September 12, 2012

Sing It Loud, Sing It Clear (More Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

Do the lyrics, "Sing it loud...sing it clear...Don't worry if it's not good enough, for anyone else to hear..." take you anywhere? These lyrics (and this "Sing" montage) take me straight back to my childhood. I grew up on three episodes of Sesame Street a day. All it takes is a few opening notes or some key lyrics to jog my memory of the classic songs from my youth.  Music is like that.  It gets into our bones. It sticks with us. It helps us learn. Singing is my favorite way to help kids (and grown ups) learn and practice new words in sign language.

In my last post, I talked about signing along with songs you already know, and making up your own songs to sign along with. Building on this idea, another option is to modify the lyrics to familiar children's songs. Take for example, "Here we Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush."  In its original form, it's not that meaningful of a song to sign along with (re: How many babies do you suspect are clamoring to convey the words "Mulberry Bush" to their caregivers? None that I can think of!).  But the song has a nice rhythm to it, and it's got built-in repetition, so it makes a great "shell" from which you can create some customized ditties. For example, "This is the way we ask for milk, ask for milk, ask for milk.  This is the way we ask for milk, when we we want some milk" or "This is the way we ask for more..." or "This is way we say "all done...."

There are limitless possibilities to the songs you can modify for this purpose.  Start with the songs that your parents sang to you when you were a child.  The songs that will work best will be the ones with melodies that you are personally familiar with 2) that have a nice rhythm, 3) built-in repetition, and 4) that you can bear to sing over and over again.

To get you started, some of my favorite melodies to sign along with include:

-"If You're Happy and You Know It" (try: "If you're hungry (thirsty/sleepy) and you know it...ask to eat (drink/sleep...)")

-"Did You Ever See a Lassie?" (try: "Did you ever seen a carrot (cracker/apple) yummy as this carrot (cracker/apple...?)" or "Did you ever see a monkey (tiger/lion) as silly/noisy as this monkey (tiger/lion)?")

-"Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me" (try: "Shoo cat (dog/bird) don't bother me...For I belong to my mommy/daddy.")

-"Skip to my Lu" (try: "Eat, eat, eat little one...Eat little one, it's yummy," or "Sleep, sleep, sleep little one...Sleep little one, it's nap time.")

-"London Bridge" (try: "Baby girl/boy put on your hat (socks/shoes), put on your hat, put on your hat. Baby girl/boy, put on your hat, for your mommy/daddy.")

At the risk of being redundant, the public library is a great place to visit if you don't have a ready supply of tunes in mind. Look for CDs that have some of the above songs listed, and you will be sure to get a collection of several songs that will work.  And of course, for those of you who have digitized your musical lives, iTunes likely has a ready supply of kid tunes to choose from.

Alas, don't feel like you have to limit yourself to children's songs! I once had a class participant ask if it was okay to sing and sign along to Michael Jackson melodies at home. (As I recall, the class spontaneously broke into a round of  "Just Eat It" to the tune of "Just Beat It.")  My advice to her was that any song would do as long as she and her baby were having fun.

This leads me to my last point for today's post: Do be sure to choose songs that your baby responds to and seems to enjoy. My youngest kiddo taught me this lesson the hard way.  He was just a few months old when he started (vigorously!) signing "all done" whenever I'd start singing to him. At the time, my go-to song was "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."  My older child LOVED that song when she was a baby and toddler.  Our Old MacDonald had everything you could imagine on his farm (...and on that farm there were some  You name it, if I knew the sign for it, we sang about it on that farm.

When my son came along, I continued the practice of singing and signing to the "Old MacDonald" tune.  What I (eventually!) came to realize is that my son couldn't stand that melody. I'd start singing, and he'd start signing... "all done." I was heartbroken.  Here I was teaching and consulting about the wonders of singing and signing, and how your baby loves the sound of your voice, blah, blah, blah... while back at home my own baby was telling me to STOP SINGING ALREADY, in the one way he knew how: signing "all done."

Thankfully, I came to understand that what he was really saying was, "Stop singing THAT song."  Once I realized that he was more of a "Wheels on the Bus" kinda guy, we were back on track, and singing and signing was fun for everyone.

I recently told my son that I often share this story with my class participants.  His immediate reaction was, "I can't stand that song!"  I guess some things just don't change.

If you have your own picky-listener, stay tuned.  In my next post, I'll share some of my favorite recorded music that has been developed specifically for signers. In the meantime, don't hesitate to share some of your own favorite melodies to sign along with in the comments section below.

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