We Sign - How It All Began...Ken Frawley graduated from California State University at Fullerton and was on his way to become an elementary school teacher. Instead of the classroom, he began performing children's and family music and storytelling programs at libraries, schools, preschools and community events throughout Southern California. In the past 14 years he has performed over one thousand shows to over half a million children and other family members.
Ken became involved in the playful use of sign language through his wife Georgia who had learned sign language when she worked at a school for the deaf. She taught Ken and their children to use sign not only as part of daily communication but also as a fun part of singing songs, reading books and play-time activities.
In the early 1990's a sign language interpreter friend who said she wished there were more activities for hearing and deaf children to do together (most deaf children she said were in hearing households). At this point Ken decided to add signing songs to his shows. Children and families seemed to enjoy the challenge of learning something new, something that was not just movement but were words in a real language.
After a year, he began to return to events he had performed at the year before and was amazed to find that children were showing him how to sing and sign songs he had taught them the year before. Wow! The power of music and movement was what immediately occurred to him. We have all learned movement songs, like The Itsy Bitsy Spider and I'm a Little Tea Pot, which we still remember as adults. But the question for him was there any research on the subject.
He quickly found lots of studies and books. Some of the concepts he found supporting music and movement dated back thousands of years in human history. Plato believed that music was one of the four main pillars of learning. There are theories today, supporting Plato, saying that music learning is fundamental to the biological nature of humanity. Movement and its benefits to learning is also an old concept. Even Confucius, over 2000 years ago recognized this when he said: “If you tell me I will forget. If you show me I may remember but if you involve me I will understand.”
Mankind had known for centuries the power of music and active involvement in learning and today; the learning styles developed by Harold Gardner continue to support this. Gardner believes that there are a variety of different ways that each of us learns. We learn through physical learning (using our bodies, moving), visual learning (by looking at and watching), oral learning (speaking and listening), musical learning (learning supported by the rhythms and melodies of music and songs), mathematical learning (learning by using numbers and math), interpersonal learning (interacting with others), and interpersonal learning (by ones self) and environmental learning (from the environment in which we live). He has written that, though we favor a learning style, the more learning styles you combine in a learning rich environment will leads to greater learning comprehension, memory and mastery of things we are learning.
But, for Ken, a learning rich environment for children also required at least two additional components. First, there needed to be parental involvement and family involvement in the activity. Having parents playfully involved with their children's lives, singing songs, reading books and talking on a daily basis was a fundamental belief of Ken's. And secondly, the activities had to be playful, fun and interesting enough to hold a child's continued attention – music offered this.