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Feature Article: Helpful Hints for Getting Started with Signing
Resource Spotlight: Random House Webster's Concise Guide to American Sign Language
Success Story of the Month: Kyle, son of Susan and Brian
Recognition and Appreciation
Reader Contributions
March/April 2001
 Feature Article

Helpful Hints for Getting Started with Signing
This month we have compiled a listing of important hints for parents and caregivers who are just starting to use Sign Language to communicate with their preverbal baby. We encourage you to incorporate these ideas into your own communication.

Use Signs Liberally: Frequently incorporate all of the signs you have mastered into your daily communication with your child.

Select One or Two Key Signs to Focus On at a Time: We often suggest that people start with the words 'more' and 'all done,' since there are many times throughout the day your child will want to communicate these actions to you. With the signs you select to focus on, gently show your baby how to make the sign with their own hands in addition to using the signs yourself. Once your baby learns these signs, select new signs to focus on.

Resist the Temptation to Focus on Signs that only Gratify You:
We all want our children to learn to say Please and Thank You. These are great signs for you to use regularly, however, they are not great signs to focus on in the beginning. Focus instead on actions and objects your baby has a distinct need to communicate on a regular basis.

Follow your Child's Lead: Take a moment to consider what your child is most interested in communicating about right now (i.e. milk, bananas, balls, books, birds…). These are the signs to focus on in the beginning.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments:
If your child reaches for a ball, she is communicating with you that she wants the ball. We call this a teachable moment. Sign and say 'ball,' then give her the ball.

Be Consistent: Use the sign the same way every time for the same action or object. This will help your baby become familiar with the sign sooner.

Share Signs with Family Members and Caregivers. Be sure to show people who care for your baby the signs he or she already knows so your baby can communicate with others when you are away.

Be Expressive: Sign Language is a very expressive language. Use appropriate facial expressions and body gestures when you use the signs.

Be Enthusiastic: Act excited when your baby uses a sign correctly, and let your baby know how wonderful you think he is! Reinforce your baby's efforts to communicate by responding affirmatively when possible.

Be Open to Interpretation: Babies will generally not make signs correctly the first few times they attempt it, just like they won't speak a word correctly the first few times they speak it. Respond to your baby's version of the sign as though it were accurate, but keep signing the word correctly yourself. Over time your baby will develop more precision.

Be Somewhat Selective: It is quite possible that your child's version of a particular sign will look very similar to the accurate motions for a completely different sign. For example, your child's version of the sign for 'change' could resemble the actual sign for 'cheese.' To avoid your own confusion in these cases, it can be helpful to avoid focusing on the new sign 'cheese' until your child has developed a more precise version of the sign for 'change.'

Be Flexible: Sometimes a baby will create a sign for herself. Feel free to continue using it, and applaud her creativity.

Be Patient: Babies develop all skills at their own pace. Some babies learn signs quickly, and others can take weeks or even months before they make their first sign. Rest assured that your baby will use the signs when he has a need to communicate with you.

Equip Yourself with Helpful Resources: Materials such as Sign Language dictionaries, picture books and videos can be a wonderful supplement to attending a SmallTalk Workshop.

Above all, Have Fun! Sign Language should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance communication with your child. It should not be viewed as an additional achievement burden or goal. Just as you enjoy your time reading, singing, or simply talking with your baby, we encourage you to enjoy the practice of signing with your baby.

 Resource Spotlight

This month our resource spotlight is on the Random House Webster's Concise Guide to American Sign Language. This is our most highly recommended resource. With 4,500 entries, just about any sign that you might want to look up is at your fingertips. If, for example, your baby is excited by seeing a helicopter go by, this resource is your best bet for taking advantage of a 'teachable moment' to show your baby how to sign 'helicopter.' We also like the explanations that describe the movement of the sign to supplement the illustrations of the sign movements. This book is published by Gallaudet University, the world's only liberal arts college for the deaf and retails for only $10.95. To order this book, print an order form and/or contact us.

 Success Story of the Month

Kyle, son of Susan and Brian
Kyle's mom, Susan, signed up for a SmallTalk Workshop so she will be ready to sign with baby #2, Brandon, due in April. Kyle, who is 2 1/2, attends the workshops with his mother, but he has not been interested in doing any signs. Kyle has a significant verbal vocabulary, however many of his words are still difficult for those outside his immediate family to understand. Susan thought using the signs would provide an opportunity for language reinforcement. She wasn't sure if Kyle was learning any of the signs until he spontaneously signed 'grape,' when a playmate recently pulled a bag of grapes out of her lunch bag. Kyle was rewarded with gleeful cheers from his mom! On the way home, Kyle confirmed that he has been grasping the signs, when he spontaneously signed banana when Susan offered him a snack. Hooray for Kyle! We anticipate there will be more signing to come, mom!

 Recognition and Appreciation

Thank you to Karen's mom's group! It was a pleasure to work with each of you and especially fun to see how many signs Nora has learned!

Thank you to McKenzie and friends! It has been so much fun to work with you all.

Thank you to the SW Mom's Group for scheduling a series of workshops--I've had so much fun watching your little ones develop as signers!

Thank you to the Southwest Community Center for continuing to provide a great space for workshops!

Thank you Karen for the referral to Legacy Meridian Park's new mom's support group!

Thank you Julie for the referral to the Jewish Community Center!

Thank you Cindy for the referral to Tuality Healthcare!

Thank you Wendy for building such a fun web site!

Thank you Molly for all of your editing assistance!

 Reader Contributions

Contact us
if you would like to suggest an idea for a future feature article or if you would like to contribute your own success story.

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