Marcie Mom at eczemablues.com catches up with Laura Berg, the founder of My Smart Hands, an international company of about 200 instructors that educates young minds using sign language. Marcie Mom interviews Laura because signing has occupied Marcie’s fingers and distracted her from scratching her eczema rash. To let readers of eczemablues.com learn more about signing, Laura will share about the benefits of signing and addresses some of the common misperceptions of teaching sign language to your child.
Marcie Mom: Hi Laura, from 2005 when you started designing My Smart Hands’ curriculum to now, what are the top three positive changes you’ve noticed in the children who learnt sign language?
Laura: The top three positive changes would be:
1. Signing reduces frustration. Many children want to desperately communicate with us and they can’t do so easily because their language skills aren’t quite there yet. Signing can bridge the gap until language develops which hugely reduces the child’s frustration level.
2. We are finding that signing enhances language. It doesn’t make children talk sooner but it does build their language skills. There is a difference between speech and language. Children can use language (signing) without speech and therefore exercise that portion of their brain. If a child is a late talker, his/her vocabulary will be much larger if they’ve used sign language before they are able to talk.
3. It builds confidence. A child who is easily understood by the adults around them experiences less frustration and displays more confidence. These children don’t have to worry about not being understood. It boosts their self-esteem as they are able to engage more with the adults in their lives.
Marcie Mom: Many parents are worried that learning sign language will delay the development of speech. Have you seen that happening or is there any negative impact on the child’s behaviour?
Laura: This is a common concern that parents have. Mind you, I am hearing this concern less and less. The longer the idea of signing with babies have been around, the longer there is proof that this is a complete myth. Some people think children will be lazy and just want to sign. I, personally, have never seen a lazy child when it comes to talking. They want to talk, they babble all the time! As soon as they are able to do so they will.
To elaborate on my point above, there is a difference between speech and language. A child can still have language without the ability to speak or form words. I often use the example of two children and both of them don’t talk until they are two years old. You’ve signed with child A but not with child B. Child A is able to communicate and engage with his parents. His parents know that this child understands them so they give him more complicated language to use (through the use of sign). Child B on the other hand is left with choices, does she want an apple or an orange for a snack? Whereas child A might be asked, “what would you like for a snack”. This question alone allows for more though process to take place and more consideration of what the child wants. By the time these children turn two, child A will have a much larger vocabulary than child B because he was able to use language all that time.
So no, signing definitely does not delay speech. It definitely helps language skills 🙂
Marcie Mom: It’s probably not common for parents to come up to you and say that signing has helped to distract their child from scratching the eczema rash. Has there been any other instance you’ve come across that signing has helped to distract the child in a positive way, say from throwing tantrums?
Laura: Yes definitely! It’s a great way to easily communicate with the child in a discrete and even distracting way. When my daughter was younger she would throw a fit every time I told her ‘no’ but she’d be completely fine if I signed ‘no’ to her. I’m not sure why that is but I know it worked for her and definitely reduced the number of fits she threw. A mom who took one of my classes reported that when her daughter would throw a temper tantrum she would start to sing and sign the Itsy Bitsy Spider song. She would try to just sing it and the child would completely ignore her. When she put the actions to the song the movement would catch her daughter’s eye and snap her out of the temper tantrum she was throwing.
Marcie Mom: What advice will you give parents who are keen to explore learning sign language with their child? And how best can parents approach it?
Laura: The main thing I would tell parents is to not be intimidated! You can easily learn the signs that you teach your child as you go. Simply look up one sign and start with that. I recommend starting with the sign ‘milk’. Once you become comfortable with that sign then look up another one and teach your child. It’s very simple, don’t be intimidated!
I recommend parents start with 1-5 signs in the beginning. This way you won’t feel too overwhelmed. The most important thing is to be consistent with your signing. It is more important to sign the word every time you say it than to introduce tons of signs throughout the day. Even if you sign one thing until your child signs back you will find that very useful. Once your child realizes that a sign means something then you will find that he or she will pick more signs up faster.
And most importantly, don’t give up. If you are consistent your child will pick signing up. Each child picks it up at different stages. The benefits will definitely come. Enjoy and have fun!!
Marcie Mom: Thanks Laura!
p.s. To readers of eczemablues.com, I asked Laura for the interview because signing has helped Marcie with her eczema. I did not receive any money from Laura or My Smart Hands for this interview.