A new range of books designed to help children learn sign language is improving literacy across all abilities. The books - for babies and youngsters with hearing impairments - match signing gestures with vocal sounds, and are helping children as young as 3 learn to read.
Wow books have been developed by author and educational consultant, Kathy Robinson, who raised two deaf daughters 30 years ago, at a time when sign language was frowned upon. Her children did not learn to sign until adulthood, and are now both teachers of the deaf.
"It was crazy. Children were expected to lip-read, even though it is far easier to communicate when you have the combination of signing and lip-reading," she says.
Her books, which will be published this week, teach children to read through fingerspelling, a phonic system where youngsters say letter sounds out loud while at the same time making the sign for them with their hands.
Ms Robinson said the books were designed as a bridge between those who can hear and people with impairments. But they have been found to be effective with all pupils.
"For some reason the combination of gestures and sounds is helping children learn to read more quickly. We have had 3-year-olds reading and using words far above what is expected for their age, because they have understood the concept of how words are formed," she said.
Publication of the books comes as all staff and pupils at a Devon primary are learning sign language to enable a profoundly deaf pupil to integrate.
Olivia Dillon, aged four, joined Lamerton CE primary in January. She has had a cochlea implant and is learning to speak. But signing remains her main method of communication.
Pupils at the school have a weekly lesson with a tutor from the British Deaf Association, and teachers, staff, parents and other members of the community are studying voluntarily at a weekly adult evening class.
* Wow books can be found at www.wowworldwide.co.uk