Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Signing with Babies, Much More than "MORE", "MILK", and "EAT"

I was pushing my eleven-month old son, J.J. in his stroller through the mall when he began to frantically wave his arm and turn his head as if to look behind us. I didn't think much of it and decided to keep going, however, my son had other ideas!

I was forced to turn around to avoid the scene I was afraid he might make. I retraced our steps to find a happy little J.J. dancing in his stroller. We had passed a store that was playing loud
music and my little dancer had found a beat he couldn't resist. That was the first time J.J. signed "music."

Until recently, signing with pre-verbal babies simply meant teaching the signs for "more," "milk," and "eat." Occasionally I even found a few parents that also incorporated "please" and "thank you" into their child's signing vocabulary. Today, signing with pre-verbal babies has taken on a whole new meaning.

Parents and caregivers are beginning to realize the benefits of teaching additional signs to babies and toddlers. Signing daily activities, favorite animals, and opposites gives parents and caregivers a window into the minds of babies and toddlers. Before they can vocalize what's
going on in their little heads, they can show us through sign.

As parents and caregivers, we learn to put up with a certain amount of whining and crying from our little ones on a daily basis. Although I was growing accustomed to it, I could tell that little J.J. was beginning to feel quite frustrated. That is when I decided it was time to teach him the sign for "help." Within a week, this became our favorite sign!

J.J. would sign, "help" throughout the day and I would enthusiastically answer his silent cry for assistance. This created a much happier J.J. (and Mommy) and we began to enjoy our time together even more. Signing allows us to connect with babies very early in their lives and helps us to see them as little people that have needs and wants, likes and dislikes, very similar to ours. This makes the bond that parents and caregivers experience with babies and toddlers even stronger!

Article by: Kelly Robson
Kelly is a fellow Sign2Me Instructor from Omaha, NE

Spreading of Deaf Culture by Teaching the Young Hearing

The largest threat to any minority movement is ignorance. The greatest asset is knowledge.

Current thinking is that the largest threat to the Deaf and their culture is the loss of American Sign Language (ASL). It seems that those who receive an early ASL education are only those who either have Deaf parents, parents who are linked to the Deaf community, or parents that have participated in Sign with your Baby.

Oral-minded early interventionist refuse to teach ASL to young deaf children and modern technology has all but eliminated the absolute necessity of it. However, the largest threat to Deaf culture is not the elimination of the language, but the isolation of it.

American Deaf culture stemmed from the formation of the schools for the deaf in the early 19th century. In their home communities, the deaf were often neglected, misunderstood, abused, and discriminated against just as other segments of society have been. Attending a residential school for the deaf was an opportunity to leave such an environment for a more communal one.

By segregating themselves into institutions, the deaf learned a new language called American Sign Language. This language allowed them to communicate with others who also signed thereby replacing feelings of victimization and injustice with feelings of community and ideology.

Thus the unique basis of Deaf culture is the ability to use ASL to fully communicate and interact with others. When more people can use ASL to communicate and interact with others, more understanding of Deaf culture can be dispensed and dispersed throughout the hearing population.

Imagine how different our modern educational system would be if in 1817, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc had established an American Sign Language program within the Hartford Grammar School rather than establishing a separate school altogether. The result could have led to an entirely different history for notorious colleges such as Yale, Trinity, Vassar, and Hartford.

Mirroring the effects of the establishment of the American School for the Deaf, had the Hartford Grammar School had an early education signing program, adult graduates would have moved on to establish other signing programs in their local elementary schools. Hearing and deaf would learn to communicate, share, socialize, respect, and value diversity side-by-side.

Children across the nation would have learned to view deafness as merely a difference rather than a defect. And educators would not have waited 160 years to perceive American Sign Language as an official language since it would have been used in the mainstream public education system for the past two hundred years.

According to the National Association of the Deaf’s Position Statement on American Sign Language, “Preparing deaf children to achieve optimal linguistic fluency in both ASL and English enables them to later engage in meaningful adult discourse as fully participating, contributing, and productive members of American society.”

Thanks to the research done by P.L. Griffith, Marilyn Daniels, and Joseph Garcia, we now know that the same can be said for hearing children.

Sharing ASL with the hearing by introducing it as early as possible into our mainstream educational system can provide hearing children with an early introduction to Deaf culture and Deaf language. With this knowledge, Deaf culture can be more supported, strengthened, and advocated. ASL can thrive in light of oralism and technology. And everyone can sign with their baby.