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.

August 18, 2012

Dishonesty is Distracting (aka Imagine, Part 2)

My last post was an ode to Imagine, by Jonah Lehrer.  I found it to be a stimulating and thought-provoking read (but recently discovered that it had been recalled by the publisher due to the disappointing revelation that the author made up some of the quotes referenced in the book).  I ended my last post with plans to revisit the many passages I had marked during my first read of the book, to reflect on what those words could (still) inspire in my own creative life.

Newsflash: Dishonesty is distracting. I turned to page after page of marked text, rereading the passages and reflecting on the wisdom in the words.  I found that the wisdom did not grab at me as it had the first time I read the words.  Maybe this is because I was no longer lounging on the beaches of Greece, as I had been when I first read the book.  Maybe the ideas simply lost their freshness upon review.  What I can say for certain is that over and over again, I found myself wondering if other quotes were true or fabricated.  I found myself wondering if the research presented was accurate and fairly portrayed.  I found myself wondering if the examples given were full of half truths, or made up altogether.  I did not find myself swirling in the excitement of my own creative energy as I had the first time I read the book.

As I recognized the significance of my doubts about the validity of the data, I shifted my attention to direct statements by the author.  I figured I could at least trust that he wouldn't make up his own quotes.  Sadly, even his own voice had lost its luster for me.  I wasn't as excited by his research summaries or his observations.  The author had lost my trust, and as a result, his words became less meaningful.

So, what is my (new) takeaway?  How can these revelations connect to my own creative life? I think it comes down to the words truth and honesty.  Trust and authenticity.  When I write my own stories (and teach my own classes), I want to do so in a way that honors the implied contract I have with my readers (and students).  I want my readers to get lost in the magic of the words on the page. I want my students to get lost in the magic of learning. I want my readers and students to know that my facts are accurate and my examples are real. I want my rhyme patterns to be dependable and trustworthy.  I want my characters to ring true and my voice to be authentic.   I want my standards to remain high, no matter what markets I am writing for, no matter what venues I am teaching in.  My readers and my students deserve my best work, always.

August 12, 2012

Imagine: By Jonah Lehrer

It's been several weeks since my last post (actually, it's been more than a month, but since I only have two official "followers," I doubt anyone but me is counting!).

This summer has been filled with lots of living. Happy living.  Sad living.  Ecstatic living. Dark night of the soul living.  Reading. Thinking. Journaling.

Blogging...not so much.  The experiences I've been living this summer do not have close ties to the themes I have set out to address in my blog.  I'm sure there are connections, but I haven't discovered them yet (or I haven't chosen to introspect closely enough to recognize the connections).

In the past weeks and months, I've traveled to Greece with my family (a beyond-incredible experience).  I've juggled the emotional and physical challenges of all FIVE of my (living) parents experiencing dramatic medical events (this after helping to care for one of my six parents before she lost her fierce battle with cancer last year).  I've mourned the changes in my family now that my SMom is no longer with us to bridge the relationship between two quarreling family members that I love.  I've engaged in a stress-induced spat with one of my sisters, then found myself flooded with forgiveness as we've tightly held each others' hands through the journey of supporting the parents we share.

I've been filled with mixed emotions watching my own children grow and mature in amazing ways as our family has taken in the highs and lows of this unforgettable summer, and I've found strength and solace in their laughter and hugs. I've lashed out at my husband for sharing (spot-on) perspectives I wasn't yet ready to hear, and I've marveled at the life I've shared with this wonderful man for 27 years (24 of those in marriage, come the 19th of this month--yes, we married when I was five). I've eaten more chocolate than I care to recount, and I've read some glorious books.  One of those books, IMAGINE, by Jonah Lehrer, is what I'd like to write about today (and maybe longer).

I heard Jonah Lehrer interviewed on NPR about his latest book when I was driving my daughter to gymnastics one evening last school year.  I was fascinated and hooked, and immediately put the book on hold at my public library.  A copy became available just before our family left for our summer vacation, and so I packed a (hardcover) library copy of IMAGINE to Greece.  I LOVED this book. I DEVOURED this book.  I was COMPELLED to highlight, underline, and dog ear passage after passage in this book.  But, alas, it belonged to the library, so I could not mark it up.  Instead, I marked hundreds of beloved, thought-provoking passages with torn strips of sticky notes.

I read passages out loud to my (patient) husband and children (and possibly a few strangers).  I insisted that my husband read the book after I was finished (AND I suggested that he pass it along to his boss and team of fellow administrators).   I went to the bookstore after my return from Greece and bought my own copy of the book (and diligently transferred all of the sticky note strips from the borrowed library copy to my new, personally owned copy).  I bought a copy for my sister, and I talked it up at my writing group.  Chapter by chapter I was inspired and motivated.  I was even moved by the final acknowledgement on the last page of the book (to Rosie, the author's young daughter, who arrived in his life toward the end of the writing process): "Rosie! . . . I can't wait to see what you become, although I'm already certain that you're the best thing I'll ever help create."

Imagine my surprise when I learned (from my husband and children, no less) that NPR recently reported that Jonah Lehrer admitted to fabricating some quotes (amongst other journalistic transgressions), and the book was being recalled by his publisher.  Like contaminated food.  Another hero bites the dust.  I fell in love with a fraud.

I lamented to one of my writing partners, Sara T. Behrman, that I was glad I'd been too busy to write a review of the book, as I'd intended (procrastination finally pays off!).  She encouraged me to reconsider.  To go ahead and write a review.  To start a conversation.

I'm glad for her suggestion.  Here is the deal: The quotes in that book may not be authentic.  The author may well have repurposed his earlier writings without requesting appropriate permissions from his previous employers.  The stories he told may have been exaggerated or fabricated.  But gosh darn it, the words in that book awakened something inside of me. The stories inspired me.  The ideas intrigued me.

I'm gravely disappointed that Jonah Lehrer cut corners. I'm sad that he lied. I'm deeply bummed that someone that I looked up to for about a month turned out to be a cheater.  But I'm not going to let that stop me from growing.  I will re-read those delicious words I highlighted with scraps of sticky notes, and I will reflect (albeit with a grain of salt) on what those words, however true or false, might mean for my own creative life.  I will look for connections and meaning.  I will look for insights and opportunities.  I will look for good in the midst of disappointment.