Just last week our own Tonya Hayes had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed by Sara Bingham of Wee Hands! Wee Hands is Canadian based organization who exists to encourage communication in young children through sign language. Sara has a team of faculty who host and train professionals and parents alike in sign language and it’s benefits to young children.
Wee Hands also seeks to educate families and professionals who are not in the Canadian borders but are navigating I chartered waters as they live and love on their little ones who have a disability. While Sara enjoys writing a weekly blog, she also hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio Podcast! Through social media and other relationships, Wee Hands chooses parents and professionals to interview to discuss their unique jobs and passions on air.
Our own Speech Language Assistant, Tonya Hayes, was interviewed last week and if you take a few minutes to listen you can’t help but see why we are so fortunate to have a seasoned mom who is passionate about seeing children and families make progress. Click on the link below to listen:
We hope you smiled and laughed along with us as we listened. Tonya’s heart is for each of the families she is entrusted with and we at Sprout Pediatrics hope you’ll be encouraged and inspired as you work with your therapy team.
If you are a parent or professional working with typically developing young children or children who are challenged, you have probably been introduced to the notion of using sign language with them. As a pediatric team of professionals, we find sign language to be the one of the most exciting skills children learn and grow from using. We use sign language with our late talkers, our children who have signs of Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Down Syndrome, Autism, and many other developmental and genetic disorders. Here are some do’s and don’t of using sign language with young children.
Do introduce sign language as a way to give them a way to communicate their wants and needs. Some of the first signs we teach are milk, cracker, more and cookie! We find both the Wee Hands Online Dictionary and the Lifeprint websites to be invaluable! If a client is frustrated or expressing an extreme desire for a given object, we can quickly plug in the word and see a picture or video of the sign. While the Wee Hands Dictionary is good for the most useful toddler and children’s signs, some of our children might love grapes and this sign hasn’t quite made it to the dictionary and the Lifeprint dictionary is more exhaustive.
Don’t teach words that aren’t useful or don’t mean anything to them. If you are interested in learning specific words from a local professional here in the Midlands of South Carolina, we recommend the Signing Time Instructor – Jill Eversmann. Click this link to learn more about the classes she offers!
Do hand over hand demonstrate how to sign a word. Take their hands and do it with them and then stand in front of them and sign it again so they can see you doing the sign. It might take you doing it with them 7-10 times before you see them attempt to do it but then again, if it’s a highly motivating food, we have seen boys sign “candy or cookie” after one demonstration!
Don’t think they won’t sign if you have been trying for several months and not getting any results. Toddler’s need to be sitting up independently and be able to bring hands to mid-line to do many signs, so if you begin before these motor skills are possible, you may frustrate yourself.
Do clap and praise them as they begin imitating and using the signs spontaneously! When toddlers begin using signs spontaneously, care givers and parents can begin expanding their vocabulary to words like: stop, mine, please, thank you and night night! These powerful words give them a voice in their day to day lives and parents often report seeing their toddlers less frustrated. If they do continue to pitch a fit or whine, encourage them to use their words. Model the sign for what they want and make them sign so they can begin to see the usefulness. If you had a typically developing 3 year old, you would not allow them to cry and whine but would expect them to talk to you. Expect no less from a child who can sign, just adjust the talking to signing.
Don’t put them on display and have them perform for grandparents and friends. Allow them to show what they know as they request and use it naturally.
Do verbally say the word you are signing and expecting your baby to sign. As your baby begins to sign more and more and develop a vocabulary of 15-20 words, you will begin to hear some verbal approximations for the words they use most often or hear most often. They may say “muh” for more or “bah” for ball. Some later word approximations might include “op” for stop, “peas” for please and “tan too” for thank you! One of the common questions we get is “Will they ever talk if we teach them signs?” Absolutely! Sign language is just a visual and kinesthetic way to help facilitate your baby’s language skills. Teaching your baby to sign won’t keep them from talking any more than teaching them to crawl will keep them from walking!
Don’t discourage signing or verbal approximations! Toddler’s and young children often do not have the motor skills to precisely sign or say words, but accept their effort and know that they will get better and more articulate.
Take a look at this video and watch this two year old girl with Down Syndrome show you all the signs she knows on command! It’s difficult to hear but she signs grapes, please, milk and stop!
A few other useful signs we encourage through therapy are: help, open, close, book, on, in, dog, bird and music!
Reading to babies and toddlers plays a significant role in future development of Speech and Language skills. Many adults know it is beneficial to read to children as preschoolers, but might not realize all the learning that happens as one reads to toddlers and even babies. Reading to babies creates connections in the brain’s circuitry that enables future learning. Below are just a few things every parent, grandparent, child-care provider and adult should know and encourage as they interact with young children.
Do you remember the old saying that “Good habits are caught rather than taught!” That holds true for reading to babies and toddlers. As one reads to babies and toddlers, there are lots of subtle pre-readiness skills little ones are picking up on and beginning to do without the adult “teaching” it to them. For example, as they are read to, they learn how to hold a book right side up or to read from left to right by watching one turn the book or point to the words at the bottom of the page. But did you know they also learn a lot about speech and language too!
As parents read with their baby, the baby should be given an opportunity to follow simple directions. While reading a board book, hold the pages down except for the next page. As one bends the book slightly, the page will pop up. Say, “Turn the page!” and help the baby use their hand to turn the page. Also read books with textures and encourage babies to “pat the bunny,” “feel the cow,” and “touch the dog.” After reading and instructing them enough, the toddlers will begin to follow other simple directions around the house as well.
One of the first things children hear, as they listen to others talk around them, is vowel and consonant sounds as well as inflection of voice. As babies and toddlers listen to you read, they hear inflection in your voice! They hear excitement as you say “Wow!” “oooh!” and they hear how your voice goes up when you ask a question.
Babies learn to associate sounds with pictures and names with pictures. For instance, while reading books about farm animals, babies see similar pictures and hear oink, oink or mooo moooo over and over. Over time, a synapse or brain connection is made between neurons and they begin to know the pig says oink and the cow says mooo. Later a parent can ask, “What does the pig say?” and the child will answer correctly. Then as further learning and understanding takes place, a parent can ask, “What animal says moo?” and the child will answer, “A cow.”
Reading with babies and toddlers gives adults an opportunity to bond. Reading leads to talking about what one sees in pictures, what happens in the story and later what we think about the ideas presented by the author. As we read we talk. Toddlers learn how to take turns talking: first listening and then responding. Quality communication always consists of these two participants: a listener and a speaker. Therefore, adults have an opportunity to model and begin a relationship with their child as they share moments. Future opportunities to influence the child about important concepts and character skills also abound.
Finally, choosing books that are centered around baby games and nursery rhymes helps the baby begin to play and interact and memorize strings of words. Singing is vitally important to memorization and learning rote skills such as counting and the alphabet. These two books are just a few that one may choose to check out from the library or purchase, but variety is key to keeping toddler’s interest. Log onto this website for further tips on reading with children.
Tips for choosing books:
Choose books that are plastic or thick board books for babies as they tend to mouth everything!
Choose books with one photo per page of actual objects. (Drawings are often not recognizable by young)
Choose books about family, animals and household objects for babies through 12 months.
Continue to read the books listed above, but add books about cars, trucks and everyday activities & places.
Choose books that move quickly! about a minute long for babies through 12 months and 2 minutes in length for toddlers.
Toddlers also enjoy books that do something! A flap book, texture book that you can feel or a puppet book like the one pictured here.