Friday, January 21, 2011

Sign Language for Babies: Yes it really does work!

When I was in college, at some point I read a study about babies being taught to use American Sign Language (ASL)  to communicate before having mastered the means to do so verbally. After reading it I laughed and giggled with friends about how silly it seemed to use sign language with babies. How pretentious, how over-the-top, we'd say. They are just babies, after all, let them enjoy being babies!!!! Fast forward about 10 or so years and I'm a mom. With a 15-month daughter who uses sign language to communicate, a lot. This wasn't something I planned to have happen but it's one of the secret weapons I will now and forever keep stashed on my super-mommy utility belt.

It all began on the munch's 1st birthday when she (me) unwrapped a set of videos from my father and stepmother. My Baby Can Talk, a three video set including 1. First Signs 2. Sharing Signs 3. Exploring Signs. Now please remember that I had laughed at this very topic a mere 10 years ago in college when I had all the answers. Can you blame me for being a little hesitant? No, you cannot. Up to this point in her life, my daughter had watched little to no TV or videos, excusing football Sundays and the San Francisco Giant's championship post-season performances.

Nevertheless we'd had a great day, the present were unwrapped and we thought, "why not? Let's see  what this "signing business" is all about." Pop in First Signs and then the video shows a pretty lady signing words such as cat, milk, more, banana, dog, sleep, etc. Then there is a series of images of real and pretend items corresponding to each sign. It's Baby Einstein blended with ASL with all the classics, Mozart, Beethoven, thrown in for good measure. Brilliant, just brilliant. The wee one sat and watched almost the entire video without moving, her attention span wowed everyone in the room.

If this kind of thing is even remotely interesting to you, or not interesting at all, Google it anyways because I'm not sure how to explain these fabulous keep-mom-sane-while-expanding-brain-capacity videos. There are numerous books on the subject of ASL and babies and I've even had the good fortune of taking a music class that incorporates signs into the songs. I also know there has been some debate in regards to the legitimacy of such videos, including the early morning paid programming favorite, My Baby can Read. This is the real deal, I am a complete devotee. .

From that night on she has asked as nicely as a 12-15 month old child can do, to watch at least one video a day. Don't get me wrong, she'd watch all three all day long if we allowed her to do so and I'll be honest, there have been a couple of days when she's done just that. I found it to be a wonderful way of getting her to sit in one place and found myself thinking, was I being a terrible mother by letting a 13 month old girl watch DVDs, albeit educational ones? Well the day she started using sign language to tell me what she wanted, my hesitation flew out the window. It was one of the most amazing moments in my career as a Marin Mama. She is able to tell me what she needs! To see her use the sign for dog, or eat or more; to see her make the sign for turtle or giraffe, it's simply incredible. Every day I'm constantly blown away by her fabulous sponge-like abilities to sop up information and use it to her advantage.

So blown away in fact sometimes I can't tell what she's signing. I have watched the videos, and I sign whenever I get the chance but wow! Occasionally she'll whip out a sign and mix it up with another sign that could be one thing but maybe another and I'm speechless. I'll ask her to tell me again, and she'll do the sign again, until finally, hopefully, I catch on. She's able to express herself before speaking and although I'm no expert I know her sweet, perpetually happy disposition is related in some way to her being able to tell us when she's hungry, tired, or wants to go down the slide at the playground. I would absolutely tell any parent to buy these videos or try in some manner to incorporate ASL into the daily routine of a child. Even if you think you may be that weird parent at the playground signing to a toddler. It's worth every look!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dancin', Dancin', Dancin'! Loving that my kid love to dance

Years before morphing into a Marin Mama who gets her exercise by hiking and running behind a 15 month old little girl, I studied tap, ballet and jazz dance. In college modern, hip-hop and musical theater was added to the repertoire. Dance was a big part of my daily life for almost 12 years; it was a lot of fun and I worked as an instructor in my time off between class but ultimately I chose not to make my art my career. My legs, or any other part of me for that matter, rarely see a studio these days; I regret this immensely and hope to become more involved if my daughter also exhibits the dancing bug.

I have no intention to push her towards being a dancer, no matter how much I hope to spend weekends surrounded by tutus. I will absolutely sign her up for the first tap or ballet class with other little girls her age. If she loves it, great! If not, well, we'll find something else active that she loves. No, I spent my life cringing at the stage moms, we all know who I'm talking about(every activity has one), and hope I never fall into that category. This being said, it thrills me to no end when my daughter starts moving to a beat and I'm having a hard time imagining her not loving dance classes! Her boogie down moves are some of the cutest, silliest ones I've ever seen and I'm convinced we've got another Fonteyn on our hands. 

Since dancing and music go hand in hand, good tunes have an important presence in my life and it seems to be the same for the wee one. Music beats, one after another, have been playing for her since she was swimming around in my tummy and I've concluded the following thus far: reggae seems to be a favorite, Paul Simon is a must and ANYTHING with drums is good. (Her grandpa will tell you that she loves the Jonas Brothers but I'm going to ignore the fact he let her watch music videos while we were visiting over the holidays) She's been rocking out for months and now that she can stand and walk and bend those knees, her groove is really kicking in. She'll squat two or three times, quick now! One! Two! Three! Her little arm will go out and in while she's pumping. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Now she's get a foot out there as well as her little one, two, three.

It is an absolute joy to see her get pleasure out of the same things I enjoyed and still enjoy to this day. It would be awesome if her attraction to the shiny patent leather shoes means she'll want to sleep in her tap shoes, as I once insisted upon. Even if I didn't have years of training, her shrieks of laughter and her grooving to the beat would still thrill me because it's just pure joy for both the child and the parent and I'm left wondering how soon we can sign up for that first dance class.