August 27, 2012

Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing: Sing and Play

As usual, my signing classes will be back in full swing this fall. No worries if you can't wait until the next class begins or you can't make it to an upcoming class. For the next several weeks I'll use the blog to share some of the key learning points I incorporate into my Infant/Toddler Sign Language classes. Don't hesitate to post your questions, and I'll do my best to address those as well.

I find that signing opportunities come in three main contexts: when you sing and play with your baby, when you verbally label routine activities and objects throughout the day, and when you focus on key words that are important to you and your baby. Today we'll begin the first of several posts on singing and playing!

In my experience, singing is the easiest and most natural way to sign with your baby. Your baby loves the sound of your voice (even if you don't!), and babies love finger plays (such as "Patty Cake," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," and "The Wheels on the Bus"). If you already do finger plays and lap games with your baby, you already know how to sign with your baby--you just need to learn a few new gestures (that happen to be ASL). I'll provide more specifics about that later.

If you haven't yet started doing finger plays or lap games with your baby, don't wait any longer. It's time to get started! And, if you don't know any finger plays or lap games, (or if you just want to go to the best place on earth for babies and their parents) get ye to your local library! Ask at the library's information desk or ask the youth librarian for the library's "Book Babies" or "Tiny Tots" story time schedule. (Yes, libraries have STORY TIMES for BABIES!) These story times are a great way for you to learn some finger plays and lap games, and it's a great way for you to make new friends with other parents in your community. (Oh, and while you're there, you can borrow some of my books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes series!)

If you are based in Oregon or SW Washington, here are links to just a few of the wonderful library systems in the Portland/Metro area:

Multnomah County Library
Washington County Cooperative Library Services
Fort Vancouver Regional Library District

Or, find a library in Oregon near you by clicking here.

If you already do finger plays and lap games with your baby, you have a jump start on signing.  Take the same relaxed and carefree approach that you take when you engage in a playful round of "The Wheels on the Bus" or "Patty Cake" with your baby.  When you're signing, instead of incorporating random gestures (like moving your arms back and forth for "the wipers on the bus") to symbolize words that don't really matter to your baby, (like "swish, swish, swish"), sing songs that will enable you to incorporate key words in sign language to symbolize the words and ideas your baby is motivated to express.  For example, sing, "If you're hungry and you know it, ask for more," to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It." Add more verses and more signs over time (i.e. "If you're thirsty and you know it ask for a drink," "If you're full and you know it, say all done").

Don't worry at this point about connecting the songs and signs to any specific context.  Just like you sing "The Wheels on the Bus" when there is no bus in sight, and you play "Patty Cake" without any flour in hand, you can sing and sign without worrying about props or context (for now!).  When you sing and sign just for fun, you will gradually build your own signing vocabulary, (so it's available when you do want to use it in a particular context).  Likewise, your baby will enjoy the playful attention of singing and signing, and will learn to focus on your hands (which is a necessary element of signing).  This will lay the groundwork for more context-based singing and playing, labeling and focusing.

My next posts will build on this topic. In the meantime, feel free to post your questions and/or your favorite songs for signing.

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