Talking With Our Hands: Visual Phonics

By: Clarey Allen, M.S., CCC-SLP / Lauren Gebhard, M.S., CCC-SLP

Talking with our hands, we all do it, some more than others. Usually, to reinforce or emphasize what we are saying with our mouth. For instance, we may point every which way when giving driving directions that include several confusing twists and turns. Perhaps we want to emphasize an important part of a story we are telling. Or focus on a specific picture in the bedtime story we are reading with our child. The point is, we use more than our mouth to communicate information to our audience. We use body language, facial expressions, and often our hands.

And that is GREAT!

You’ve heard the discussion about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles and the different teaching styles that should be used to reach each of these types of learners. However, research shows that the more senses involved in teaching, the more efficient learning is. The more information is repeated and reinforced, the more habitual it becomes. It makes sense that the more routine something is taught, the more it will be used by the child across all environments. Many have witnessed this to be true with the success of sign language in helping children with communication and language skills, especially early on. Children watch and learn as their teachers, parents, and peers use their hands (often in combination with the spoken word) to interact socially, name items, answer questions, and/or request what they want or need. The more sign language and words that they see and hear, the more they learn and use them.

What if there was a way to emphasize and teach speech sounds and words with our mouths AND hands? Well, we are in luck!

Visual Phonics

Visual phonics, also known as sound signs, help to develop one’s speech and language systems. It is similar to sign language in that a hand shape and/or movement is used to signal to our brain to move mouths in a certain way, to produce a specific sound. Instead of having word meaning as sign language does, each hand sign is tied to a specific unit of sound in English. Simply stated, visual phonics are hand movements that pair with each speech sound. Visual phonics help our kiddos see and hear the difference in each sound. This multi-sensory approach is advantageous and FUN for all learners, whether visual, tactile, auditory, or kinesthetic. At Little Light House, we use visual phonics to promote imitation, oral motor movements, following directions, fine and/or gross motor skills, and ultimately to increase speech intelligibility by breaking words down to the sound level.

With continuous use and practice, you will see your child:

  • Learn new speech sounds
  • Improve the clarity of speech sounds
  • Overcome challenges with combining speech sounds
  • Begin to make letter-sound associations (great pre-literacy skill!)

Helpful For Individuals who have/are:

  • Apraxia
  • Learning Speech Sounds
  • Improving Articulation
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • Reading Readiness
  • Learning to Spell

Visual phonics include a hand sign assigned for EVERY SINGLE SOUND in the English language–vowels, consonants, and consonant blends. It is important that each small unit of sound is attached to the same hand sign EVERY SINGLE TIME. It really does not matter which hand sign you use for each sound but that the same sign is used EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sometimes a sign may be difficult for a child to make; therefore, modifications are allowed and encouraged!

Remember: Repetition, repetition, repetition!

There are many different kinds of visual phonics. Here at Little Light House, we use the Golden Gate Series developed at the San Francisco Scottish Rite Center for Childhood Language Disorders.

Throughout COVID-19, the Little Light House went virtual. Our teachers and therapists did a wonderful job producing learning content for students and caregivers using different media outlets. Below you will find a video with all visual phonics sounds and hand movements demonstrated by Little Light House Speech Language Pathologist, Clarey Sharum.

Visual Phonics Demonstration

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