Developing Literacy Skills

Reading to your child

Sharing a story in NZSL is a wonderful activity for you and your child. Storytelling offers your child the opportunity to see different language structures and vocabulary that may not be used in day to day interactions.

Depending on the age of your child there are a number of ways that you can sit with your child and the book, such as:

  • Sitting your child opposite you with the book on your lap
  • Sitting your child in a high chair so that your arms are free to sign
  • Have another family member sit alongside and hold the book while you sign.

Tips and Tricks:  Sharing books with your child

  • Don’t feel bound by the text – use the visual aspects of the book along with the sign language you know and create a visual story
  • Share the storytelling role with your child – allow them to have a turn being the ‘storyteller’
  • Ask your First Signs Facilitator to support you to sign a particular story.
  • Create your own books from shared experiences – photos are wonderful and the shared experience can support language development.
  • Make use of the NZSL story DVDs available in the NZFDC family kit or through the Deaf Education Centres.

Check out Further Information for more information on literacy and Deaf children.


It is important that fingerspelling is used from the very beginning. It is an important part of visual language and children benefit from being exposed to fingerspelling from the start.

Use fingerspelling for names of people, places and objects for which there are no signs. Children who are exposed early to fingerspelling are more likely to play with handshapes and movements that are used in sign language.

Children will use their knowledge of fingerspelling when they come to learning to read and write.

Tips and Tricks:  Fingerspelling

  • Don’t worry about the speed of your finger spelling
  • Keep your palm facing towards the child
  • Practice fingerspelling with others and by yourself
  • Fingerspell words that are meaningful for your child, e.g.: Boo, Moo, Wow, Elmo
  • Practice fingerspelling your child’s name
  • Fingerspell words that your child already knows the signs for. Sign the word, fingerspell it, then sign it again.