan Signbank is a language resources site for Australian Sign Language also know as Auslan. Auslan is the language of the deaf community in Australia. On their site: Signbank (, you will find the following resources:

  • a dictionary
  • ability to search for signs related to medical and health topics
  • ability to search for signs related to educational and teaching topics
  • videos of deaf people using the listed Auslan signs
  • information on the deaf community in Australia
  • links to Auslan classes

Finger Spelling from Auslan Signbank.

Teach Starter Auslan for Beginners

Key Words from Key Word Sign Australia

Twinkl Australia has some Auslan Alphabet flashcards which you can access. They also have a number of other complimentary resources that you can download if you have a membership. 

Want to learn more about Cultural Celebrations and Events for Early Childhood Services?

Check out our Calendar of Significant Days, Celebrations, Cultural Events Page and read our Blog: Significant Days for Early Childhood Education and Care where we feature blog articles written to support your understanding of key days and we make suggestions of experiences you can add to your programs and curriculum as well as links to the Early Years Learning Framework.

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