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Curriculum matters & Theories

Integrating New Zealand sign language into our ECE settings – how teachers can help

By Rachel Pratt

deaf sign languageWhy and how to incorporate NZ Sign Language into ECE settings and your teaching.

NZ Sign Language (NZSL) is one of the three official languages of NZ and all ECE services and teachers need a basic understanding of it. Hearing children can become more understanding of differences and Deaf children can experience an environment where they feel welcome and supported.


  1. Why learn and use NZSL in early childhood education settings
  2. Reasons for teaching and communicating in NZSL even if there are no Deaf children at the service
  3. Things for teachers to consider
  4. Lots of ways you can incorporate NZSL into your teaching and the service
  5. Where to go for more information
  6. Links to articles on baby sign language, teacher hearing loss, and related information


1.  Why learn and use NZSL in early childhood education settings

Deafness can be seen as an invisible disability but it significantly influences children’s future learning and development. A child who is Deaf may appear to be integrating into an education system however there is a lot of research that shows many Deaf children still fall behind their peers in terms of educational success.

Evidence has shown that Deaf children who have access to New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) show higher levels of achievement than their peers and learn English much more easily than those who don’t.

The Ministry of Education does not currently provide interpreters, advanced teacher aides or Deaf mentors for children in early childhood education.

Deaf children may not get the support they need within ECE unless the service leader and teachers are experienced in working with Deaf children and can communicate using NZSL.

It’s important too in early childhood education we support all children to learn NZSL as members of an inclusive society.


2. Why should I teach it when there are no children with hearing impairments?

Deaf children who require visual communication represent about 0.1 percent of the population of children who are involved in early childhood education. For this reason, early childhood teachers may not encounter many Deaf children and question the importance of using NZSL in their centre.

Apart from the obvious benefit of being prepared for a child who uses NZSL, there are benefits for all involved:

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