Sunday, 21 October 2012

Everyone Sing and Sign !

I have always been a great believer that even though a baby cannot speak this doesn’t mean that they do not understand everything we are saying to them from the moment they are born. If we spend our time talking to them in the womb assuming they can hear / understand us, then why would we assume different once they are born.

One of the books I read before having Sophia 6 years ago was ‘The Baby Whisperer’ which had been recommended to me. I loved the way Tracy Hogg spoke of taking your baby around the house when they had been born talking them through each room, what it’s purpose was, where they would be sleeping etc. I so connected with this way of being with your baby.

I have a sister who at 15 months old was left severely brain damaged after a vaccination. From that moment onwards she could no longer say the few words she had recently learnt and was locked inside a new world where everyone assumed she no longer understood anything. How wrong they were. As her younger sister, I watched her frustration at the way people often treated her. Granted her mental age was hard to guage but she wasn’t stupid, far from it. She understood everything and sensing this my relationship with her was quite different from others. Because of this unique relationship and bond I vowed to find a way that I could communicate with my own children when they were babies. If we believe that the soul is all knowing when we are born then surely we owe it to our babies to at least try to find ways to communicate with them and allow them the ability to communicate with us as early and as easily as possible, alleviating as much frustration as possible – for both parent and child.

So when Sophia was born, I looked into baby signing. I had come across ‘Makaton’ with my sister. It was something we had all learnt to use with her in small amounts. As defined on the Makaton.org website “Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate.  It is designed to support spoken language and the signs and symbols are used with speech, in spoken word order.” Baby signing as I understand it, is a modified version of British Sign Language (BSL) or American Sign Language (ASL) dependent on your country of origin and is also used whilst saying the words themselves. When you sign to your baby you speak too. This is very important.


Initially, because I was still in France when Sophia was very small I didn’t have access to baby signing classes so I searched the internet and found a baby signing book and then found the ‘Sing & Sign’ website run by founder Sasha Felix. I ordered her ‘Sing and Sign’ DVD and didn’t look back.

However, at first even I was sceptible. Sophia was about 6 months when we began and it seemed at first that all our efforts were futile. However, we persevered and after about 3-4 months Sophia started signing. Sophia did not sign massively – she would mainly use the signs for milk, more, eat and drink – but she understood an awful lot of what we signed to her. Seeing the delight on her face at being understood was just incredible. She knew we were trying to communicate and understand her and as time progressed even when we just couldn’t work out what she wanted (despite all out efforts), she knew we were trying so would often giggle at us instead of getting frustrated. And we would laugh too !

We moved back to the UK when Sophia was about the age Jess is now, 22 months, and I looked into classes near where we lived. We then found Sarah Glover who runs the East Devon Sing & Sign Classes which were just fabulous. We attended the Stage 2 classes as Sophia was too old for the baby class, and she loved it. We invested in the CDs to play in the car (singing helps to promote talking too) and Sophia decided that she would also like a Jessie cat of her own. Jessie cat is a bit of a star in the Sing & Sign world. She is a black and white cat (see picture) who the babies / toddlers just love. She plays peekaboo in the classes and is an integral part of it all. We all love Jessie !

After our own Jess was born we started signing with her too at about 6 months of age and she became a keen signer from the off. She has also had Sophia signing with her, which has defintely helped her development. I have continued Sing & Sign classes with her, and used all 3 of the DVDs (Sign & Sign, More Sing and Sign and Have a Sing and Sign Christmas). There have been times when Jess has insisted on having one of the DVDs played almost on a loop ! I suppose if you place your child in front of the TV, a Sign and Sign DVD is a better choice than most. She has grown out of this obsession now (thank goodness) but I suppose if we understand that children learn through repetition, I can see why she wanted to keep watching it over and over. Whilst watching the DVDs I would sit with both of them and partake in the experience learning the signs myself.

Both Sophia and Jess have been early talkers, both speaking 2-4 word sentences from about 12 months onwards. It has been an exceptionally rewarding thing for both my husband and I to be doing with our children and I would seriously recommend it to all parents. It will be worthwhile time invested.

In addition to ‘Sing & Sign’ there is now the 'Little Signers Club' who also run classes around the UK, but mainly I believe in the home counties at the moment. I have not attended one of their classes so cannot  personally recommend them, but they seem to be growing fast.

I seriously hope that after reading this you have been inspired to give signing with your babies a go. I don’t believe you’ll regret it.   

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