Deciphering what your baby wants is trying at the best of times. Do they want food, sleep, milk…
One Pictou County woman is trying to bridge that communication barrier by offering parents and babies a sign language workshop.
Jo-Ann Allen began taking the Baby Sign Program two years ago.
Previously, Allen was the CEO of a retreat in Calgary and decided to move to the county to become closer with her granddaughter.
In doing so, it made the opportunity to become involved in Baby Sign that much easier.
“I’ve always been fascinated with how much we can really teach babies,” says Allen. “When my two sons were babies, I would go to Toronto to purchase teaching aids and I could see they wanted to absorb more information. Babies are much smarter than they get credit for.”
While in Alberta, Allen was the co-founder of a company that created prototype games and books with colour changing ink then one day while at church she saw a baby make a gesture to the mother and the mother knew what the baby wanted.
“I asked her if the baby was deaf, but (she said) no, they just learned sign language.”
For quite some time, Allen researched sign courses online until she came across Baby Sign created by two doctors in 1982.
“They did research at the University of California to see if learning sign would interfere with learning to talk and out of 140 families tested, by the time the children were eight years old, their IQ was 12 points higher.”
Parents and children learn six to 10 signs per workshop, making sure everyone is comfortable with the hand motions and participants are given a handout of the signs as well.
“We start with the basic signs, like milk, food, more and a few others,” says Allen. “And the parents learn along with the children, or whoever takes the workshop; sometimes it’s caregivers, grandparents, aunts or uncles and even friends.”
Allen says the best time for babies to learn sign is around six months because at that point, “babies have more control of their hands.”
To keep it interesting for the babies, Allen uses Bee Bo, a bear, to help the children stay focused and learn. Allen puts her arms through the shirt of the bear, making her hands the bear’s hands, and goes through the signs.
One workshop is enough to learn the basics, but there are more advanced workshops that teach the other signs related to meal time, bed time and such.
“There are 100 baby signs,” says Allen. “Most are American Sign Language, but some are baby specific.”
Allen says that by learning sign, some babies even make their own signs as they learn.
“Signing to talking is like crawling to walking.”
The benefits of Baby Sign include less frustration for the baby. “Babies can’t say they are hot or hungry, but they can sign that they’re hot,” says Allen.
It also helps with bonding, she says, as well as gives parents an idea of what interests their baby.
“It promotes emotional development and even boosts babies’ self confidence because they can communicate and it jump starts their learning to talk.”
As a mother, Allen wanted to do everything she could to promote learning in her children, and she believes most parents today are of the same sentiment.
Allen will be conducting workshops at various locations throughout the county including Kids First, although she is not affiliated.
“Everybody should have the opportunity to teach babies something extra. It’s very special the first time you see your baby sign.”
For more information visit www.babysignsprogram.com/atfirstsign.