Monday, January 26, 2009

What's Your Sign?

Seth signing Apple, 14 months old

During the first question and answer, I answered the question about Sign Language. Yes, I am fluent (or at least used to be, without practice though it goes pretty quick). Yes, I was an interpreter and Yes, I taught families to sign with their preverbal infants and children.

Today is the first of an "I don't know how many" part series on Signing with your Baby.

This is something that is very dear to my heart. I love signing with babies and watching the satisfaction that comes to both parents and child when they can all understand each other! It is truly amazing.

When I was in college, I had a lot of Deaf friends. Some of them had children who were hearing. I remember watching in awe as these little babies could sign to their parents to tell them what they wanted! It was fascinating to me. It was then that I decided when I had children I would sign with them. Fast forward about 2 or so years and Emma was here. I started signing with her at around 6 months and by 8 months she was signing "all done". It was great!

When Seth was born, I had been doing more research into the benefits of signing with babies and was determined to start earlier with him. I started when he was 5 months old and within 2 weeks of signing "milk" everytime he nursed, he knew what it was. He did his first sign at 8 months (more) and continued to do one sign a month until 11 months, at which time he had a language explosion. He had 85 signs by 14 months. By 18 months he had 250 signs and just as many words. It was amazing to me and a true testimonial to anyone watching him, it worked!

So, you might be wondering what I did to encourage this signing. Well, I did several things. First, it helped that I was fluent and knew the signs to everything he wanted to know signs for. I was also teaching sign classes at the time and he came to all of my classes with me. We didn't watch much TV, but what we did watch was Signing Time. These are really fun videos and, when watched by both Mom, Dad and baby, can really help to supplement your sign learning. Mainly though if you want your child to sign to you you need to be prepared to sign for a long time with nothing in return and to be consistent. Every time you nurse, sign milk, every time they eat, sign food or eat, every time you say Mom or Dad, sign Mom or Dad. Get it? Repetition and consistency are key.

There are a lot of different programs out there also. So much to choose from, how do you know what is best? I am going to do an overview of the main different programs out there and tell you what I think about them. I am biased in that I prefer American Sign Language because it is a real language. I think to make up a signed language for your child is about as helpful as making up a spoken language. So, with that said...

Sign 2 Me. This is a great company. I was a member of their network and taught their curriculum for 2 years. I loved it and highly recommend it. There are classes in every State and if you can't find a class near you, you can buy The Complete Learning Kit. They use American Sign Language signs, so anything you would be signing with your child is a real sign. They also have music to supplement the learning, which is a GREAT way to teach young children (and their parents) to sign.

Signing Time This is a fun set of DVDs and CDs to help teach you and your child American Sign language. Developed by a Mother of a Deaf child and her sister, Signing Time is a fun interactive way to learn. Rachel Coleman (co-creator) writes fun songs, and her daughter Leah and nephew Alex teach the signs.

Baby Signs This is a program that I am not at all impressed with. Taught at Gymboree and through Discovery Toys, they have a large market. However, they do not teach American Sign Language signs. I have looked at much of their products and, by my calculations, they are 80% made up and 20% ASL. Their philosophy is that ASL signs are too difficult for babies and parents to learn. Their company is just providing a bridge of communication to use until the child starts talking. One of the main problems I have with this is that some of their made up signs are actually offensive in the Deaf community. So, if this is something you choose, be sure that you only use it when your child is small and not use it as they get older.

So, there are the Big 3 in Signing with your Baby. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend first, find a class near you. That is the best way to learn. You will learn so much more when you have an instructor who can be sure you are signing correctly and whose brain you can pick :) If there is not a class in your area, invest in the Complete Learning Kit from Sign2Me, and some Signing Time DVDs. Signing Time is also on some PBS stations, so check your local listings.

You may wonder why I am not teaching anymore. It is simple. We moved to a small town that already had a teacher teaching the same curriculum. Her classes were cheaper than mine and I couldn't compete. I miss it though, oh how I miss it.


Nili said...

My DH knows ASL, after looking at Baby Signs he was not happy and said that we would teach our little ones real ASL. I am going to look into the resources you listed, thanks for posting!

Jen said...

Thanks so much for turning me onto Sign2Me years ago. I've been a presenter now for 4 years and still love teaching classes. You also introduced me to Signing Time, and while they drive me crazy because I've seen them each a MILLION times, my 2 boys still love them at age 2 and 5. I'm sorry you haven't been able to teach classes lately, I am lucky that I get to teach all the time. It's fun and a great way to earn some extra cash!

Tiffany said...

I am so grateful for the classes we took with you when Trenton was a baby. It truly helped him. I can't wait until Braxton does his first sign!

Karin said...

I wish I had read this when A was a baby. We did Baby Signs with her and I wish we had used ASL. It wasn't that much harder. In fact, it was better because by Buggy's time, we had met some people who were deaf and it's hard to be taken seriously if you don't know "real" words.

FYI, Signing Time is no longer on PBS. They couldn't afford to pay a TV station to air their shows and then have to send viewers to a website that had absolutely no mention of actually buying the series. But just about every library has just may have to put them on hold.