(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Students at the Learning Experience in Colorado Springs are learning more than just vocabulary — as part of the center’s curriculum, children also learn American Sign Language (ASL).

“I specifically work with the 12 to 18 months, they straight out come from infants,” said Hazi Lyn Stephens, a teacher at The Learning Experience. “As soon as they start walking, we get them. When they get in here, we start to teach them how to sit in chairs, how to use a spoon, and we teach them like our sign language and stuff.”

At The Learning Experience, teachers sign to the students to help grow their cognitive skills.
At The Learning Experience, teachers sign to the students to help grow their cognitive skills.

There are eleven classrooms at the Banning Lewis Ranch location that students are separated into based on age.

“Sign language starts right away in the Infant A room and that’s our youngest,” said Center Director of the Learning Experience, Elisabeth Ealey. “Our youngest little learners are six weeks to six months… as we ask them questions and we’re using our sign language, we’re using the words to go with. That makes it more meaningful for our little learners and it’s just repetition of all of that just helps them to learn it, and then it helps them to know how to communicate their needs to their teacher.”

Teacher and student share the learning experience all through the power of using their hands.

“Each month they give us a monthly curriculum sign,” Stephens said. “This month is ‘eat’ so each month we just constantly go over like the signs that we do give. Any sign that we can participate in, like put into a sentence, that encourages the kids to do so, like ‘eat’ or ‘sit down,’ like ‘more food,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you’.”

Students gathered on the carpet as Stephens went over flashcards and signed to them.

“Once they start signing, then they’ll start saying those words,” Stephens said. “So, a lot of them now, like they’re saying, both of them at the same time, or they’ll just say like the words now, but it honestly like it helps them start to speak once they don’t have those words.”

Teacher Stephens gathers her students on the carpet and goes over sign language flash cards on Monday morning.
One of the first words which students signed on the carpet was apple with teacher Hazi Lyn Stephens.

The benefits of teaching sign language are notable both by the teachers and by the parents of students.

“Families will come in and tell us, oh, my goodness, my daughter told me she wanted milk,” Ealey said. “By squeezing her hand, you know, she told us she wanted milk, or she wanted more and so… all of those things carry over into their home world as well.”

The Learning Experience welcomes students from six weeks old to six years old. Tution and openings can be found online.

“We do encourage them to ask for their things and like to encourage them as well,” Stephens said. “Like we also do like hand over hand, it encourages them to do it, but it’s easier for them to communicate. A lot of them at first don’t know how to say those words. So, once they start signing, then they’ll start saying those words.”