Sign Language Flash Cards – The Basics

So, say you want to learn sign language and teach it to your child.  Where to begin?  Well, there are sign language dictionaries.  But on top of everything else you have to juggle during the day, are you really going to reach for the “big book” every time you want to use your signs?  And then there’s the on-line dictionaries like , but there again, not always accessible.  How about flash cards?  Well, there’s an idea, but how to find just the right flash cards, and just how much are they going to cost?

When Noah was first seen by ECI, he had a case manager who I thought was way too inexperienced, but it turns out she was one of the highlights of an otherwise pretty disappointing experience.  She suggested sign language to us and even brought us a few flash cards she had made herself and suggested that we post them in appropriate places around the house.  Since then we have learned about 150 signs, but her method of posting the flashcards around the house has been by far the most effective.  Now when we want to learn a new sign, I look it up on  Bill Vicars does a great job through video and picture of teaching each sign via his on-line ASL dictionary.  He also does a great job of explaining the logic behind the sign, which not only helps me learn the finer details more accurately, it also gives me a good word picture that in turns help me remember the sign.  If I can’t find a word there, I head on over to which has an on-line video dictionary that is also helpful.

I had also been using a book put out by the Texas Education Agency called Signing for Instructional Purposes that was a picture dictionary used in the schools back in the ’80s for ASL.  I would copy the sign out of the book and then post the card in the most logical place around the house.  The benefits of posting the cards around the house is two-fold:  One, when the sign is needed and I can’t remember it, all it takes is a glance up to the wall to refresh my memory.  No flipping through books, no stopping the communication in order to look up a sign.  Second, when the sign is posted, it allows everyone in the household, even visitors, an opportunity to learn the sign at their own pace.  This method works great for my husband, who doesn’t really like sitting through my version of a sign language lesson.  Although he didn’t show much interest at first in learning the signs, once he saw Noah picking them up and using them, he was really motivated to learn them himself, and again he could do it at his own pace, in his own time.  Now that he knows the basics, he is much more apt to ask me for specific signs.  Moms, if you are encountering this at your house, be patient.  When your husband sees your investment in sign language paying off, he can’t help but want to be part of it.

A quick note about some of the adapted baby signs out there – I highly recommend teaching the ASL signs for words.  There are some baby signs that are simplified versions of ASL.  If you are going to the trouble to learn sign language, why not learn the official version that is actually used out in the real world?  If a sign is too difficult for your child, trust me, he’ll come up with his own way of simplifying, and you’ll know exactly what he is saying.  Don’t expect your child to be able to do a sign exactly right.  Most children are not going to have the manual dexterity necessary for accuracy, but they will adapt the signs to their ability, and you will know what he is signing.

Here is ASL and PECs Flashcards Set 1.  The words in this set are help, drink, more, eat, water, and milk.  Thanks to and for sharing their graphics.

ASL and PECs Flashcards Set 1 – Basics

I’m debating whether to print simple directions for the sign directly onto the flashcard.  For now I recommend learning the sign online and just use the cards as a prompt to remind you the correct positions and actions for the sign.  For example, the sign for eat is gathering all fingers together on the right hand and bringing your hand to your mouth, but the graphic is just of Dr. Vicars’ correct hand position already at his mouth.

Post the cards around the house in the location the word will be used the most.  I find laminating the cards helps them stay looking nice.  If you don’t have a laminator, see my post here for a good alternative:

There are two PECs to a page, the PEC and then the corresponding sign.  If you are going to post these around your house, I suggest you post each set together.  This will give you an opportunity to talk about the picture while you are using the sign.  Make sure to always say the word with the sign, and if your child signs but does not say the word, you say the word for him.  We’re not replacing the spoken word with a sign, we are pairing it.  Also, be sure to emphasize the real object which the flashcards are representing.  In other words, if you have the flashcard for milk on the refrigerator, point to the picture of milk, sign and say “milk,” open the refrigerator and pull out the milk, point to the milk, sign and say “milk.”  Now instead of giving your child only one method with which to learn a word, he has three:  Spoken, picture and sign.  This is very important for children with apraxia and other language delays.

Oh, and I should mention, the sign card is for you, not your child.  Let it be a prompt for you to remember what the sign is when you have an opportunity to use it or request your child use it.   Even if your child is neurotypical, they will probably not be able to make much sense of the sign language graphic.  When teaching your child a new sign or if they are not using the sign when prompted, place your hands gently over their hands and form the correct sign with their fingers.  This technique is called hand over hand, and is a very effective form of assistance.

You can also use these as flash cards to check mastery of the signs.  Simply glue the front of each card to the back, laminate and then show your child the picture and ask him to do the sign.

Thank you to for the use of their sign language graphics; and as always, thanks to for their picture card making website which makes these little projects oh so easy.

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