I am a Baby Signing Time instructor, certified with the Signing Time Academy. Through my business Start with Sign, I conduct classes in American Sign Language (ASL) for parents and children 0 to 3 years. I offer one-time presentations, class series, pre-school visits and home parties.
Language has always been my passion – whether in the form of creative writing or communicating in the tongue of another country. As an undergraduate I studied every language I could fit into my schedule: Russian, Spanish, Japanese – even Egyptian hieroglyphs! Outside of school, I added Italian and Hungarian to my list of loves and traveled and taught abroad. In 1999, I earned an advanced degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. In my course work on second language acquisition and other related topics, I learned about how sign language could be a child’s first language before learning to speak any other.
When I became a mom, I started using some signs with my son Isaac, now 7, when I happened on a one-off class in a parent’s circle. I took home the hand-out on a few first signs and played around with it. A couple friends were also using ASL with their babies and one of them introduced me to the Signing Time videos. Both my son and I loved them, and when he started signing back to me, I was thrilled. And I could see how excited he was to be understood. Later, when he started to speak, signing helped take away the ambiguity of his budding, but muddled speech (Is he saying duck or truck? Does he mean ball or boat?).
Isaac has a brother now. – I have a little boy named Rhys who was born in August of 2011. I naturally picked up signing again, starting at around 6 months old with food words. Right around the same time, a neighbor had a new grandson arrive who was diagnosed with profound hearing loss. I found myself on the Signing Time website again, looking for information and links to send her. That’s when I discovered I could become certified to teach baby sign classes and I jumped at the chance.
Rhys loves to see “his babies” signing and actually requests them (by doing the sign for “baby” or for “sign”). If they are putting on a hat, he wants his; if they are learning the word for apple, I better have one in the house for him!
I am currently also enrolled in other ASL courses to further my knowledge of the vocabulary and structures of the language and continue my understanding of Deaf culture.
Benefits of Sign for Hearing Children:
The benefits of using ASL with hearing children are by now well-documented. Just as with any second language, ASL (literally) expands the brain. Through ASL, babies who are still far from verbally competent, have an outlet for their cognitive abilities which develop much earlier. Frustration levels and tantrums lessen when baby is understood and their needs are more easily met. Parents can feel more connected to their little ones when they see more clearly into who they are.
Signing appeals to multiple learning styles – it is visual, mechanical, and kinesthetic. Children with developmental challenges may be able to speak through sign when other methods of communication are not possible for them.
Studies have even shown that children who learn sign language early on have larger vocabularies and higher IQ scores than other children.
The face-to-face communication that sign requires means there are more opportunities for quality time and genuine connection with your child. And, it’s fun!
The Baby Signing Time and Signing Time Series from Two Little Hands Productions were created by sisters Rachel Coleman and Emilie Brown.
Rachel and her husband Aaron were surprised that their baby daughter, Leah, born in 1996, seemed unaffected by the loud music at Rachel’s concerts. When they discovered Leah was deaf, Rachel at first lost all interest in her musical career. Soon, however, the family was learning ASL at a fast pace. Emilie’s son Alex was also learning to sign. Rachel would again call up her musical talents and the cousins became the stars of the new series Signing Time. The first video was really made to help family and friends learn to communicate with Leah, but it quickly blossomed into much more. When Rachel and Aaron welcomed another daughter, Lucy, they would again see the amazing benefits of ASL. Lucy was born with spina bifida and cerebral palsy. When she was 2 years old, Lucy communicated her first words – using sign.
The Signing Time products include videos, music CDs, board books, and flashcards.
But I don’t want my baby to watch videos!
ASL is a visual language. It makes sense to show your child a variety of people doing the signs you want them to learn. The Signing Time videos are made with care and feature your children’s peers signing. These are commerical-free educational videos that you will watch along side your child, while you both learn and interact.
The play options are parent-friendly – you can choose particular chapters, reviews, or the first or second halves of the playing time. Of course, you make the call as to when, if or for how long your child watches. If you are wholly opposed to all video, know that the Signing Time videos are not essential to learning ASL or to learning through Signing Time. There are classes, board books and other materials available.
Are these “baby signs” made for baby hands?
No. Signing Time uses real American Sign Language – not made up “baby signs.” ASL is a full and complex language with an accompanying culture. Made up signs run the risk of being a different word or gesture in ASL or possibly insulting those whose use ASL as their native language. You want your child to learn the real language, just as you expect them to learn from real English. Children make approximations in sign, in the same way they start or change words when they are learning to speak. It is up to us to try to understand and model the proper signs/words for them as they grow.
When will my baby sign back to me?
It depends on your baby’s age and personal development and how consistent you are with showing and repeating the signs. Babies are usually able to sign back to you between 10-14 months old, though they can recognize and understand signs earlier.