Saturday, August 11, 2018

Story Time in American Sign Language

Photo Credit: Keren Messer

Every so often I find myself benefiting from the kindness of providence, wherein she allows most of the elements of my happy place to converge. This happened on the morning of July 28, 2018 as an exquisite blend of friendship, children's books, American Sign Language (ASL), and teaching came together on The High Line.

The High Line is a beautiful garden trail that spans 1.45 miles of the old elevated railway tracks on Manhattan's West Side. This public park often offers exciting cultural events and family programs to build community, support the Arts, and inspire the imagination.

I'd heard people talk about it over the years but it seemed more of a distant fantasy land than a real place. It was "somewhere over there" (motioning westward), a conjecture I wasn't sure I was buying. But, it exists! And I am fortunate that I find myself woven into its magical tapestry.

My first experience performing on the High Line was during the Culture Shock Festival in 2016.  An homage to that endeavor can be found in the artwork for the poster promoting Sing! It's a Family Festival (my likeness is sitting cross-legged between the letters N and G above the word SING with Oni and Mylo beside me).

I was contacted by the good folks in the programming department to create a story telling event in ASL for young children. As I fashion myself a somewhat hyper, modern day Mister Rogers I jumped at the opportunity. I enlisted my friend and former team teacher, Oni, to join me in the 30-minute program.

We used the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff to teach some basic signs, showcase elements of ASL that must be conveyed through repeated movement and emphasis (e.g., the difference between how each of the Billy Goats Gruff eats), and show how to incorporate sound and vibration into ASL story telling.

Photo Credit: Rachel Watkinson
"First the youngest Billy Goat Gruff decided to cross the bridge."

We began by reading the Paul Galdone version of the story and followed it up by welcoming audience members to participate in the action. Our adorable family of hungry goats and the unwelcoming troll had no problems using their new sign language skills to reenact the tale.

Afterwards, we all bowed together with arms raised and hands waiving in applause for a job well done.

UPDATE: I did not know it at the time but we got a mention in The New York Times with an article entitled 8 Things to Do With Your Kids in N.Y.C. This Weekend!


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