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The American Sign Language Parent-Child Mother Goose Program: A National Project

The American Sign Language Parent-Child Mother Goose Program:
A National Project

An information brief prepared for the National Strategy for Early Literacy
by the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf
(Prepared by Kristin Snoddon, MA, PhD candidate and Anita Small, MSc, EdD)


At a time when the need for early literacy programs and services is universally recognized, few resources are available for supporting American Sign Language (ASL) or langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) literacy in young children. The restrictions placed by provincial infant hearing screening and early intervention services on young Deaf and hard of hearing children’s learning of ASL and LSQ have been documented in research (Cripps & Small, 2004; Snoddon, 2008). Such restrictions are maintained despite evidence for the benefits that learning ASL or LSQ in early childhood confers on spoken and written language development in Deaf and hard of hearing children (see Snoddon, 2008 for a review of this literature). The effects of depriving Deaf children of access to a native signed language have been seen in the August 19, 2005 Provincial Court of Saskatchewan decision in the matter of the Child and Family Services Act and Ryley Allen Farnham, an 8 year-old Deaf student with a cochlear implant who had been denied access to learning ASL by Saskatchewan health and education professionals and who possessed virtually no spoken, signed, or written language abilities (Snoddon, in press). Meanwhile, so-called baby sign programs for hearing parents and children remain a popular trend in Canada, supported by a number of studies showing that young hearing children exposed to signed language exhibit better English vocabulary growth and retention and reading ability and visual-spatial cognitive development (e.g., Capirci, Cattani, Rossini & Volterra, 1998; Daniels, 2005).

In hearing children, the development of English or French literacy is preceded by language skills including metalinguistic and phonological awareness, and by a broad first-language vocabulary and opportunities for verbal interaction (Snow, Burn, & Griffin, 1998). A solid first-language foundation in Deaf and hard of hearing children’s most accessible language is essential to these children’s ongoing literacy development (Goldin-Meadow & Mayberry, 2001). Since the majority of Deaf children are born to hearing parents with little or no knowledge of ASL or LSQ, partnerships between existing early literacy programs and the Deaf community are essential. In 2003, the Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf (OCSD) established its ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program in partnership with the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program. The ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program follows the original, spoken-language program’s principles and objectives of supporting positive parent-child communication, bonding, and language development. However, the ASL program is unique in that it utilizes ASL rhymes and stories for young children and is taught by ASL-proficient Deaf adult professionals. Additionally, in 2005, OCSD received an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant that enabled the organization to provide training to the Ontario LSQ community in order to develop an LSQ program. The early literacy benefits of both the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program and ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program have been documented in research (Canadian Institute for Child Health, 2001; Snoddon, 2009).

However, at present the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program faces obstacles to hosting and extending its programs for parents and young Deaf or hard of hearing children. The Ontario Early Years Centres have claimed not to have funding to cover fees related to hosting ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Programs, which in accordance with Parent-Child Mother Goose Program principles are provided free of charge to families (Snoddon, 2009). Additionally, across Canada there is a scarcity of programs and services geared specifically to meet the needs of ASL- and LSQ-using children.

Proposal for Action and Responsibilities

The Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf (CCSD), of which OCSD is a provincial affiliate, will establish a national-level ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program and provide further support for the development and establishment of an LSQ Parent-Child Mother Goose Program. A national ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program headquarters will be established by CCSD in Toronto at the Deaf Culture Centre (of which CCSD is the parent organization) in order for CCSD to oversee the administration and provision of programs across Canada.

Incorporated in 1973 as a non-profit charitable organization, CCSD represents over 450,000 Canadians and serves many more through its programs, cultural activities, and Deaf heritage resources. Promoting literacy for Deaf children is a key area of concentration. CCSD’s achievements include the establishment of the Deaf Culture Centre, Toronto; providing various forms of support to projects for Deaf children and youth; the development of the ASL Instructors of Canada Evaluation tool for ASL and LSQ instructors; the publication of the Canadian Dictionary of ASL (Bailey & Dolby, 2002); the award-winning Deafplanet television series and website; and the virtual museum website. CCSD is currently developing the first ASL animated dictionary for young children allowing Deaf children to learn the meanings and English counterparts to ASL signs using their language, ASL.

In partnership with OCSD, CCSD will hire the two certified ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program leader trainers (who have been trained by Parent-Child Mother Goose Program founders) to lead one-week training workshops for up to 20 ASL-proficient individuals in each province. These ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program leader apprentices will then be monitored through the CCSD program headquarters. One workshop will be provided in Toronto for two representatives from each province who went through the first training to attend a second training so that they can become monitors of the services provided in their province. As a result of CCSD’s program, leader training and expansion, the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program will be available to families across Canada who use ASL. CCSD will also provide the expertise of the Co-Founders of this program, now the Deaf Culture Centre Co-Directors.

Estimated Impact

Parents and young Deaf and hard of hearing children will greatly benefit from the early language and literacy support provided by the program, and from opportunities to meet and interact with other parents of Deaf children and Deaf adult professionals. Young Deaf and hard of hearing children’s language and literacy development and self-esteem will be enhanced through access to ASL literature and opportunities to interact with other Deaf children and adults. These children will be better prepared for entering school and for acquiring literacy in English and French.

Resources Needed

ASL and LSQ programs for young children and their families are in need of financial support from Canadian governments and government agencies. In order for ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Programs to be held across Canada, there must be financial support and partnerships in place with existing public services for young children and their parents. CCSD will provide their space for the headquarters and materials already published. They will work with the National Strategy for Early Literacy to further a network of early ASL and LSQ literacy programs across Canada with ongoing funding needed to support running programs, distributing materials already produced and developing further early literacy materials in ASL.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Through the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program headquarters, CCSD will conduct follow-up oversight visits to programs hosted in each province to ensure program quality. As a rule, the ASL Parent-Child Mother Goose Program conducts program evaluation with parents who attend each of its programs. Individual program evaluations and information gained through CCSD’s oversight will be used to improve the program.


Canadian Institute of Child Health (2001). A Preliminary Evaluation of the Parent-Child Mother Goose Program as a Family Literacy Program. Ottawa, ON.
Capirci, O., Cattani, A., Rossini, P. & Volterra, V. (1998) Teaching sign language to
hearing children as a possible factor in cognitive enhancement. Journal of Deaf
Studies and Deaf Education, 3(2), 135-142.
Cripps, J. & Small, A. (2004). Case Report Re: Provincial Service Delivery Gaps for
Deaf Children 0-5 Years of Age. Miss., ON: Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf.
Daniels, M. (2005). Happy hands: the effect of ASL on hearing children’s literacy. In
B. Eldredge, D. Stringham & M.Wilding-Diaz (Eds.), Deaf Studies Today
Conference Proceedings. Orem, UT: Utah Valley State College.
Goldin-Meadow, S. & Mayberry, R. (2001). How do profoundly deaf children learn to
read? Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 16(4), 222-229.
Snoddon, K. (in press). Equity in education: Signed language and the courts. Current
Issues in Language Planning, 10.
Snoddon, K. (2009). American Sign Language and early literacy: Research as praxis.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education,
University of Toronto.
Snoddon, K. (2008). American Sign Language and early intervention. Canadian Modern
Language Review, 64(4), 581-604.
Snow, C., Burns, M., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young
Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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