By: Naomi R. Patton, Detroit Free Press
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Professor John Hagen's review of Baby Signs in Free Press article
Detroit Free Press
February 26, 2004
Dena Harb has finished her lunch of chicken nuggets, tater tots, apple sauce and milk. Sitting in her high chair, she keeps saying, "Up."
"Up." Pause. "Up." Pause. "Up."
The pause is Jill Scott, owner of Canton day care center Children's Hour, named after the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
"Can you say 'up,'?" Scott asked each time, with her index finger pointing upward, trying to get 18-month-old Dena to make the American Sign Language, or ASL, gesture for "up."
Dena, who is not deaf, knows the sign well, along with the gestures for "eat," "more," "no," and "dog."
Since she's been learning sign language since August, and simultaneously hearing the words associated with the signs, Dena's beginning to understand what they mean, and she's beginning to say them instead.
Dena's one of many hearing children her age and younger being taught ASL signs in day care and early childhood education centers and homes nationwide. Learning signs enables children too young to speak to communicate with their parents and caretakers.
"I think it's the best way to communicate for children that age," said Manal Harb, Dena's mother and a teacher at the center.
Harb has a degree in early childhood education and has worked in day care centers for nine years. She said she'd heard about the practice of teaching signs to communicate with young children but hadn't seen it before working at Children's Hour.
Scott's daughter Danielle, 18, who's completing her early childhood education courses, said she was teaching herself ASL when she discovered books on teaching sign language to children.
One of the books, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn's "Baby Signs," is one of the most popular books on the subject and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Joseph Garcia's "Sign With Your Baby," is another oft-referenced tome on the subject, relying more on using unmodified ASL to communicate with young children. John Hagen, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and the executive officer for the Society for Research in Child Development, reviewed "Baby Signs" and said the book was important, because it encourages learning with social interaction.
"It's an important way to communicate with young children," he said. "The sooner they can have a sense that they can communicate with adults, the better they are."
Courtney Nagy's son, 13-month-old Evan, attends Children's Hour. Nagy said she and her husband were impressed immediately with the center and its signing instruction. The signing is particularly useful, she said, since Evan suffers from chronic ear infections and often doesn't hear her very well.
"The baby sign language helped me at least know that I can understand him better," said Nagy. The Plymouth couple practices signing with Evan, and Courtney Nagy said she often sees him doing the signs for "dog," and "book" on his own.
"We're making sure we're consistent," Nagy said, referring to the signs taught at the center. "I personally think it will help with his speaking development."
Hagen said he agrees that it encourages speech, adding, "cognition grows out of interaction."
In a few years, Danielle Scott will take over Children's Hour, and she's committed to teaching the signs to the children -- perhaps, for obvious reasons.
"Once they start learning the signs, there's a lot less crying because they can tell us what they want," she said.
For more information on the subject of teaching infants and toddlers sign language see the website: www.babysigns.com.
Contact NAOMI R. PATTON at 734-432-6504 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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