September 26, 2012

Sing and Sign When You Read (More Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

Story Time with Signs & Rhymes
One of my favorite things to do is sing and sign when I read to kids. I routinely model this for teachers, librarians and parents when I facilitate in-service training sessions and literacy programs at community education events. After a guest appearance at a conference facilitated by one of my heroes, Nellie Edge, I was encouraged to capture a video of me singing and signing my stories with children. For logistical reasons, this still hasn't happened (lining up cameras and the necessary parental permissions during the same timeframe I've managed to fit in a fresh haircut and wardrobe check has not worked out quite yet).

However, after many gentle nudges from Nellie, I did finally film myself reading my book SEE THE COLORS. Nellie references  the book and video clip in her annual list of favorite new books (you have to scroll down a bit on her page to find it).

The video, (here is the YouTube link), is not nearly as fun or inspiring as it would be if I had a group of engaged kids surrounding me, but it does provide an opportunity to illustrate some of the ideas I encourage you to try at home or in your own classrooms. It provides an example of how the story might be signed if I were reading to a group of children, for example in a classroom or library story time session.

For family story times, cuddle your child(ren) on your lap.  Hold the book in front of you.  You can make some of the signs like "blue" or "green" in front of the pages of the book (instead of near your shoulder, where these signs are typically made). You can also make some of the signs on your child's body (for example, tug on your child's tee shirt for the sign "white," or move your pointer finger across your child's eyebrow for the sign "black").  If you prop your child more sideways (vs. forward) on your lap, you can make the signs on your own body, and you will notice that your child will look up from the book to watch your hands and face, where the signing action is taking place.

For some kids, you can also use their hands to make the signs. For example, I use the sign for "baby"(or for older kids, "child") to convey the repeating phrase "little one."  Try cuddling your child's arms into the "baby" motion to make this sign.  For the sign "brown," you can move your child's open hand down their cheek to approximate the motion.  Some kids really like having their hands manipulated in this way; others don't.  My daughter used to hold her hands out to me and say "help" when she was having trouble articulating a more complicated new word (such as "helicopter"). My son, on the other hand, would arch his back and aggressively move his arms and hands away from me saying, "by myself!" if I tried to manipulate his hands to make a sign.  Let your baby be your guide!

And be relaxed about it.  Don't be afraid to put the book down from time to time.  You can set it on your lap, or you can set it down next to you. You might find that you and your child(ren) get sidetracked talking back and forth about different signs.  That's fine.  The whole point is to interact and to explore language and literacy together!

I also encourage you to use books that you are really familiar with, books that you and your child really enjoy, and books that feel rhythmic and musical to you. For example, children's classics like "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" aren't officially singable, but they have a rhythmic quality to them.  Chant and sign along with those stories!

Many of my books from the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series can be sung, not just read. In my next post, I'll provide a summary of the familiar tunes that match up with my singable stories. In the meantime, please feel free to share other books you like to sing and sign along with in the comments section below!

September 19, 2012

Music for Signers (More Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

I love to incorporate songs and music into my signing classes. In my last two posts, I've shared ideas for   singing and signing with songs you already know and modifying familiar songs so they work well for signing. Today's post is about signing along with music that was written for signers.

Here are some of my favorite musical collections to sign along with:
Signing Time  offers a wonderful collection of music and videos that are developed specifically for young signers.  Some of my favorites from this collection include the Silly Pizza SongThe Rainbow Song, and Leah's Farm.

You can learn the signs that go along with these songs by watching the Signing Time videos on demand, and for book lovers, you can
learn the signs for colors and the signs for farm animals, in my books,



Other fun options include Lora Heller's Stinky Feet CD,

                                                       Nellie Edge's ABC Phonics 

     and one of my longstanding favorites, Sign2Me's Pick Me Up.  

My school-aged kids STILL love it when I put on this CD.  Their favorite cuts:  "Please Change my Diaper" and "More Milk." It's hilarious to watch them yak it up and mimic the deep voice in "More Milk" and listen to them crack up at the silly lyrics in "Please Change my Diaper."  

These musical selections ought to keep you busy singing and signing for awhile. Next post I'll talk about singing and signing when you read. In the meantime, let me know if you have other musical selections to suggest!

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.

September 4, 2012

Sing Your Heart Out (More Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

(Photo Credit: San Diego Chorus' Facebook Page)
My mother-in-law has a song for everything. Seriously. If she is buttering bread, she has a song in her repertoire that goes along with that activity.  It's amazing. Do you know someone like her?  Is that person you, or someone else who loves your baby? If so, your family has a head start on signing!

Just give some thought to the songs you already sing. What words can be signed in those songs?  Use an online sign language dictionary to help you gradually build your ASL vocabulary so you can sign along with those songs.  Keep it simple. Don't attempt to sign the whole song. Just add one or two words per song or verse.

Likewise, think about the words you hope your baby will start signing soon. Do you know any songs that include those words? Start singing (and signing) those songs! Make up new verses to add more of the words you want to sign. Heck, make up completely new songs if that's your thing. The point is, lean into your tendency to sing. Just add a sign or two to each song or verse that flows from your mouth and you will be well on your way.

In the beginning, sing and sign without regard to context or literal connections.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the mere act of singing and signing will help you build your signing vocabulary, and it will get your baby into the habit of looking at your hands when they are moving.  These two steps are half the battle! 

Over time, look for opportunities to sing songs that do connect with what you are doing.  If you're getting ready to change a diaper, sing your favorite diaper ditty, and sign "diaper" or "change."  If it's bath time, sing your favorite bath time song and add the sign for "bath" (and then sing an "all done" song when the bath is over).  If the cat or dog walks into the room, sing the "cat" or "dog" verse for  "Old MacDonald Had a Farm," and add the sign for "cat" or "dog."  You get the idea.

In my next post I'll share some ideas for modifying familiar songs as well as some of my favorite songs/music developed for signing.  In the meantime, feel free to add some of your own favorite songs to sing and sign in the comments section.