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Baby signs

sign language classes with tots can improve communication skills.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007
By MELANIE HENRY
The Express-Times

Ling Chou will never forget the first time her son James signed to her.

“I was nursing him and he signed the word ‘milk’ to me,” says Chou. “It was a really magical moment.”

Chou, a certified instructor for the Baby Signs Program, and a mother of two, became interested in signing during her first pregnancy.

“I heard about signing on some online parenting forums, and I took the course offered by Baby Signs to become an instructor,” Chou says.

The Baby Signs Program is based on research done by California doctors Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. Their research includes a long-term study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, in which 140 families and their 11-month-old children were assigned to a Baby Signs group or a non-Baby Signs group.

All children were assessed using standard language measures and were tested at regular intervals.

The results of the study concluded that by 24 months of age the babies using the Baby Signs Program were speaking at the level of 27- to 28-month-olds and had the equivalent of a three-month advantage over the babies in the non-Baby Signs group. The Baby Signs group also was able to put together longer, more complicated sentences and had a larger vocabulary at an earlier age.

The study concluded the program helps babies and children develop language and cognitive skills.

Chou says signing with babies is not only a wonderful way to bond with your child, but it is also an effective way to communicate with them before they are able to speak.

“Signing with your baby enhances the emotional connection between babies and their parents,” she says. “It also helps reduce frustration for the parents, and the baby, because they can communicate their needs.”

As for intellectual benefits, Chou says signing jumpstarts verbal communication, and helps lay the groundwork for speech and language development.

“It’s never too early or too late to start signing. You can start with simple signs such as eat, drink, more and all done. As your baby becomes more proficient you can add more signs.”

Chou has taught her 3-year-old son, James, and 10-month-old daughter, Sarah, how to sign and finds the experience wonderful for the entire family.

“They communicate with each other, kind of like their own language,” Chou says. “Being able to see the world through their eyes, and learning how smart they are is really amazing.”

Chou teaches baby signing classes at Northampton Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College and The Jewish Community Center of Allentown.

“Signing is growing in popularity, in general, from babies on up,” Chou says. “A lot of people sign, even without taking classes. Schools are getting involved also, teaching American Sign Language, which really helps with reading and word comprehension.”

Gymboree in Whitehall Township also offers signing classes for babies and parents.

Brenda Dellatore, an instructor there, has taught the company’s Sign, Say and Play classes in the past.

“Our classes are designed to offer parents an opportunity to bond with their babies through playful activities,” Dellatore says. “We use selected play materials and books as well as music and songs. Each class is theme oriented with themes such as mealtime, bedtime, bath time.”

Dellatore says teaching children to sign at a young age is important because “it provides a way for them to express their needs, thoughts and feelings before they can speak words.

“It is also helps alleviate frustration when the parent can pick up on what their child is trying to tell them,” she says. “Signing allows your child to share their world with you.”

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