0705 sign language

Ann Ferris 10, keeps her eyes on instructor Jill Thomas as she goes through different words signing.

As the children walked into the Alexandria Community Center Tuesday, they sat in a circle to review what they had learned the day before.

Jill Thomas, stay-at-home mother and part-time teacher, began running through the names of animals. Using sign language, she pulled her fingers together as she moved her hands away from her cheeks. “Does anyone know what this stands for?” she asked the group.

“Cat,” said Ann Ferris, 10. Thomas gave her praise and moved on to bird, dog, duck then horse.

As part of the summer activities programming at the center, Thomas volunteered to teach children grades kindergarten through sixth a weeklong course in sign language.

“I’m not certified,” said Thomas, “but I’ve always been interested in studying sign language. In high school church camp I took a class and I’m always fascinated watching interpreters. I also took one workshop in college. I’ve always been interested.”

Moving quickly through the review of animals, Thomas had the children play a game to quiz them on their knowledge. “We’re going to go around the circle and we’ll start with the letter ‘A’ and you name an animal that begins with that letter and we will continue through the alphabet,” she said.

The children responded by calling out the names of different animals. When they got stuck on a letter they did not have an animal for, Kathy Grubb, mother of two who also knows sign language, would interject and keep the game moving.

“I think it’s really good for (my children) to learn sign language,” said Grubb. “For young children, it helps them when they can’t communicate. It’s a passion I’ve always had. I’ve been learning since I was 5 and I want to pass that on. I’m really proud of them. They are doing a great job.”

After learning animals, Thomas moved on to foods then the alphabet, asking the group if they knew how to sign their own name.

Makaylea Albert, 8, moved her fingers quickly, spelling her first name.

“Great job, Makaylea,” encouraged Thomas. “You are fast.”

Diane Prophet, Makaylea’s grandmother, said she is taking the course because her great-grandmother is losing her hearing. “She is 94,” said Prophet. “She wants the family to take classes so we can communicate. Makaylea’s always been interested in sign language. At church, she was taught to sign with music.”

Whether for fun or to communicate with the hearing impaired, the children said they have learned a lot.

“It’s something fun to do,” said Ferris. “It’s both hard and easy at times, but I’m having fun. (Thomas) is a good teacher.”

At the end of the hour, Thomas passed out colorful folders with copies of signs they learned that day and encouraged the children to show their parents everything they’ve learned. “I know we went fast, but practicing really helps.”

Thomas said she was proud of all the children. “It’s great the kids want to learn and are interested,” she said. “I want it to be fun and have a purpose. They are catching on quickly.”

With interest, Thomas said she hopes to teach an adult class in the fall. “I’m very interested in working with adults. It’s great to pick up another language, no matter what age. Language development is always good to learn.”

If interested in an adult sign language course, call the center at 724-7728.

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