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'Sign Language Dreams' Teaches Kids ASL, Deaf Culture

The Edgewater Library hosted a signing storyteller on Wednesday, teaching children American Sign Language and the power of reading.

Dozens of local children and their parents sat waving their arms frantically inside the conference room at the on Wednesday morning.

Leading the unusual scene was 37-year-old Kathy MacMillan, wearing an outfit devoted to dreams—nighttime-themed pajamas with oversized sheep slippers.

The activity wasn’t due to panic or any sort of emergency. MacMillan and the group were applauding, using the American Sign Language (ASL) sign for applause at one of the county library’s summer reading events, Sign Language Dreams.

MacMillan, a signing storyteller who teaches children ASL and introduces them to deaf culture, entertained and educated the crowd with stories, songs and audience participation.

As one of the library’s four featured programs in its summer series, Dream, Big, Read, MacMillan’s show took children through an adventure following a dog as it encountered various forest creatures.

“Part of the reason I love this is because I’m able to introduce deaf culture," MacMillan said. "I get to teach the parents a bit, too.”

Throughout the show, children learned various signs for greetings, animals and themed vocabulary like dreams, night and sleep.

For a room filled with children, the program was relatively quiet as MacMillan encouraged attendants to communicate with their hands and facial expressions instead of shouting or speaking. By the end of the show, more than eight children were personally involved in the program and its story.

One of those participants, 10-year-old Riva resident Georgie Shuey, said she would recommend Sign Language Dreams to all her friends, especially because she got to play a bat in the production.

“It’s really fun,” Georgie said.

At one point, MacMillan recommended that parents have their kids watch television with the captions on as a way to increase a child’s reading ability. Georgie even told her mom she’d be willing to try to new reading strategy.

This summer is the second year MacMillan has partnered with Anne Arundel County libraries, but the Owings Mills resident said she’s been working as an interpreter and ASL educator since the early 2000s.

“Kids pick up ASL really quickly,” MacMillan said. “They’re wired for languages.”

As she spoke with people after the show, MacMillan even subconsciously signed various words, but she said it happens all the time. The specialized teacher takes “talking with your hands,” to a whole new level.  

After performing in front of three audiences Wednesday in Edgewater, MacMillan is scheduled to visit 11 more libraries throughout the county.

Check Anne Arundel County libraries’ Sign Language Dreams website to see where MacMillan is headed next.

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