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Today's word on journalism

Friday, September 1, 2006

"[F]ew things are as much a part of our lives as the news. With the advent of sophisticated mass communication, the news has become a sort
of instant historical record of the pace, progress, problems, and the hopes of society. On the other hand--and here's the puzzle -- the news provides, at best, a superficial and distorted image of society. . . . The puzzle, simply put, is this: How can anything so superficial be so central to our lives?"

--W. Lance Bennett, political science professor, 1988

Baby sign language is helping parents understand 'baby talk'

By Angel Larsen

May 3, 2006 | Ever tried calming a crying child to only worsen his or her shrieking? Ever sat wondering what thoughts wondered through that toddler's head? Well, those mysteries are unraveling for some parents.

Using baby sign language, parents are able to communicate with their children before they speak. The language once used to communicate within the deaf community is now benefitting hearing parents and their children.

Bert and Lisa Larsen began teaching ther now 3-year-old son, Skylar, when he was about 7 months old. At first they would sign to him and he would only mimic them. Then at about 10 months he started signing what he wanted and needed.

"It was great that he could ask for things he couldn't say," Bert said.

The Larsens taught Skylar American Sign Language (ASL) without a baby sign language organization or classes. Bert has nine years experience while Lisa has 10.

"We figured we both have enough experience with ASL and deaf culture," Lisa said. "We are trusting our instincts on this one."

Lisa also said that they did not want Skylar learning different signs than ASL. They want him to be able to use his sing language when he is older and have people in the deaf community understand him.

To teach Skylar they picked a simple sign like "mom" and would constantly repeat the sign until he could repeat it. Then they would start teaching him a new sign like "milk" whie still using the old sign as well.

Other than repetition they only used "a book that has pictures of little kids doing signs," Lisa said.

Skylar learned the simple signs, ones that do not require a lot of finger movement, the fastest. Now he knows over 30 signs as well as talking constantly.

While learning, Lisa said he would mix up signs like "mom" and "dad." She said he still occasionally signs "please" on his stomach instead of his chest but Lisa said it is the idea that he is learning it and "you have to choose your battles."

Now with their second son, Camden, being 8 months old they are planning to start teaching him in about two or three months.

"He needs better hand control," Lisa said.

"He just flaps too much," Bert said.

Although the Larsens only used a small sign language book to teach Skylar, there are numerous tools available to parents desiring to teach their children sign language. Organizations like Baby Signs, Sign2Me , and Sign Babies , just to name a few, offer assistance for parents. These organizations offer classes with instructors certified in baby sign language as well as multiple products meant to help teach children sign language faster.

Baby Signs offers a one time Parent workshop or a six week Sign, Say and Play course. Classes and certified instructors can be located all over the United States and now internationally.

For example, Lourdes Sanchez lives in Sweden but still uses sign language to communicate with her 3-year-old son. She is also starting to teach her 6 month old as well.

"I am in the Baby Signs group because at the end it doesn't matter from where your signs are from, the main purpose is the same," Sanchez wrote in an e-mail. "Signing has been wonderful for us. [My son] is very receptive to them."

Although Sanchez uses Swedish sign language, she still can communicate with her son.

But is baby sign langauge different than ASL. According to Sign Babies creator, Nancy Cadjan's forum post she said that "[b]aby signing introduces children to basic ASL."

"Parents continue to speak but add a few ASL signs for the words babies need most," Cadjan said. "No attempt is made to use ASL suntax or structure because the goal is not to teach a new language."

Cadjan says "by using standardized ASL signs, children have the opportunity to communicate with other babies and children who have also learned the same ASL signs... By using ASL signs, children gain added advantages like the ability to communicate with more people and a start to learning a beautiful language."

Cadjan also created Sign Babies ASL Flashcards . The cards show ASL signs that help children "learn to recognize common objects, actions, and emotions," according to the web site.

Besides just helping introduce children to sign language, benefits from teaching them sign language helps "reduce tears, tantrums and frustration, allows babies to share their worlds, increases respect for babies, strengthens the parent-infant bond, boosts self-esteem and self-confidence, makes learning to talk easier [for the child] and stimulates intellectual development," according to the Baby Signs Web site .

These findings were researched by Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn for over 20 years. Their research and insight into baby sign langauge is available in their three books : Baby Signs, Baby Minds, and Baby Hearts. Each adds more depth for parents desiring to better understand their child's development and with the help of sign language.

Besides Acredolo and Goodwyn's book is Joseph Garcia's SIGN with your BABY complete learning kit with book, training video and a quick reference guide. This kit can obtained through the Sign2Me company which is focused on ""the development production, publication, and distribution of print, video, and multimedia resources to help establish two-way communication between hearing parents and their hearing children through the use of American Sign Language signs."

Along with Garcia's book, Sign2Me has a variety of products from flashcards to reminder posters to CDs.

Also through Sign2Me can parents find Level I Certified Presentors who over classes all over the country and Canada. Presentors may have their own companies with different names but they are all qualified through Sign2Me.

"American Sign Language is an incredible gift from the Deaf community, which can be used by hearing individuals to bless and enrich their lives in countless ways," according to Leslie Briggs's website, Signing with Baby . Briggs has been a Level I Certified Baby Sign Language Instructor since 2002. She teaches workshops for parents as well as works with schools and childcare programs desiring sign language instruction.

And a final tool available to parents are discussion forums connected with either Baby Signs , Sign2Me , or Sign Babies . Parents can discuss their successes and failures with other parents experiencing the same things as them.

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