Baby Signs Look Whos Talking Without Saying a Word

"Blake knew what he wanted, he just didn't know how to tell me," says Jennifer Larson of West Fargo. "He had so much to share, but wasn't old enough yet to say, 'Mommy, I'm hungry' or 'Mommy, I've had enough.'"

"Blake knew what he wanted, he just didn't know how to tell me," says Jennifer Larson of West Fargo. "He had so much to share, but wasn't old enough yet to say, 'Mommy, I'm hungry' or 'Mommy, I've had enough.'"

Jennifer is not alone — what parent hasn't wished for a magic decoder to understand a baby's language of tears, gurgles and giggles? While she hasn't found a super-secret decoder, Jennifer's getting closer thanks to Baby Signs, a special sign-language program for babies. "I have friends who've tried sign language with their children, and I read a few articles about it," says Jennifer. But it wasn't until noticing MeritCare offers Baby Signs in Fargo that she decided to try it with her 12-month-old son.

Today, she is happy with her decision. "Baby Signs is a fun, interactive program that's helping Blake and I learn to communicate important things — like being hungry or thirsty, hot or cold, excited or frustrated — now, even before he has learned to speak," says Jennifer.

The Baby Signs experience
Jennifer and her husband, Randy, began attending The Baby Signs Sign, Say & Play class with their son in June, and for six weeks joined other parents and their babies for a special interactive-play class each Saturday. With each class centered on a different theme, like mealtime or bedtime, the family learned practical signs they can use in their everyday lives. And while the signs (American Sign Language signs modified for little hands) are the reason they're at class, Jennifer points out another important benefit, "Human interaction is so important for a child. We loved spending time with the other parents, babies and Nancy, the instructor."

Instructor Nancy Johnson-Seidel, certified MeritCare speech-language pathologist, is another reason Jennifer, Randy and Blake have enjoyed the program. While Nancy's credentials and expertise are important, Jennifer especially appreciates her easy-going nature and her patience. "It's easy to see she's passionate about her work, and that has a positive effect on everyone in the class."

Though the class is great, the learning doesn't end when the family goes home. Jennifer notes, "One of the best things about this program is that it lets Blake, Randy and I have fun and interact with everyone at class, and then lets us go home and continue on our own terms." A special take-home kit with a DVD, books, music and a quick reference guide of signs keeps them motivated and adds to the fun. "Blake gets excited when he hears the Baby Signs music start," says Jennifer. "We play, practice and learn new signs at our own pace, making the experience fun rather than a chore."

"A stepping stone"
In the past, sign language was associated only with hearing impairment and today, many parents worry that using sign language with hearing babies may actually hinder their language development. "It's just the opposite," says Jennifer. "It's not only practical and fun, but it's a stepping stone for Blake's development."

Jennifer isn't simply guessing that Baby Signs will give her son an advantage. Over 20 years of research has shown that the Baby Signs program enhances babies' language, cognitive and social-emotional development. Extensive studies have found that compared to their peers, Baby Signs babies were an average of three to four months ahead in verbal skill at age 2, and 11 months ahead at age 3. At 8 years old, Baby Signs users scored an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests — one more reason Jennifer feels Baby Signs is great for Blake now and for his future.

A little magic
There is no secret for magically understanding everything about your baby. But, Jennifer notes, "Baby Signs is an important step in the right direction. It's more than learning to sign — it's precious time we get to spend connecting with our son and it's the smile on his face when we understand what he's telling us." That's the magic.

Learning Baby Signs
There are two ways to learn the Baby Signs program in Fargo — the Sign, Say & Play Class for parents and babies to enjoy together and a one-time, parents-only workshop called the Baby Signs Parent Workshop. Parents can try one or both classes.

The Baby Signs Parent Workshop is designed for expectant parents and parents of babies up to age 24 months. Early childhood educators, social workers, health specialists and other caregivers are also welcome. Participants will learn everything they need to know to begin signing, including the history and benefits of the program; why, when and how to teach signing; and games, songs and fun. The workshop is one session, lasting 90 minutes and includes a take-home kit to help families begin using the program at home.

The Baby Signs Sign, Say & Play class is designed for parents and their babies, age 8-24 months, to learn and practice signing together through interactive play. Held 45 minutes per week for six weeks, the play class covers a new theme each week (mealtime, bedtime, bath time, dressing, pets and the park) and integrates six to seven new signs with each theme. Parents also receive a Sign, Say & Play Starter Kit to let the signing fun continue at home.

For more information
To learn more about the Baby Signs program, visit meritcare.com (keyword: baby signs) or call (701) 234-5570.