Archive for Thursday, October 24, 2002

Baby, what’s your sign?

Young children get a boost from learning sign language

October 24, 2002

For all the sign language being used, the Nottingham Elementary School library was a noisy place last Wednesday night. As they toddled around the room, babies giggled and squealed when Parents as Teachers coordinator Lisa Quackenbush showed parents how to sign words like "cracker" and "ball" so they in turn could guide their toddling young ones into forming the concepts with their own tiny hands.

Last Wednesday's class was one of the two sessions Eudora PAT offered to parents and their hearing children. Learning how to sign different concepts makes communication easier for children who aren't yet old enough to speak.

"It helps them with the frustration level," Quackenbush said. "A lot of the temper tantrums are frustration because they can't get across what they're wanting to say. To use the sign for 'drink' really helps with communication."

The words the children learn have practical uses, like "cookie" and "milk." Because parents cradle a baby doll and give them a cracker to eat, the children have a physical example of the concept they're learning.

Judging by one mother's testimonial at the beginning of the class, teaching babies how to sign works. When reading a book about a dog, the boy signed the word "dog," which in its simplest form is patting the thigh, as one might when calling a dog to "come here."

Bev Novacky came up with a special sign for her daughter Alyssa, as Quackenbush said people in the deaf community often do as a sort of short hand for someone's name rather than spelling it out each time. For Alyssa, that sign is a variation of a "peek-a-boo" motion her mother said the baby often made.

"Mom and Dad are helping them with the signs," Quackenbush said. "It's just an interactive class."

Babies in class usually range from about seven months of age to about 20 to 22 months, when they begin the "language explosion."

"Basically, as soon as the baby is old enough to realize waving 'bye-bye' means something, they're ready to start doing the sign language," Quackenbush said. "Last year when we did it, we had a 14-month-old that was putting together three-word sentences."

Even though babies can start understanding words at six months, they just don't have the total ability to "get it out" until they're two, Quackenbush said.

"They really do want to communicate," she said. "The oral ability just isn't there yet."

Aside from helping them to communicate, Quackenbush said learning sign language has been shown to improve children's IQ, too. But the class teaches signing through fun, interactive lessons, like reading the book "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" while signing the words for each animal and character named in the book from "frog" to "teacher."

"If you want to do a whole lot more, you can find books," Quackenbush said.

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