Library co-op offers baby sign language classes
by Kely S. Kelly
The Suncoast News, Wednesday, May 4, 2016
How does one communicate with babies or toddlers? True, they cry when hungry, need changing, want to be held and the like, but can't vocalize anything specific. When babies don't get what they want it often leads to tantrums and parents feeling stressed.
To help overcome that problem, sign language is used to communicate by babies as young as 6 months old. Your baby can learn how to tell you if he or she is too cold or hot, hungry or just needs a hug.
The Pinellas County Library Cooperative offers free sign language classes for infants and toddlers from birth to 3 years and toddlers from 12-24 months old at libraries in Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Countryside, Largo, Pinellas Park and Seminole. Other free sign language classes at these libraries are available for older children and adults.
The East Lake Community Library provides Baby Sign classes from birth to 18 months and toddlers from 18 months to 3 years. Instruction is provided by the Deaf Literacy Center, based out of the Safety Harbor library. Instructor Cathee Beveridge leads the baby and toddler classes.
"Teach your baby signs you are going to use constantly," said Rosa Rodriguez, deaf services coordinator for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative. "Signing requires eye-hand coordination, hearing and speech, as the parents speak when they sign to their child. Even though the baby is not signing back at first, he or she is taking it all in."
Each session is about a half-hour. Class size can range from just a few parents and babies to a roomful of 25 or more. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers and nannies bring their children — some sitting on chairs and others on the floor. Adults sign along or guide the little one's hands.
For example, the "More, Please" song teaches babies to ask for more milk, cookies, crackers and water. Books help teach signs for colors, animals and actions such as waking up, brushing teeth, combing hair, taking a bath and going to bed. Other songs teach signs for family members such as mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma and grandpa, and phrases such as "I love you," "How are you?" and "I miss you."
"It takes awhile," Rodriguez said. "You need to do it consistently, signing every single day. Babies are collecting information. It's not how many times a baby signs, but the fact that parents and babies are learning."
When first starting out with baby sign language, you will want to do just a few signs that you repeat over and over. Once your baby learns these first few signs you can expand your vocabulary.
"Connor can sign for 'milk' and 'all done' and understand a number of other signs," said Kristen Truett, who came to the baby sign class at the East Lake Community Library with her 11-month-old son. "The signing class helps him learn and enables me to communicate with him even though he doesn't talk yet."
When a parent and baby are able to communicate, it forges a closer bond. Learning to sign will not delay speech and learning frequently used words such as "More" or "Milk" won't take a lot of time. Signs from American Sign Language are taught because a child's caregivers, doctors and schools are likely to use ASL. Even children who can talk can learn sign language to stimulate learning through different senses, and it's useful for children who are visual or tactile learners.
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