Oftentimes parents wish their baby or toddler could tell them what they want or need but there is a language barrier — the baby or toddler cannot talk, not yet.
Cindy Wilmer discovered a solution and teaches American Sign Language to parents and their small child, or children, at the Sedona Public Library.
“I read about it when I was pregnant and started teaching Skyrah when she was four months old. At six months I could see she understood. By eight months she started signing back,” Wilmer said. Skyrah is Wilmer’s daughter.The first sign Wilmer began with was milk, which is a partially opened hand to a closed hand. Every time Wilmer nursed Skyrah, she made the sign and spoke the word. It is one of the three Golden Signs. The other two are for “more” and “eat.”
“By the time she was one year old, Skyrah could sign more than 150 words and phrases,” Wilmer said, then laughed. “At 11 months old my daughter signed that she was angry with me for leaving her for one hour. It was amazing.”
The key to teaching sign language to a very small child who does not have a hearing impairment is to speak the words along with the sign. For example, if they come in with a scraped knee, ask the child if they have a “hurt” as well as make the sign, which is opposed index fingers at the location of the injury.
“In this way they get the idea and can tell you they have a tummy ache or a headache by doing the sign where they have the hurt,” Wilmer said as she demonstrated. “How often have parents been so frustrated when their child cries and they cannot figure out the problem?”
Wilmer said children naturally sign, such as raising his or her arms to be picked up or pointing to what they want. For example, they point to a glass but it is surrounded by other objects. A parent usually picks up the objects, tries to give them to the child and they refuse each one until they get the one they want.
“With signing they still point, but then can give the sign for water or drink,” Wilmer said.
While learning and teaching a baby or toddler to sign it is important for the parent to not manipulate their child’s hands if they do not get the sign correct. Acknowledge what they are asking for and make the correct sign and repeat the word, Wilmer said.
“Signing is a great bonding tool because you’re engaged with your child because you are looking at each other while you’re communicating. Secondly, they are learning a second language as they grow. ASL is recognized as a language,” Wilmer said.
A fear of some parents is that signing may hinder their child’s verbal skills. Wilmer said research has shown that learning to sign may boost verbal skills.
“In studies I’ve read the children actually learn more quickly once they start to speak,” Wilmer said.
Celine Daher brought her son, Emile, because she has a hearing aid and wants to communicate with him more easily.
“I want to understand my son. He’s learned ‘kiss,’ ‘hug’, ‘eat’ and ‘sleepy,’ so far. He’s learning very fast,” Daher said and signed “hug” to which her son responded quickly by jumping into his mother’s arms.
Stephanie Sandvall-Young brought two young girls she takes care of while their parents work.
“When I had my son nine years ago I got hooked on an ad I saw for baby sign, so when I got here I hooked up with Cindy [Wilmer],” Young said.
As the class commenced, Wilmer had everyone sit on the floor in a circle, and they sang and signed the song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” Little arms made circles from front to back to indicate the wheels moving.
Sing , Say and Sign
- When: Second and fourth Thursday of the month, 10:30 to 11 a.m.
- Where: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, West Sedona