“Practical techniques and activities for the latest trend in child development.” Publishers Weekly
Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers: A Parents' Strategy and Activity Guideby Michelle Anthony M.A., Ph.D., Reyna Lindert Ph.D.
A Fun, Easy Way to Talk with Your Baby
Babies can communicate with their hands long before they can speak. Using American Sign Language (ASL), Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert have created the simple and successful Signing Smart system to teach parents how to integrate signing into everyday life with their hearing children. Through the more than seventy
A Fun, Easy Way to Talk with Your Baby
Babies can communicate with their hands long before they can speak. Using American Sign Language (ASL), Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert have created the simple and successful Signing Smart system to teach parents how to integrate signing into everyday life with their hearing children. Through the more than seventy activities presented in this book, parents will learn the tools and strategies they need to understand how to introduce signing and build their child's sign and word vocabulary.
Using ASL signs and Signing Smart with hearing infants and toddlers has many benefits, including:
-reducing frustration and tantrums
-allowing children to express what they need or want
-fostering communication and promoting learning
By using these practical, easy-to-learn methods, parents and babies-from as young as five months old to preschool age-can "converse" through signs at mealtime, bath time, playtime, or anytime.
Featuring the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionary, with 130 signs.
“Practical techniques and activities for the latest trend in child development.” Publishers Weekly
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
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- 7.50(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.53(d)
Read an Excerpt
Signing Smart with Babies and ToddlersA Parent's Strategy and Activity Guide
By Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D.
St. Martin's GriffinCopyright © 2005 Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers
PART ISigning Smart Activities for Every Day CHAPTER 1 :Get Ready, Get Set, Go ... On Your Way!GET READY ...R ESEARCH AND EXPERIENCE have demonstrated that Signing Smart with very young children advances many aspects of development.Cognitive/Linguistic BenefitsEARLY SIGNED AND SPOKEN VOCABULARIESWide-Eyed Learning, LLC, is currently examining the development of both signs and words in hearing Signing Smart children. While this is a work in progress, the preliminary results are exciting. For example, developmental norms tell us that, on average, a nonsigning child at twelve months will have two to three words; at eighteen months, a nonsigning child will have, on average, a vocabulary of ten to fifty spoken words, and he or she may be on the cusp of combining words into minisentences (e.g., "Bye-bye, Dada."). In our Signing Smart programs, however, we see these same language abilities appear months (and, for some children, years) earlier with signs. In terms of spoken word development, Signing Smart children are ahead of what these developmental averages would predict.Specifically, results from our recent research demonstrate that Signing Smart children have an average of twenty-five signs and sixteen spoken words at twelve months; at eighteen months, they have an average of 79 signs and 105 words. In addition, Signing Smart children can begin combining signs as young as six months old, and at eleven to fourteen months, a majority will begin to use signed/spoken sentences. In this way, many Signing Smart children not only have extensive sign vocabularies and are able to form minisentences with signs at a remarkably young age, but they are also often early and prolific talkers.FACILITATED SPEECHIn our programs, we give parents the tools to heighten children's attention and to integrate signs when children are most primed for learning. Families learn ways to use language in many of its forms (signing, speaking, singing, reading, conversing, and storytelling) to engage children in supported interactions that are rich, complex, varied, and meaningful. Signing Smart strategies teach parents to use signs to highlight (and draw children's attention to) a particular word/concept. Through such techniques, parents give their child a "picture" or "image" of that concept (i.e., action, object, or idea). In all these ways, Signing Smart methods help adults pull concepts out of the stream of complex English grammar that children need to decipher, and thereby give children multiple access points for learning these concepts at the exact moment (s) they are most able to do so.In providing such rich communicative and learning environments for children at very young ages, Signing Smart helps "wire" the brain for linguistic and conceptual understanding. Each time a parent engages his child in Signing Smart interactions, neural connections are formed that pave the way for increasingly complex connections to develop. As a result, Signing Smart children learn a broad range of signs, words, and their underlying concepts more easily and quickly.CHILD-INITIATED CONVERSATIONS/COMMUNICATIONSSigning Smart's emphasis on child-initiated conversations and communications not only facilitates children's signed and spoken vocabulary, but also gives children the means to exert developmentally appropriate,positive control over their environment. While many parents make a point of talking a great deal to their young children, Signing Smart teaches parents to pay special attention to the many ways--signed and nonsigned--that children initiate conversations. Recognizing these "conversation initiators" requires no additional work on the part of parents, just a new way of looking at what their child does naturally. Once parents recognize these conversation initiators, Signing Smart gives families the tools to engage their child, showering her with words about topics that are of immediate interest to her. For example, as any parent can tell you, having your toddler enthusiastically sign PHONE upon hearing one is far better than the whines and cries that would otherwise be necessary to get your attention and convey her excitement. And, with this positive conversation initiator, the parent is easily able to build on her child's interest.Signing Smart children are also able to talk about abstract ideas (like saying they feel SICK or need HELP) from a very young age. This allows children to cue their parents into their specific thought processes. FACILITATED MEMORYSigning Smart children are precocious in having a means to "talk about" past or non-present objects and experiences (e.g., talking about the time they got HURT or about the AIRPLANE they remember seeing). Parents also learn techniques to engage children in such discussions. As a result, Signing Smartfacilitates children's access to and expression of their memories. EXPANDED VOCABULARYSigning Smart strategies facilitate a tremendous early vocabulary. Between eight and twelve months a child may begin to say a few words. Our research has shown that by using Signing Smart techniques, a child can learn to sign over forty words by her first birthday, and can have a vocabulary of over three hundred words/signs used in two-, three-, and four-word/sign "sentences" before she is eighteen months old. In addition, regardless of age, Signing Smart children can use signs for complex words that they are not yet able to say (e.g., signing ALLIGATOR or PUMPKIN or MEDICINE).Emotional BenefitsREDUCED FRUSTRATIONThrough Signing Smart, children and parents develop two-way communication from very early on. In addition, Signing Smart allows parents to facilitate long-term learning, using signs and Signing Smart strategies to support their child's spoken-language development and to clarify their child's ambiguous early words. Through these techniques, adult-child miscommunications (and the child's frustration and tantrums that often follow suit) are drastically reduced.As a result, the number of times Signing Smart parents must ask "What-do-you-want, this-or-this-or-this-or-this?" is greatly diminished. Signing Smart children are thus able to keep interactions positive, rather than needing to end a warm and loving play session with a tantrum because they have no other way to convey what they want.INCREASED INTIMACY, ATTACHMENT, SELF-ESTEEM, AND EMPOWERMENTReyna's dissertation research on signing toddlers' and preschoolers' interactions with their mothers indicates that ASL enhances communication between parents and children. 2 By using ASL signs with children who have no other form of shared communication with their families, parents are able to capture and maintain children's interest in a topic, which in turn fosters extended interactions about common themes. These extended interactions empower children to see the impact communication has on their world, facilitate closeness between parents and children, and foster the sense of intimacy that shared communication brings.Similarly, because Signing Smart children experience a great number of positive child-initiated interactions, they are able to influence their environment in a productive manner, and are able to get their needs met. They are also able to more easily engage in and maintain interactions that foster intimacy, attachment, and self-esteem.Long-Term BenefitsAdditional research by ourselves and by others documents the long-term benefits that signing brings to children. Research funded by the National Institutes of Health demonstrates that by age four, children who used baby sign language as infants and toddlers are linguistically advanced compared to children who did not.3 Recent follow-up studies ofthese same children in the second grade reveals that children who signed as babies have an average IQ advantage of twelve points compared to their counterparts who never signed.4Research conducted at Pennsylvania State University shows that even those hearing children who are not exposed to signs until the preschool years go on to display literacy advancements over nonsigning children. Specifically these children evidence enhanced vocabulary, spelling, and reading skills.5Michelle's doctoral research--a longitudinal study6 of signing elementary school children--shows that signing facilitates the integration of a child's linguistic and cognitive systems.7 By linking visual/gestural and linguistic representations to form unified ideas, a child is able to create a word/concept "package" in memory. A child's facility with creating word/concept "packages" is further related to his or her later ability to clarify, unify, and organize both oral and written stories. As you can see, signing is the gift that keeps on giving, from infancy into the elementary school years and beyond.Signing Smart in Everyday LifeWhile starting something new or different is never easy, there are many rewards for undertaking this journey. Once you have implemented the general plan that we outline in this chapter, you will find that the amount of "additional work" is negligible, and the payoffs immense. In fact, once you become comfortable integrating Signing Smart into your interactions with your child, you will find the "additional work" in your life drastically diminishes! And, please know that integrating even a small handful of the great many strategies and techniques within these pages is enough to allow your family to benefit from what Signing Smart has to offer.GET SET ...Regardless of where you are on your baby sign language journey, you will want to familiarize yourself with the Signing Smart Start and the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success, to allow you and your child to take full advantage of all the strategies, techniques, and activities in this book. Understanding each of these aspects of our program will allow your child to sign back as quickly and as prolifically as possible.The Signing Smart StartOur research and applied work with thousands of families has demonstrated that it does matter how many signs you start with, which signs you use, and the kinds oƒ contextsin which you use them. If you have already started signing with your child, it is worth taking stock of the signs you are using and how you are using them. Many parents start signing in a way that is not the most effective for encouraging their child to sign back as quickly and as extensively as possible. The Signing Smart Start will help you effectively choose the number and kinds of signs you use, and the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success will help you recognize and take advantage of the kinds of interactions that lead to a successful signing experience as quickly as possible.THE SIGNING SMART START: HOW MANY SIGNS TO START WITH?You will find that we developed our techniques and strategies with children's development in mind. We strongly encourage you to choose six as your minimum number of signs to start with. Why? For your child's sake. It is important that your child see you signing in various contexts, to allow him to understand the usefulness of signs in his world. When you choose only a couple of signs to start with, you limit the number of contexts in which you are able to sign, lengthening the time it will take your child to sign back and develop an extensive vocabulary.We strongly encourage you to choose twelve as your maximum number of signs to start with. Using too many signs initially will actually slow your child's signing back in that, instead of signing supplementing and highlighting English, it becomes a new code system to decipher in addition to English.Once your child begins to show strong evidence of comprehension or begins to sign back, you can add to this initial set of six to twelve signs (see here for more on this). Remember, the purpose of Signing Smart is highlighting English words/concepts with visual information (signs).CHOOSING YOUR SIGNING SMART STARTER SIGNSAs we mentioned above, parents' best intentions sometimes unknowingly work against what we know about children's development, and can thereby greatly lengthen the time it takes children to begin signing or to build up a sizable sign vocabulary. One way this happens is when parents choose to use mostly what we call See A Lot / Do A Lot Signs--signs that parents are particularly interested in having their children use ("parent-oriented" signs such as MILK, MORE, and EAT).As you know all too well, children have the ability to indicate these desires to parents. We may not appreciate the grunts and whines children often use to express their needs, but--from the child's perspective at least--they are effective. (It is for this very reason that "eat," "milk," and "more" are rarely children's first spoken words.)By introducing what we call Highly Motivating Signs ("child-oriented" signs such as MUSIC, FAN, or BALL) from the beginning, we give our children the means and the motivation to begin "conversations" about topics of interest and importance to them--topics they have little way of communicating about without signs. Be aware that choosing to use only these more "motivating" signs also has its limitations in that, even if your child is very excited about, for example, bubbles, it is not likely that you and she will interact around BUBBLES numerous times a day (or week).SIGNING SMART: FINDING A BALANCEOur research with thousands of families has demonstrated that when families choose three to six See A Lot / Do A Lot Starter Signs ("parent-oriented" signs), as well as three to six Highly Motivating Starter Signs ("child-oriented" signs), it will significantly shorten the time frame for children signing back and developing a sizable vocabulary. Exciting findings from our recent research demonstrate that you can further shorten this time frame by choosing some Starter Signs that are general enough to be used in many contexts, thereby greatly extending the number of situations in which you can sign meaningfully. Examples of General See A Lot / Do A Lot Signs are: EAT, MORE, FINISH, WHAT, HELP, WHERE, and PLAY; see the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionary on here for more. These General Signs can be used during almost every interaction you have with your child.Signing Smart Starter SignsSEE A LOT / DO A LOT SIGNS• Decide on three to six signs for words you use often enough in your day so that your child has ample opportunity to see them in context and to connect the hand movements with the meaning.• Choose signs that are versatile enough to use in a great many contexts with young children.• Choose events that happen often during the day, so your child will see you sign during these routines (see Part I, "Signing Smart Activities for Every Day" for more).• Suggested signs:WHAT; HELP; PLAY; EAT; WHERE; MORE; FINISHED; MILK; DRINK; SILLY; BED; BATH; CLEAN-UPHIGHLY MOTIVATING SIGNS• Decide on three to six signs of interest to your child, to motivate her signing back sooner.• Choose signs for objects or actions your child is very interested in (see Part II, "Signing Smart Activities for Play" for more).• Choose signs for items that are abundant (and fascinating) in the lives of young children.• Many families find that children who begin using Highly Motivating Signs relatively quickly come to understand the power that signing holds in their world. They then begin signing the more "useful" signs as well.• Suggested signs:LIGHT; FAN; MUSIC; KEY; BALL; DOG/CAT; CAR; BABY; JUMP; DanceREMEMBER--Signing Smart means keeping a balance between these two kinds of signs.When you do not know the sign for the object your child is playing with, General Signs such as WHAT, WHERE, HELP, MORE, FINISH, and/or PLAY allow you to use a sign. By having a few such "all-purpose" signs in your early repertoire, even if these are not the signs you expect (or want) your child to sign back first, you help your child learn that hand motions are useful and can fit into his world in lots of different contexts. Remember that signs like EAT and MORE are extremely versatile (e.g., to comment on your child mouthing a toy or wanting to hear the same song over and over again).This same principle applies to Highly Motivating Signs. Including signs such as LIGHT, BALL, and/or MUSIC in your set of Starter Signs will allow you to talk about interesting items that are abundant in a young child's life (think of how many of today's toys have lights, play music, or contain balls!) in a large variety of play situations. We describe how to use these more General Signs throughout this guide.Signing Smart Starter SignsBelow is a list of eighteen suggested Starter Signs. There are many more possible signs to choose from in the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionary; see Appendix 1, here. Feel free to replace any of the signs below with others that are more relevant, useful, or interesting to you or your child. Just remember to choose some General Signs as well as a balance between See A Lot / Do A Lot and Highly Motivating Signs.Suggested General Starter SignsChoose at least two from each category. These are signs that you can use in almost any interaction to easily create Signing Smart Opportunities around topics of interest or importance. Please see the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionnary onpage 192 for more.
SEE A LOT/DO A LOT SIGNSHIGHLY MOTIVATING SIGNSSuggested See A Lot / Do A Lot Starter SignsAdd in two to four of these "parent-oriented" signs to help you meet your child's needs while signing.Suggested Highly Motivating Starter SignsAdd in two to four of these "child-oriented" signs to motivate your child to sign back.SIGNING SMART MILESTONESThere are few greater joys than seeing your child reach the first milestone-her first sign. However, most parents (mistakenly) assume that once their child produces her first sign, life will get easier instantaneously. Unfortunately, they are only half correct-life will get easier, but not instantaneously. Remember, the definition of "development" is "change over time." This means that children who have one sign will slowly and gradually build up their number of signs until the next two milestones are reached-the Sign Cluster and the Language Explosion.THE SIGN CLUSTERSomewhere between five and ten signs, children hit what we call the Sign Cluster--the solidification of a critical mass of signs (used however inconsistently), after which sign vocabulary increases more rapidly and children begin combining signs and/or words into short sentences. Our research has shown that how soon a child will sign back and when she will hit her Sign Cluster is greatly influenced by the family's use of Signing Smart strategies and techniques. In general, parents can anticipate their child reaching the Sign Cluster four to twelve weeks after their child's first sign appears. Some Signing Smart children will reach their Sign Cluster as early as six months of age; others will reach it at twelve months or later. However, our research has shown that, on average, Signing Smart children hit their Sign Cluster when they are eight to ten months old. In one example, a family began attending a Signing Smart class when their son was only five months old. Despite the fact that he was not yet sitting up, within two weeks of using Signing Smart strategies, he had two signs. Shortly thereafter, at only six months, he had five signs and was nearing his Sign Cluster at a remarkably young age.THE LANGUAGE EXPLOSIONOur recent research indicates that there is a third milestone in young children's language development--the Language Explosion. The Language Explosion is the time when children's spoken and signed vocabulary increases in conjunction with a notable increase in cognitive skills and social awareness and determination. It is after the Language Explosion is reached that parents feel as if they are communicating with a whole new child--their child picks up signs effortlessly (sometimes three to ten signs/words in a single day!), initiates and extends conversations, signs much more spontaneously, and seems more determined in his communication. If a child is older than twelve months when hereaches his Sign Cluster, it will often seem as if he simultaneously reaches his Language Explosion. If a child is under twelve months when he reaches his Sign Cluster, it will take a number of weeks before he then reaches his Language Explosion. On average, Signing Smart children reach the developmental "turning point" marked by the Language Explosion between eleven and thirteen months.How quickly a child reaches his Language Explosion is again influenced by when a family begins Signing Smart, as well as how often the family uses Signing Smart techniques. It is through the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success that children are engaged in interactions that facilitate the coordination of the two necessary components of the Language Explosion--the vocabulary component and the social /cognitive component (the development of conceptual understanding and social awareness/determination).Once children reach their Language Explosion, the doors to extensive communication are flung wide open and children will learn the vast majority of the signs they see, many after only a single showing. In fact, we hear time and again how amazed parents are to see their child sign something they themselves have not signed in a long time! And once children reach the Language Explosion, parents often will see their child's burst in sign vocabulary followed relatively quickly by a burst in spoken vocabulary as well.Signing Smart Time Frame for Signing by Your ChildLESS THAN 8 MONTHS OLD:• Families that begin Signing Smart with their less-than-8-month-old child can anticipate that their child will sign back (on average) in about 4-12 weeks.• In fact, these children can learn to use over 40 signs by the time they are 1 year old. Many of these children also begin to combine signs well before their first birthday.8-12 MONTHS OLD:• Families that begin Signing Smart with their 8-12-month-old child can anticipate that their child will sign back (on average) in about 2-8 weeks.• Again, once the child reaches his Sign Cluster, many new signs and the beginnings of short signed and/or spoken sentences will appear. The child's Language Explosion is soon to follow.13 MONTHS-2 YEARS:• Families that begin Signing Smart with their 13-month to 2-year-old child can anticipate that their child will sign back (on average) in about 1 day to 6 weeks.• These children generally reach their Sign Cluster and Language Explosion relatively quickly. Very often, their sign use is followed by a burst of spoken words as well.Signing Smart will significantly shorten the time frame for signing back, and for reaching both the Sign Cluster and the Language Explosion:
The time frame for signing back is influenced by more than just chronological age or the amount of time an individual family has been signing. A family's use of the Signing Smart Start and the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success plays a large role in the length of time it takes for a child to reach all three milestones. In one example, a thirteen-month-old's family had been signing for about eight months with small increments of success. Within a single hour after learning only a small handful of the Signing Smart techniques we describe in this guide, the little boy began using three new signs and four new words--hitting his Sign Cluster and his Language Explosion simultaneously!THE FOUR KEYS TO SIGNING SMART SUCCESSOur research indicates that, in addition to the Signing Smart Start, using the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success will not only greatly reduce the wait for signing back but will also allow your child's sign and word development to become as prolific as possible, as quickly as possible. In this section, we introduce you to the Four Keys, which will be described in more detail in the "Go" and "On your Way" sections of this chapter. As you use your Chosen Signs (whether they be your Starter Signs or additions to this collection), keep these Keys in mind:The Four Keys to Signing Smart Success1. Create Signing Smart Opportunities2. Bring signs into your child's world3. Recognize your child's versions of signs4. Facilitate both early communication and long-term learning1. Creating Signing Smart Opportunities• Children learn best in interactions that are "meaning-full." We have developed all of the activities in this book with this understanding in mind. Signing Smart Opportunities are developmentally appropriate experiences that allow parents and children to interact in playful, engaging ways that are also conducive to learning. This entire guide contains endless possibilities for creating Signing Smart Opportunities at home.• Through recognizing, capitalizing on, and creating these Signing Smart Opportunities, parents are able to notice the many ways their child already initiates interactions; respond to their child's unintentional movements in meaningful ways; make interactions more conversational; introduce signs at moments their child is most primed for learning; and structure interactions that foster intimacy, concept development, and language skill. This may seem like a tall order, but for those armed with the many Signing Smart tools in this book, it will quickly and easily become second nature. We describe these interactions more thoroughly beginning on here.• Common characteristics of Signing Smart Opportunities:* Variety: In creating or responding to such Opportunities, parents are able to use their Chosen Signs in various contexts, emphasizing the quality of the interactions over the quantity of signs.* Motivation: The more motivated your child is to communicate, the sooner he or she will sign back. Motivation is strongly influenced by Signing Smart techniques, including this first Key.* Invitation: Part of Signing Smart is learning how to provide your child with Opportunities to participate in interactions. Equally important is learning to notice and respond to the ways your child will "invite" you into interaction with her.2. Bringing Signs into Your Child's World• An important aspect of Signing Smart is helping parents become partners in their child's development. One effective way to do this is to work with your child's developmentally appropriate desire to explore her world and bring your signs to her. In fact, she will learn signs faster and appreciate their usefulness more readily if you employ some of the Signing Smart Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies (descriptions beginning on here) that will allow signing, interacting, and exploring to go hand in hand. We have developed all of the at-home activities in this book to make this Key easy and fun. 3. Recognizing Your Child's Versions of Signs• For many parents, developing their Signing Smart eyes--noticing their child's early signs--seeing signs as signs--is a challenge at first. When we hear stories of families who say signing "didn't work," this is one of the first things we look into, as it is possible that a child is signing but the parents aren't "seeing" the signs. With the Signing Smart tools we provide in this guide, you will be well prepared to recognize and respond to your child's earliest signs.4. Facilitating Both Early Communication and Long-Term Learning• Signing Smart will give you the tools to integrate signs into all kinds of interactions, which will foster both early communication and long-term learning. Through maintaining the balance of See A Lot / Do A Lot (parent-oriented) and Highly Motivating (child-oriented) Signs, you will be best able to use signs and Signing Smart techniques to facilitate interactions, support vocabulary and conceptual development, and promote long-term learning. At the same time, using both kinds of signs in all kinds of interactions encourages and enables your child to share with you the many things she finds fascinating and important in her world--a critical component in promoting the continued development of intimacy and bonding between you and your child.SIGNING SMART: GO!At this point, you may be raring to go but wondering how you are going to take advantage of the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success. The first thing to remember is that Signing Smart does not mean signing every time you say the corresponding words--not by any stretch! Signing Smart success is about the kinds of signs you use and the kinds of interactions and experiences in which you use them.Key 1 : Creating Signing Smart OpportunitiesChildren learn best in interactions stemming from their own interests. When parents create or respond to Signing Smart Opportunities, they work with their child's interests, engaging her in two-way communication.RESPONDING TO CHILDREN'S NONSIGNED "INVITATIONS"Young children have many ways of letting us know they are eager to interact. They may stare intently at an object of interest, they may move toward a toy or person, they may start manipulating an object, or they may exhibit a marked change in affect (e.g., from happy to neutral, or the reverse). Signing Smart teaches parents to view all these behaviors as invitations to create Signing Smart Opportunities. Remember, you need not feel obligated to turn all of these situations into Signing Smart Opportunities; just notice that they all could be, and then take advantage of some of them by engaging your child with a quick comment supported by a sign.So, a parent may choose to create a Signing Smart Opportunity when her child crawls over to her ("Oh, you want MOMMY? Let's PLAY BALL."), throws the ball he's been mouthing ("You threw your BALL, are you ALL-DONE EATING it?"), looks up from playing with her feet and smiles ("WHAT are you doing with your feet? Are you PLAYING with your toes?"), or topples over and starts fussing ("WHAT happened? Do you need HELP?"). Will a parent do all of these things in any given interaction? Absolutely not! The parent would be overwhelmed, the child overstimulated, and none of the chores would get done. However, by creating such Signing Smart Opportunities from some of these situations at some points during the day, parents tell their child that they notice his invitations to communicate, and take advantage of them by engaging him with some of their Chosen Signs. The child, in turn, gets to see relevant signs during moments in which he is most primed for learning and is eager to be engaged by his parents.SITUATION: Parent sees her child happily playing with a xylophone.In this situation, parents may feel stumped because the sign for "xylophone" is not among their Chosen Signs. Parents may wonder if they should simply forgo signing in this situation or if they should try to take advantage of their child's good mood by bringing over a toy that they do know the sign for. But because Signing Smart is flexible, parents can use signs they already know to continue to engage their child with her chosen toy! Even if you do not know the sign, you can use a sign to create a Signing Smart Opportunity.Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 1: Instead of using the sign "xylophone," draw on another related sign you know. For instance, say, "I see you playing with your xylophone. You are making wonderful MUSIC! Can Mommy make MUSIC with you as well?" For more on the Signing Smart strategy of "plugging in" related signs, which we call Conceptual Grouping, see pages 58 and 70.Signing Smart Opportunity-Option 2: If you can't remember or don't know the sign for MUSIC, plug in a more General Sign. So, for instance, ask your child WHAT he is playing with and then fill in the answer (xylophone) verbally; or ask him if he wants MORE music and begin to bang away; orcomment on the fact that he is EATING the mallet and ask him if it is yummy. When you notice his interest waning, ask him if he's FINISHED and if he would like to play with his BALL now. Regardless of his choice at that point, think of the wonderful interaction(s) you had with him about the thing that was most interesting in his world during those few moments.In addition to responding to your child's "invitation" (object manipulation), Signing Smart allows you to extend the exchange by inviting him to participate even more. Notice how the above interchanges move beyond simply labeling the object, and, in this way, enable you to engage your child in rich and stimulating interactions. Using a single, more generalized sign opens the door to enriched conversations about anything under the sun. More important than the extent of your vocabulary are the engaging contexts in which you and your child are interacting--contexts in which signs are seen, internalized, understood, and eventually used by both of you.RESPONDING TO CHILDREN'S NATURAL MOVEMENTS AND BABBLINGRecent research conducted at Franklin and Marshall College indicates that when a mother responds to her baby's random babbles by smiling at, moving closer to, and touching him, the child's vocalizations become more advanced.8 In a similar way, creating Signing Smart Opportunities from your child's nonintentional movements or babbles will benefit both sign and word development! The beauty of Signing Smart Opportunities is that they exist whether or not children's movements or vocalizations are actually deliberate.For instance, when your child flaps his arms up and down--even for no apparent reason--we call that a Signing Smart Opportunity. There are several possible signs this movement may resemble (e.g., BALL, FINISH, RAIN), and when you react to even seemingly random movements in meaningful ways, your child will come to understand that his hands can convey meaning. Here, creating a Signing Smart Opportunity involves deciding on a possible meaning for your child's movements--if your child flaps his arms happily, you might respond by initiating an interaction around a BALL you can play with together; if your child makes the same type of "flapping" movement while fussing, you might respond by commenting on how your child is FINISHED playing and bring him over to his high chair for a snack. In this way, the same unintentional movement might "initiate" different interactions, because you as the parent choose to reinforce different signs, depending on how you read your child's emotions and interests. As you can see, there is no "right" way to create a Signing Smart Opportunity.You can also create Signing Smart Opportunitiesin response to completely accidental hand positions. For instance, if you notice your child sucking his fist or thumb (especially if he is not usually a thumb sucker), this is a Signing Smart Opportunity to reinforce his movements as a possible sign for DRINK or BOTTLE.We want to stress that we are not suggesting that a child's meaningless movements are signs. What we are saying is that our responses to these meaningless movements will help turn them into meaningful and purposeful signs over time. Note that the same can be said for reinforcing your child's "meaningless" vocalizations. When we hear our child say "bubu-bu," even if we know it is not intentional, we instinctively reinforce the word as "bye-bye." Doing so allows your child to more quickly turn that "random" sound pattern into a purposeful word. By creating these kinds of Signing Smart Opportunities, parents allow children to "initiate" and participate in rich and meaningful interactions from the start--even before children are signing back.
SITUATION: Child excitedly flaps his arms up and down for no apparent reason.Initially, parents may feel silly assigning meaning to these natural movements. Or they may feel comfortable commenting on their child's excitement but be reluctant to treat the movements as a "sign." Remember, we are not trying to convince you that these natural movements are signs. Rather, we are asking you to interact with your child as if these movements are precursors to signs.Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 1: Engage your child with words, signs, actions, and experiences around the possible meaning of his movements--in this case, maybe BALL. Thus, a Signing Smart response might be "BALL? Are you saying BALL with your hands? Let's go get your BALL--great idea!" The parent would then play ball with his child, continuing the interaction the child "started" through his accidental hand movements.While it is the parent who mapped meaning onto the child's meaningless movements, this does not diminish the vital information the child received. In creating these Signing Smart Opportunities, the child learns that his hands can (and in fact do!) convey ideas that initiate interactions and lead to getting objects or having experiences.Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 2: If you notice your child is eagerly watching your pet dog while simultaneously making arm-flapping motions that could be the sign BALL, you may choose to go with your child's interest while still commenting on and reinforcing his use of signlike natural movements. Therefore, you might say, "I see you saying BALL with your hands. You're looking at the DOGGIE, woof, woof! Let's go say 'hi' to the DOG."Again, there is no "right" way to create a Signing Smart Opportunity--experiences such as this one will multiply and give your child the message that you are attuned to his natural movements as well as his interests. Over time he will come to refine his hand motions; but until then, he is still experiencing the power that his natural movements have to influence his world--both in getting your attention and in leading him to interesting interactions. Notice again that these interchanges do much more than simply label objects--they include discussions, interactions, and experiences.RESPONDING TO SIGNED/SPOKEN INVITATIONSPerhaps the most obvious Signing Smart Opportunity to create is the one in which your child clearly uses a sign/word in an appropriate situation, such as when she crawls over to her high chair and signs EAT. In this case the interchange will likely proceed without a hitch, especially if you use Signing Smart tools to enrich your interaction.
SITUATION: Your child looks up at the lamp and excitedly signs LIGHT.In situations such as this one, parents will often take advantage of Key 3 (Recognizing your child's signs) and comment briefly on the LIGHT their child noticed. Brief interactions like this are important and necessary--they allow your child to continue interacting with the world on his own terms, and they let you continue your chores after a brief interchange. However, when you have the time toengage more fully with your child, it is in moments like this one that a great deal of learning and play can happen.Signing Smart Opportunity: You excitedly say to your child, "I see you signing LIGHT with your hand. WHAT happens when I turn the LIGHT-OFF?" You then proceed to "play with" the lamp, interacting with your child over the very thing that she told you interested her at that exact moment. With these behaviors, you not only recognized your child's sign (Key 3) but you also extended the interaction and created a learning environment through experiences, words, and a balance of signs (Keys 1 and 4). And, if you used any Signing Smart Attention-Getters or Adaptation Strategies (Key 2) (such as signing LIGHT in the rays of the light), you will have hit all Four Keys to Signing Smart Success in a single interchange. This is a wonderful example of the flexibility and usefulness of Signing Smart techniques. And, what a rich interaction your child just experienced on so many levels: cognitive--the cause and effect of flipping the lamp switch; social/emotional--when I communicate, Mommy responds to and interacts with me; and linguistic--I've seen and heard lots of signs and words that I'm coming to understand and use myself.While we have emphasized the fact that Signing Smart Opportunities are often short but rich interactions, do not let this discourage you from extending these interactions if your child's interest and your time permit. So if your child is engaged in your game with the lights and you have the time and energy to take the interaction further, by all means, do so. One way is by going on a LIGHT walk, as suggested on here or 146. Let these interactions go as far as both you and your child can take them, but do not measure their success on length alone.Unfortunately, not all signed/spoken invitations are as clear as we might like. Children often use signs (and words) very differently than we do. Sometimes parents are unsure how to respond--do we work from what our child signed or from what we think she really meant? Our research has shown that we make the most of a potential Signing Smart Opportunity when we work from what our child means, while still acknowledging and applauding what was actually signed.SITUATION: Parent sees her child sign LIGHT while looking at the vase of flowers on the table.Families often bring stories such as this one to our play classes and workshops. In this type of situation, parents cannot help but wonder whether their child is confused, whether they were just imagining that their child understood, or whether they were just imagining that their child was signing purposefully. Trust us, everyone feels this way sometimes. Even we, as developers of the program, have gone through these "crises of faith" about our children's abilities/intentions. We encourage you to overcome your own doubts and give your child the credit she so richly deserves, while creating a Signing Smart Opportunity in the process.Signing Smart Opportunity: Recognize your child's attempt, but then work from her interest rather than her sign. For instance, tell her, "Yes, you're telling me with your hands; you're signing LIGHT. But I see you looking at the FLOWERS. You really like those FLOWERS." Don't know the sign for FLOWER? Say, "WHAT are you looking at? I see you looking at the flowers. Do you want MORE of the flowers? Let's go see those flowers some MORE [as you lift your child]." If you discover your child is captivated by flowers, add FLOWER to your set of Chosen Signs. GOING BEYOND BASIC LABELINGAn important difference between Signing Smart Opportunities and other types of interactions is the level of engagement between the parent and child. While an Opportunity may be short, it still engages and stimulates in meaningful ways. Take a look at the situation below and see the richness, intimacy, and learning that come with simple Signing Smart techniques, which can take any interchange far beyond basic pointing and naming.
SITUATION: Parent sees child playing with a horse.Basic pointing and naming: "Oh, you have a HORSE. Can you say HORSE? Look at Mommy. That's a HORSE. Carlos, sweetie, look at Mommy. That's a HORSE, say HORSE."The only information the child is getting is that the object he is playing with is called a horse.Basic pointing and naming with a Signing Smart invitation: "Oh, you have a HORSE. Can you say HORSE? That's a HORSE.Mommy is saying HORSE with her hands. Can you say HORSE with your hands? Carlos does it, Carlos says HORSE with his hands."This basic interaction goes beyond the previous one in that it invites the child into the conversation through signs. However, additional Signing Smart techniques can bring much more.
Signing Smart Opportunities in action:Animating the interaction with pretend play:• "WHAT are you PLAYING with? Do you have a HORSE? 'Neigh' [Language Clustering] says the HORSE."• "Look! You have a HORSE. WHAT is your HORSE doing? Is it JUMPING? MOMMY is making the HORSE JUMP. Can you make the HORSE JUMP?"Fostering intimacy:• "The HORSE is giving you KISSES [with Language Clustering]. Hee, hee, are you EATING your HORSE now?"• "Who else KISSES? Your BEAR! Your BEAR is giving you KISSES! Oops. WHERE did MOMMY HIDE your BEAR? Can you LOOK-FOR it? Do you need HELP?"Additional ways to extend the interaction:• "Oh, you have a HORSE. Are you PLAYING with that HORSE? Can MOMMY PLAY too?"• "You have a HORSE [parent hides horse]. WHERE'S the HORSE? She's HIDING! Can you LOOK-FOR the HORSE? SURPRISE! You can have a TURN. Do you want to PLAY with the HORSE some MORE?"• "Let's LOOK-FOR MORE HORSES! Oh, here is a BOOK with HORSES in it. We can read the BOOK."While you will only engage your child in a smattering of such interchanges, and any given interchange may include fewer signs, even the most basic of interactions can be easily made more three-dimensional and meaningful to your child with almost no extra work.SIGNING SMART OPPORTUNITIES SUMMED UPRemember, Signing Smart is not a list of prescribed responses for every one of a hundred possible scenarios. It doesn't involve signing all day, or dancing around your child and bringing over balls, or even engaging him every time he seems interested in something. Understanding Signing Smart Opportunities helps you to realize possible times and possible ways to interact. It is not the number of signsyou use--or even the number of times you sign--in any given day that will have the greatest impact on your communication with your child.Signing Smart creates short but meaningful interactions at various points, integrating select and relevant signs where comfortable and feasible. It teaches you to notice the possibilities and use new eyes and new tools to enrich what you are already doing. The fact that Signing Smart Opportunities can happen in many different contexts simply means you have the opportunity to create such interactions one hundred times a day. It does not mean you should do so. But what a relief to know that any missed opportunity only means another will pop up in short order. Believe us when we say there are whole days that go by when we do not sign with our own babies. Life is just like that! So we have developed a program that reflects and allows for the realities of real-time parenting! Key 2: Bringing Signs into Your Child's WorldBy now you are armed with your six to twelve Starter Signs and with an understanding of the multitude of possible Signing Smart Opportunities in which to use them. However, many parents wonder how to best get their child to look at them and to see their signs. Have you ever tried to get an active fourteen-month-old to glance over at you, let alone to stare you in the face, so he can see you sign BALL or LIGHT?Signing Smart Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies• Verbal: Make attention-getting noises Signing Smart Language Clustering• Nonverbal: Touch or pat your child Vary proximity Sensory attention-getting Bring object to you "Tell me with your hands"• Using signs to get attention: Signing Smart Baby-Talk Hand-over-hand signing Sign on your child's body Sign in your child's line of sight Make two-handed signs one-handed Sign on an object of interest Change the angle of the signTake heart and know that once your child understands the power of Signing Smart, she will often look to you for these visual highlights. But discovering the wonders of her world is one of your child's most pressing and developmentally appropriate jobs, and the worst thing that you can do is to make herchoose between looking at you for signs and exploring her environment.To make signing and interacting as successful as possible as quickly as possible, Signing Smart has developed a great number of Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies for hearing families. These give children access to sign information without their ever having to stop what they are doing to look up at the signs. We call this bringing signs into your child's world, and it is the Second Key to Signing Smart Success. Rest assured, by using even a few of the following Signing Smart strategies, both you and your child will feel the joy and success of signing without the frustration. In short order these strategies will become second nature to you! And once you have your child's attention, don't forget to extend the Signing Smart Opportunity beyond basic labeling: Engage your child with words, actions, or experiences that involve the object that holds his attention!SIGNING SMART ATTENTION-GETTERS: VERBALDiversify your verbal requests for attention (beyond just calling your child's name) by incorporating some of these Signing Smart strategies, developed to capture your child's attention through creative use of your voice.
Make Attention-Getting NoisesOne way to do this is to play up the "silly factor." No child can resist turning to Daddy when he suddenly makes a strange noise (e.g., "doo-wop") or couples a funny sound with an exaggerated movement or sign!
Signing Smart Language ClusteringOne wonderfully effective verbal strategy is what we call Signing Smart Language Clustering. Put simply, Language Clustering entails joining a word with a sound and with a sign, and it is a strategy we developed for many learning and interaction forums. To use this technique for attention-getting, exaggerate and extend the sound of the object you're talking and signing about, to capture your child's interest and attention. For instance, make an exaggerated "rrrrroaring" sound for a lion; "beeeeep-beeeeping" for a car; a high-pitched "Hi, I love you" for a doll, and so on. These sounds are compelling attention-getters for your child and are sure not only to draw his eye gaze over to you but also to initiate or extend wonderfully playful interactions.SIGNING SMART ATTENTION-GETTERS: NONVERBALAnother Signing Smart strategy is to use nonverbal means of getting your child's attention before you sign. The more you vary the ways you ask your child for his attention, the more likely it is that he will not only give it to you but also realize what he gains by doing so.
Touch or pat your childThe most basic nonverbal Signing Smart Attention-Getters are those that involve a gentle tactile signal. Touch, tap, or rub your child's arm, leg, cheek, or foot. When your child looks over to you, take advantage of the Signing Smart Opportunity you have created.
Vary ProximityA simple but highly effective nonverbal Signing Smart Attention-Getter is to vary your proximity to your child. Moving closer to--or moving away from--your child is sure to grab her attention and cause her to look at you. This creates the perfect Signing Smart Opportunity: Initiate an interaction about an object of interest by using a sign.
Sensory Attention-GettingAnother wonderful Signing Smart Attention-Getter involves using a sensory quality of the object itself to get your child's attention. For instance, turn on the fan and let the blowing wind entice your child to look over. Turn a light on and off until your child notices. Use the squeaker of a toy to get your child's attention, without you having to utter a sound. This strategy is a wonderful one to combine with others, such as signing on the object, described below.Bring the object to your body or faceAnother Signing Smart nonverbal strategy is to bring an object that is holding your child's interest toward your body or face, drawing his attention to you while allowing him to continue looking at the object. Once his eyes are on you, sign, but be sure to return the interesting object to him afterward.
"Tell me with your hands"One very effective Signing Smart technique is a combination of both verbal and nonverbal cues. Tap your child's hand and encourage her: "Tell me with your hands," or ask, "Can you make your hands say LIGHT?" You can then either sign away or employ another Signing Smart technique, such as signing on your child's body or using hand-over-hand signing (see below).The "tell me with your hands" technique is one of the most successful Signing Smart strategies because it gives children a clear means of understanding what we are asking them to do: use their hands to communicate. When you open the door to, and specifically encourage, "alternative" communication, many children tune in eagerly and quickly begin to sign back.You can extend the effectiveness of this strategy by adding, "Daddy's hands are saying LIGHT. Can Rakeesh's hands say LIGHT? Rakeesh does it. Rakeesh says LIGHT with his hands [as you tap them]." From there take advantage of the Signing Smart Opportunity you have created. Such interchanges not only help bring signs into your child's world but also make the early stages of learning more interactive. SIGNING SMART ADAPTATION STRATEGIES: USING SIGNS TO GET YOUR CHILD'S ATTENTIONBased on our knowledge of the way Deaf9 parents interact with their Deaf children, Signing Smart has developed a great number of strategies to help hearing families work within their child's developmental level, follow their child's lead, and literally move signs into their child's world. Using real ASL signs gives you great flexibility to adapt and exaggerate signs to your advantage in each of the ways described as follows.SIGNING SMART BABY-TALKWhile Deaf adults use ASL "baby talk" when signing with young children, Signing Smart adapts this technique for use within hearing families. To do this, make movements somewhat bigger and more repetitive than one would in adult sign conversation. The larger movements attract and maintain children's attention; the repeated movements allow children to see the sign produced anumber of times in a very short period. An additional benefit of this strategy is that, by repeating a single sign throughout an entire spoken sentence, you highlight that one concept, making it easier for your child to attend to and learn it. For example, asking, "Do you need HELP pulling your bear out?" with repetitions of HELP spanning the entire spoken question, focuses your child's language-learning energy on the sign/concept HELP.
Hand-over-hand signingAnother wonderful Signing Smart Adaptation Strategy is to move your child's hands/arms to help him get a feel for the sign. The goal here is a very gross movement--a clapping for MORE, a hand bumping the mouth for BIRD, an arm lifting for LIGHT. Developmentally, children experience these parent-guided movements as "their own" and can therefore readily learn the basic movement patterns necessary for sign production through this technique. However, do not try to place your child's fingers into position or make them move as the sign might (e.g., opening and closing the fingers for DUCK) as this is too difficult and frustrating for young children. In addition, when you help your child create fine movements, he is more likely to become a passive participant in the signing. Why? His fine motor skills won't be developed enough to form very specific, smaller movements until weeks, months, and maybe even years into the future; therefore, manipulating his hands to create particular fine motor patterns makes him dependent on you to make the sign for him. On the other hand, because he will be able to produce his own rough version of the sign(s) relatively quickly, when you help him experience the general way signs feel, you empower him to make the sign himself.You can extend this Signing Smart strategy by combining it with the "Tell me with your hands" technique described previously. For example, as you clap your child's hands together, say to him, "Do you see the SHOES? Michael's hands are saying SHOES. Good work!"Some children find it frustrating to have their hands held and manipulated. Some respondwell on certain days and not others. If your child seems to tense up when you use this technique, choose from the other Signing Smart strategies instead.Sign on your child's bodyInstead of doing a sign on your body where your child may not be able to see it (e.g., when your child is sitting on your lap as you read a book together), do it on her body. This literally gives your child a feel for the sign. Don't worry that she won't see the exact hand shape or movement; she will feel it on her body and have plenty of opportunities to see it in other contexts. Signs that easily lend themselves to being done directly on your child are those that you produce on your head or torso.Sign in your child's line of sightAnother Signing Smart Adaptation Strategy is to move your sign so that it is in your child's line of vision (e.g., above the toy she's playing with or between her body and the object that holds her attention). If there is no specific object your child is watching, sign in front of his body. Any sign that is not "anchored" to your body can move into your child's line of sight.Make two-handed signs one-handedLife with a baby will keep your hands busy. There will therefore be many times when you will only have one hand free for signing. There are two ways to make a two-handed ign into a one-handed sign. One is to simply drop the use of the other hand (e.g., CAT, BATH, or even BALL). While the sign may look different, it is still discernible to your :hild. For signs that require the other hand e.g., MORE, HELP, or BOOK), brace the one land you are signing with against something else--your child's body, the book you are reading, a toy you are holding, and so on.Sign on an object of interestAnother way to move signs into your child's line of sight is to sign directly on an object that your child is looking at. If your child is looking at a doll, sign DOLL on the doll's nose. Or if you're pretending to feed a rubber ducky, sign EAT by tapping your hand on the duck's bill. One especially useful way to use this strategy is to sign directly on the book that your child is looking at. For instance, sign COW directly on the picture of the cow in the book. Signing Smart strategies such as this keep the learning cycle intact (your child sees the object, sees the sign, andhears the word simultaneously), thereby shortening the time frame for your child to sign back and develop a sizable vocabulary.Change the angle of the sign/ Get down on your child's levelIf you are standing above your child and sign the "regular" way, your child only sees the underside of the sign. If you tip your hands downward, your child can see the sign "head-on," in its most accessible form. For instance, if your child is sitting on the floor while you are standing, sign CLEAN-UP with your hands tilted downward toward him. Another strategy is to get down on your child's level when you sign.Combining StrategiesDon't forget, you can combine these strategies for even greater flexibility. For instance, you can use the strategies one after the other, allowing you double the opportunity to capture and maintain your child's attention (e.g., repeat a sign on the object of interest and then on your child's body). Similarly, you can employ two or more Signing Smart strategies simultaneously, thereby extendingthe means by which your child can access the sign information (e.g., signing on your child while engaging in Language Clustering, tapping his hands, and so on).On Your Way• Key 3: Recognizing your child's versions of signs• Key 4: Facilitating both early communication and long-term learning On Your Way with Signing SmartWith your Signing Smart Starter Signs and your chosen Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies, you are ready to be on your way. At this point you may wonder how you will know when your child is "really signing," when you should add onto your Starter Signs, and how you should integrate signs into your interactions, at present and in the future. The two final Keys to Signing Smart Success address these specific concerns.Key 3: Recognizing Your Child's Versions of SignsWhen parents ask us, "How will I know if something is really a sign, as opposed to anatural movement or a happy accident?" we tell them it doesn't matter! That is, whether or not your child intended to sign DOG will not change the Signing Smart Opportunity such a movement presents. That being said, it is important for parents to have tools to recognize "real signs."As parents, we all know that when children begin talking, their early words will be approximations of the words they hear us say (e.g., "ba-ba" for "bottle," "da" for "dog"). The same is true for signing--children's early productions of any given sign (regardless of how many signs they may already have) will usually be their own version--an approximation of the sign we have been showing them. For this reason, part of Signing Smart is learning the "how" and "why" of children's sign "errors."For instance, you will see your child produce some two-handed signs with only one hand. This happens because she has seen you produce so many signs with only one hand (when you carry her, for instance), or because her other hand is occupied with the object she is describing/playing with. Alternatively, your child will sometimes produce one-handed signs with both hands because she has less control over moving each hand individually (when both are free) than you do.Being able to recognize and respond to your child's version of a sign will make a tremendous difference in how many signs your child will use and the time frame in which she will use them. Knowing this, Signing Smart has researched and documented the predictable ways young children are likely to adapt any given sign's three main components.Be Alert to Children's SignsLikely Hand shapes• Loose index finger• Loose fist• Relaxed open handLikely Movements• Jabbing/bouncing• Clapping/colliding• Bigger hitting/slappingLikely Locations• In front of the body• On the head or body but not in the correct spot• Beside the shoulder (instead of on the face/head)Overlapping Movement Patterns• Signs produced the same way that actually refer to different concepts (e.g., MORE/SHOES)Be aware: Children will create their own versions of signs even if you try and give them "baby-friendly" signs.• Instead of trying to "figure out" which signs will be "easy enough" for your child (really, they all will be), learn the Signing Smart strategies that will help you see and respond to whatever your child's version may be.Children will make these same "mistakes" no matter how much you try and "simplify" the signs that you show them. Rather than spending time and energy trying to figure out how to make a sign "easy enough" (when your child will then create his own version anyway), learning these Signing Smart strategies will help you see and respond to whatever his version may be, thereby speeding the process along.CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY HAND SHAPESTaking advantage of our training in both child development and sign language linguistics, we know that children's early signs are likely to be produced with one of three hand-shapes: a loose index finger, a loose fist, or a relaxed open hand. For example, children will often sign MORE with open palms (like clapping), BIRD or DUCK with an opening and closing of the fist (like waving), and so on.CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY MOVEMENTSChildren are also likely to simplify the movements of signs, eliminate the movement completely, and/or make much more exagerrated motions than adults would. Their early signs are likely to be larger and less controlled than yours (jabbing, clapping, hitting, as opposed to tight, small movements). For example, MORE might be done with a bigger slapping motion than the light tapping you will do or with a stationary hand clasp, PLEASE with a large swiping as opposed to a crisp circling, and so on.CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY LOCATIONSChildren also modify the locations of signs, but our research with Signing Smart children indicates that some locations are more likely to be altered than others. In general your child will most accurately produce locations for "free-floating" signs. For instance, BALL will likely be done in front of him, LIGHT up above his ears, and so on. For signs anchored on the body, you may see the general location preserved, but not the specific one. So, for example, CRACKER may involvea pounding on the opposite hand rather than the elbow, BEAR a swiping on the belly or legs rather than the chest, and so on.The signs children are most likely to produce in an incorrect location are those that are supposed to be done on the face. This happens because anchoring her hand on her face and producing an accurate movement is a later developmental accomplishment. So a sign like ELEPHANT might be produced with a flipping motion beside the shoulder. Knowing this, Signing Smart parents can be on the lookout for other face signs like DUCK or DRINK to be produced free-floating, beside the shoulder. However, note that some children will accurately produce the location of face signs but will alter the hand shape and/or movement. For these children, ELEPHANT may look like a palm tap to the nose, BIRD or DUCK like a grab/bump of the mouth, and so on. CHILDREN'S SIGNS: OVERLAPPING MOVEMENT PATTERNSAs a young child's vocabulary increases, her parents are likely to notice that she seems to be making the "exact same movement" to talk about very different things. This happens with spoken language as well, when a child uses the "exact same sounds" to talk about more than one thing (e.g., when a child says "ba-ba" to refer to both his bottle and blanket). At Signing Smart, we call these sign approximations Overlapping Movement Patterns. You may see your child signing "the same exact thing" when asking for MORE and when commenting on his SHOES (e.g., by clapping). In such contexts, our research has shown that children are not confused--they really do have two signs, one for each concept. The children just haven't yet developed the motor control to distinguish these two productions. Despite the fact that the adult productions of some of the following signs look very different, children's versions of these signs often look the same (i.e., they often show Overlapping Movement Patterns for the following sign groupings): MORE/BALL/SHOES; DUCK/BIRD; PLEASE/BEAR/BLANKET/BATH/MONKEY; BED/PHONE; FROG/PIG; MUSIC/FINISH. Please see the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionary on here for the adult forms of these signs. Techniques such as Signing Smart Body Leans, Assorted Cues, and Opposite-HandedSigning (described later in this guide) will go a long way toward helping you help your child develop distinct movements for each of his signs over time. For more on similar-looking signs, see pages 64, 103, 149, and 169.How will I know it is really a sign?It does not matter!• Whether your child's hand movements are accidental or intentional, what is most important is the interaction you create when you respond. It teaches your child that such movements have meaning and initiate experiences.Cues your child is making purposeful attempts to sign:• If he makes "signlike" movements* while he is looking directly at you* while he is looking directly at his hands* while he is looking directly at the object• If he produces a similar (approximate) movement over timeDon't forget that young children often sign very inconsistently. Not signing in one context says nothing about what she may have signed in another context.HOW WILL I KNOW IT IS REALLY A SIGN?No parent is immune from sometimes wondering whether her child is "really signing." While of course we recommend that you interact with any signlike movement as if it is intentional, there are several cues that will help you know whether or not your child is "really" signing. One cue is her gaze: Is she looking directly at you? Is she looking intently at something? Is she focusing on her hands? Another cue is her use of the same "sign" over time. Has she repeated this same (approximate) movement at various points over a period of time? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you have a strong indication that your child is intentionally signing.And while the above checklist can help, we know that we are all vulnerable to the confusion and uncertainty that arise from trying to "read" our own child's version of a sign or to understand his "confusing" signing. Even Michelle was in disbelief when--at not yet four-and-a-half months--Maya began banging her fist into the side of her head (too many times to be accidental) when her sister was nearby, in a very "signlike" attempt to produce the name sign Michelle and Scott had been using for Kylie (a "K" hand beside the eye). It was only through Maya's continued use of this same movement in enough appropriatecontexts over time that Michelle was able to "really know" it was an intentional sign. Reyna felt a similar way about Nadia's first attempts at BALL until she saw Nadia's arm bouncing in enough contexts over enough days. One word of warning, however: Very young children sign very inconsistently. Do not expect your child to sign BALL every time she sees one, or even many of the times you think she might be inclined to sign. Not signing in one context says nothing about what she may have signed previously. All this is to say, if you think it could be a sign, interact with it as if it is. Then watch it over time and see what develops. Key 4: Facilitating Both Early Communication and Long-Term LearningSigning Smart will give you the means to facilitate both early communication and long-term learning. When you use signs to foster both communication and learning, you allow your child to "break into" signing more quickly and allow your family to take full advantage of all that Signing Smart has to offer, from the very first day into the preschool years. In fact, as you continue on your way with Signing Smart, in relatively short order you will want to add to your initial set of Starter Signs, and you may wonder when and how to do so. Let Key 4 be your guide.WHEN TO ADD TO YOUR STARTER SIGNSAdd on to your set of Starter Signs when your child seems to understand your signs and/or begins to produce even one "real" sign himself. From there, your goal is to "stay ahead" of your child, using a few more signs than he is using (e.g., go from your set of six to twelve signs to twelve to twenty-four signs, or whatever pace your own learning curve will allow). From there, there is no reason to limit your vocabulary, as long as you strive to maintain the balance of See A Lot / Do A Lotand Highly Motivating Signs. Add any new number with confidence--your child understands the role signing plays in your interactions and is ready for more sign input. Signing Smart gives you the tools to highlight concepts and ideas as well as to engage in topics of interest to you or your child. For this reason continue expanding your Chosen Signs when you notice your child developing new interests, when you want to help prepare him for new experiences, or when you wish to take advantage of Signing Smart strategies for long-term learning.HOW TO ADD TO YOUR CHOSEN SIGNSWhile it may be tempting to add a slew of new animal signs, part of the Fourth Key to Signing Smart Success is to maintain the balance of Highly Motivating and See A Lot / Do A Lot Signs. This will allow you to sign in all kinds of interactions and to continue to provide your child with tools to talk about his interests as well as his needs. It will also enable you to use signs to support your child's learning now and into the future.To expand your repertoire of Highly Motivating Signs, pay attention to your child's developing interests: Is she fascinated by city BUSES, does he notice every BIRD at the park? Think about the change in seasons: Are you likely to start seeing a lot of brightly colored FLOWERS or beautifully decorated TREES with LIGHTS?To add to your See A Lot / Do A Lot collection, consider new or upcoming family experiences: Are you expecting relatives or going on a family vacation? Is your toddler interested in potty training? Don't forget to choose signs for concepts you'd like to help your child learn. Key 4 is about using signs for bothearly communication and long-term learning. So regardless of whether or not your goal is to have your child sign a particular word, Signing Smart will allow you to use signs to help your child to understand abstract ideas. You just may be surprised by what your child wants and needs to talk about!So think about including Opposite signs such as IN and OUT, Social Interaction signs such as TAKE-TURNS or STOP, or Health and Safety signs such as HOT, COLD, MEDICINE, HURT, or WET in your growing set of Chosen Signs. These kinds of signs will allow you to highlight conceptual aspects of your activities, thereby facilitating your child's understanding of relatively abstract ideas--es--pecially if you forgo using other signs in your repertoire to highlight a particular concept and focus your child's attention on the new information (see Spoon Fun on here for more on this learning strategy).The Four Keys to Signing Smart Success Summed UpWe hope you can now see how each of the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success builds off of, or becomes a component of, the others--with little or no additional work required from the parent. For example, suppose you notice your child clapping her hands as her own version for MORE (Key 3: Recognizing your child's sign). You engage her in an interaction about the toy that excited her (Key 1: Creating a Signing Smart Opportunity) by asking her if she wants MORE MUSIC or HELP putting the toys IN the music box (Key 4: Facilitating communication and learning). Bring signs into your child's world (Key 2) by signing MUSIC above the toy she is looking at or by signing IN directly into the container, and you will have hit on all four Keys in one very short and simple, but incredibly rich, interaction.We wish you well on your upcoming adventure--and remember, Signing Smart should always feel like a welcome addition to your life with your child. If you find yourself frustrated or overwhelmed, we encourage you to reread this chapter; frustrations are most often the result of things you're doing (or not doing) that can be changed with a little guidance from the Signing Smart strategies we have offered. You will also learn about some common frustrations and suggested solutions alongside the activities that follow. Be confident in the wonderful gift you are giving your child, yourself, and your whole family--and have fun interacting, playing, learning, nuzzling, and Signing Smart with your child in exciting and engaging new ways.Copyright © 2005 by Michelle E. Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.
Excerpted from Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D., and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D., are child development researchers and educators. They founded Wide-Eyed Learning, LLC, which teaches parents and educators the Signing Smart approach to using ASL signs with hearing babies and toddlers. They live with their husbands and signing children in Centennial, Colorado, and Beaverton, Oregon, respectively.
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