Children’s key word signing (KWS) and the Early Years Learning Framework

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) Principles “underpin practice that is focussed on assisting all children to make progress in relation to the Learning Outcomes.”1

In the article below we have set out how integrating Children’s key word signing (KWS) in your early childhood education and care setting will assist you in meeting several of the principles of the EYLF and ensure the “belonging, being and becoming1 of all your children.

  • For more information on what Children’s key word signing is please click here
  • For more information on Children’s key word signing and the Early Learning Years Framework please click here
  • For more information on how Children’s key word signing assists meeting the Learning Outcomes please click here

Please note:

As we highlight how Children’s Key Word Signing (KWS) meets the principles of the EYLF we will sometimes be referring to research undertaken into baby signing.

Baby Signing and Children’s key word signing (KWS) are very similar, while Key Word Signing (KWS) was original designed for individuals with communication difficulties Professor Loncke at University of Virginia eloquently describes the similarities in rationale between baby signing and what Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) practitioners (who use key word signing (KWS)) are trying to achieve:

“The rationale behind its [baby signing] introduction and use is very similar to what AAC practitioners try to do…the use of gestures or signs (or other modality such as graphic symbols) by and with individuals with intellectual or other developmental limitations is based on exactly similar rationale. The main difference is that the use of the “more accessible” modality may be a more permanent intervention and method of communication [for those with an intellectual or other developmental limitation].


First Principle: Secure, Respectful and Reciprocal Relationships2

Educators who are attuned to children’s thoughts and feelings, support the development of a strong sense of wellbeing. They positively interact with the young child in their learning.

Children’s key word sign (KWS) has been developed to ensure that children are able to express their thoughts and feeling before they are able to speak.

The research has shown that if KWS is used consistently by their carer, a baby can produce its first signs from as early as 8 months, much earlier that most children utter their first words.

Further, with an estimated 1 in 6 children showing signs of a language delay,3 Children’s key word sign (KWS) can be used by Educator’s to become more attune with the children’s needs, wants and feelings, through sign, before a child is able to be understood through speech.4

As well as a child being able to communicate much earlier than non-signing children, research has shown that carers who use signing and gestures with their children are more responsive and attuned that non-signing carers5. It was theorised it made carers more observant of the children as they looked for signs, which in turn led them to notice more moments “ripe for interaction, thereby interacting more often with the child and exposing that child to more social contact and learning.” 6

Research has shown that babies are both vulnerable and competent. Babies’ first attachments within their families and within other trusting relationships provide them with a secure base for exploration and learning.

Using Children’s key word signing (KWS) within your early childhood education and care setting ensure a strong trusted relationship between Educator and Child from a very young age. Using signs have been shown to improve bonding between carer and child as well as leading to, “a stronger appreciation for the autonomy and desires of the infant.7 The research has also shown carers that used signs “encouraged significantly more independent actions”8 than non-signing carers.

It is evident that the use of Children’s key word sign (KWS) at your early childhood education and care setting will ensure that you will provide the best opportunity for your Educators and children to build strong attachments and become a strong base for the child to feel confident in exploration and learning.

Through a widening network of secure relationships, children develop confidence and feel respected and valued. They become increasingly able to recognise and respect the feelings of others and to interact positively with them.

As mentioned above, by integrating Children’s key word sign (KWS) into your early childhood education and care setting it will ensure a strong bond between Educators and the children. The research has shown the use of signing by infants resulted in greater attunement between child and carer,9 and the infants having higher self esteem compared to those not exposed to baby signing.10

In providing the opportunity for children to communicate through both speech or signing (and preferably visual symbols as well) it ensures that the children at your early childhood education and care setting are confident and feel respected and valued.

Educators who give priority to nurturing relationships and providing children with consistent emotional support can assist children to develop the skills and understandings they need to interact positively with others. They also help children to learn about their responsibilities to others, to appreciate their connectedness and interdependence as learners, and to value collaboration and teamwork.

Using Children’s key word signing in your early childhood education and care setting ensures that the children are able to gain the relevant emotional support from Educators by being to communicate their feelings and requests for emotional support from an early age.4

One study showed that infants were able to make emotional regulation attempts through sign. These included initiating comforting routines including signing for songs during nappy changes and signing ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ so they could be informed when they would picked up by their parents.11

Research has shown that at an early age babies and toddlers are able to process signs very well due to the rapid brain development of the occipital cortex,12 therefore you are able to support them through emotional periods of daily life such as waving goodbye to parents, sign how to calm, take turns or share within a play settling.

Further, by providing an opportunity for those that may have a language delay, or are non-verbal to communicate with their signing peers it helps children appreciate their connectedness to others and promotes collaboration and teamwork.

Second Principle: Partnership2

Learning outcomes are most likely to be achieved when early childhood educators work in partnership with families. Educators recognise that families are children’s first and most influential teachers. They create a welcoming environment where all children and families are respected and actively encouraged to collaborate with educators about curriculum decisions in order to ensure that learning experiences are meaningful.

At Sunshine Sign and Sing we are aware of the importance of partnership between Educators and families. Therefore our ‘Children’s Key Word Signing Pack for Early Learning Services’ includes a parental portal for families.

The parental portal provides your parents with access to all of the signs at your early childhood education and care setting, therefore if a child uses a sign at home they will immediately be able to log on and discover what their child is trying to tell them.

We would be devastated if we knew children were learning and using signs at your setting to return home and not be understood by their own family!

It also encourages the parents to learn this valuable communication tool at home and ensures the children’s and families’ learning experience into Children’s key word sign (KWS) is meaningful.

Third Principle: High Expectations and Equity2

Early childhood educators who are committed to equity believe in all children’s capacities to succeed, regardless of diverse circumstances and abilities. Children progress well when they, their parents and educators hold high expectations for their achievement in learning.

Here at Sunshine Sign and Sing we always presume competence and it is a driver of everything we do. Children’s key word sign (KWS) is an amazing way to ensure your service is inclusive, promotes equity and provides the children at your early childhood education and care setting the capabilities to succeed.

As stated above it is estimated 1 in 6 of children will have a language delay, often a child can be underestimated in both receptive understand and their ability to express themselves when they are non-verbal or non-speaking. However, using Children’s key word signing (as well as other forms of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)) can assist a child to be expressive in their needs, wants and interests.

Neurodiverse children, (including autistic, apraxic and Down’s syndrome) that are pre-verbal or non-verbal are often
under-estimated due to their inability to effectively communicate. However, by providing children with key word sign (KWS) (and hopefully other forms of AAC) within a service it provides them with some of the capability they may need to show their abilities as well as express their needs, wants and interests through sign.

Educators recognise and respond to barriers to children achieving educational success. In response they challenge practices that contribute to inequities and make curriculum decisions that promote inclusion and participation of all children.

Children’s key word sign (KWS) has been designed to assist children overcome the barrier of not being able to communicate when they are pre-verbal, non-verbal or non-speaking. Inability to expressly communicate is an obvious and significant barrier to educational success.

However if KWS, or other AAC tools, are only limited to children that have a language delay research has shown they will experience widespread and frequent exclusion.13

As stated in Cologne et al (2017):

“Sharing and exchanging thoughts and ideas, emotion, needs, likes and dislikes can occur through many different forms of communication. However, in a phono centric society in which spoken language is generally valued above all other forms of communication, there are significant barriers to inclusion for people who communicate using AAC and other non verbal mediums of communication.”14

Therefore by ensuring all those that attend your early childhood education and care setting learn Children’s key word sign (KWS) it ensures the inclusion and participation of all children, and highlights that you value all the diverse forms of communication.

Research has shown implementing KWS into an Early Learning setting where all Educators and children participate does not lead to stigmatisation15 (unlike when it is only used by those that need it long term) and implementing AAC strategies have been found to lead to successful shared communication and associated participation and development.14

By adopting Children’s key word signing (KWS) into your early childhood education and care setting it ensures full participation with children able to communicate to all of those that have learnt to sign at the setting rather than a very select number of communication partners such as parents, speech pathologists and Educators with KWS knowledge.

By developing their professional knowledge and skills, and working in partnership with children, families, communities, other services and agencies, they continually strive to find equitable and effective ways to ensure that all children have opportunities to achieve learning outcomes.

Our Children’s key word sign Early Learning pack has been designed to provide professional development training to your Educator’s into Children’s Key Word Sign.

The training is split into two sessions, the first to educate you on what Children’s Key Word Sign is, the history, benefits, how to sign, when to sign and instruction on a large number of signs to get you started at your early childhood education and care setting.

The second session is more personalised to your particular early childhood education and care setting, for example we will work with you to teach you signs to any hello, pack up or goodbye songs you may have (or any other songs used regularly), as well as go through any signs that you think are appropriate for your setting. We will also go through and overcome any obstacles you have had between the first and second training session.

This is done so you are able to work in partnership with children, families and community to ensure the signs taught in the second session will be the most equitable and effective for the children at your early childhood education and care setting.

Principle Five: Ongoing Learning and Reflective Practice2

Educators continually seek ways to build their professional knowledge and develop learning communities.

Once Educator’s have completed our Children’s Key Word Signing (KWS) training we encourage the Educator’s to carry on their key word signing (KWS) journey by continuing to learn new signs, especially as it has been shown that learning new sign vocabularies are required to continue active and interested participation by the children you are teaching.

You may also want to continue your professional knowledge by becoming familiar with other Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) tools such as visual communication boards. We also encourage you to touch base with local speech pathologists and occupational therapists that could provide useful tools for you as Educators and learn effective strategies for further promoting expressive communication from those that have a language delay or other disability.

Thank you for taking the time on read how Children’s key word signing (KWS) can assist your early childhood education and care setting. We are hoping your are looking forward to taking your first steps to integrating signing into your setting. Please download the Early Learning Pack from our shop or contact us directly through our website, email or phone. We look forward to hearing from you.

If you would like to read more about how Children’s key word signing assists meeting the Learning Outcomes in the Early Years Learning Framework please click here

1 Belonging, Being, Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia page 5 ( accessed 10 September 2022)
2 Belonging, Being, Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia page 13 ( accessed 10 September 2022)
3 [accessed 10 September 2022]
4 Studies have shown toddlers are able to initiate conversations into their feelings through sign – Vallotton, Claire D. “Signs of emotion: What can preverbal children “say” about internal states?.” Infant Mental Health Journal: Official Publication of The World Association for Infant Mental Health 29.3 (2008): 234-258.
5Vallotton, C. D. (2009). Do infants influence their quality of care? Infants’ communicative gestures predict caregivers’ responsiveness. Infant Behavior and Development, 32, 351- 365; Kirk, E., Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., & Fletcher, B. C. (2013, April). To sign or not to sign? The impact of encouraging infants to gesture on infant language and maternal mind-mindedness. Child Development, 84(2), 574-590; Graham, S. A., & Kilbreath, C. S. (2007). It’s a sign of the kind: Gestures and words guide infants’ inductive inferences. Developmental Psychology, 43(5), 1111-1123; Vallotton, C. D. (2012a). Infant signs as intervention? Promoting symbolic gestures for preverbal children in low-income families supports responsive parent-child relationships. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 37, 401-415.
6 Ramstad, Alaina. “Baby Sign’s Developmental Benefits.” (2019) p35
7 Ramstad, Alaina. “Baby Sign’s Developmental Benefits.” (2019) p33
8 Ramstad, Alaina. “Baby Sign’s Developmental Benefits.” (2019) p33 referring to the following research Kirk, E., Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., & Fletcher, B. C. (2013, April). To sign or not to sign? The impact of encouraging infants to gesture on infant language and maternal mind-mindedness. Child Development, 84(2), 574-590
9Vallotton, Claire D. “Support or competition? Dynamic development of the relationship between manual pointing and symbolic gestures from 6 to 18 months of age.” Gesture and Multimodal Development 39 (2012): 27
10 Daniels, Marilyn. “Seeing Language: The Effect of Sign Language on Vocabulary Development in Young Hearing Children.” (1995).
11Ramstad, A. (2019). Baby Sign’s Developmental Benefits (Thesis, Concordia University, St. Paul). Retrieved from p 46 referring to study: Karsten, Ashley E., et al. “Toddlers take emotion regulation into their own hands with infant signs.” YC Young Children72.1 (2017): 38-43.
12 Okyle, C (2017)
13 Light, Janice, and David Mcnaughton. “Designing AAC research and intervention to improve outcomes for individuals with complex communication needs.” Augmentative and Alternative Communication 31.2 (2015): 85-96.
14 Cologon, Kathy, and Zinnia Mevawalla. “Increasing inclusion in early childhood: Key Word Sign as a communication partner intervention.” International journal of inclusive education 22.8 (2018): 902-920.p2-3
15 Brereton, Amy. “Sign language use and the appreciation of diversity in hearing classrooms.” Early Years 28.3 (2008): 311-324.