By Randy Tatano

Hands down, she might be the most creative first-grade teacher you’ve ever seen. Or sometimes it’s hands up. Or sideways.

That’s because Flomaton Elementary’s Vickie Lanier teaches her students sign language. This isn’t a required course, but how it all started is interesting. The 25-year veteran of the classroom doesn’t have a deaf relative or friend but was simply looking for something different to add to the school day that would be interesting and fun for the kids. She settled on sign language a couple of years ago and it’s a big hit with her students.

“I’m trying to add something fun to the class,” said Lanier. “They get very excited, it exercises their brain, and it’s a good way to introduce them to something new.”

It’s generally accepted that children can learn a new language a lot faster than adults, and sign language is no different.

“They soak it up like little sponges,” said Lanier.

Lanier has charts posted in the classroom showing the sign language alphabet, with the appropriate hand sign that goes along with each letter. Each child can sign his or her name along with basic phrases like, “I love you.” Lanier leads her students in a little sign language each day.

The children have gotten so proficient they are able to sign an entire song, as they do with the Ray Charles classic “What a Wonderful World.” You can watch a video of that performance below.

Lanier said the training has already paid dividends, as last year one of her students ran into a deaf person at a ball game, “And was actually able to communicate.”

The kids have favorite signs. Katie Fore loves the sign for “popcorn.” Grayson Silbernagle likes “nice to meet you.” Paisley Newcomer enjoys signing her name.

Lanier is learning sign language along with her students. It’s literally a “hands-on” life skill that someday may pay dividends. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a pretty unique bit of knowledge to have. So when you ask the children from this class if they know their ABCs, you’re likely to get two answers.

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