October 24, 2012

Put It to The Wheels on the Bus Test

I don't think there are right or wrong ways to sign with your baby, just like I don't think there are right or wrong ways to sing and play "The Wheels on the Bus."  Certainly there are right or wrong ways to make a particular sign, but in terms of the "how to incorporate signs into your communication" aspect of signing, I don't subscribe to the notion that there are right or wrong ways. When people ask me, "Is it okay if I....?" or "How do I....?" or "What if I....?" my standing answer is, "Put it to the Wheels on the Bus test." By this I mean, how would you answer the exact same question if you were singing and playing, "The Wheels on the Bus" (or "Patty Cake" or "Peek-A-Boo") with your child?

For example, it's fairly common for class participants to ask if they should sign with their right or left hand. I explain that although most ASL dictionaries are written for right-handed signers, you can choose your right or your left hand to be your dominant or active signing hand. That's typically the hand that moves (or moves the most) when you're making a particular sign. When I answer this question, inevitably someone will ask, "But what if I sign with my right hand and my parenting partner signs with his or her left hand?"

So, let's put that to The Wheels on the Bus Test. What hand do you "Beep-Beep-Beep" with? What hand does your parenting partner "Beep-Beep-Beep" with? Is it the same hand? Whether your answer is yes, or no, the more important additional question is, "Have you ever contemplated this issue before?" (this issue being the possibility of you beep-beeping with a different hand than someone else who loves your baby...) I suspect no, and I encourage you to likewise not spend time contemplating who signs with what hand with your baby. Your baby will not likely develop his or her own hand dominance until at least preschool or kindergarten. Your baby will see you signing (or waving, or pointing or writing) with your dominant (most comfortable) hand, and when they begin signing (or waving or pointing or writing), they will typically begin by alternating between hands...i.e. whatever hand doesn't have a cookie in it, is the hand they will likely use to sign MILK (or, if they're really enthusiastic, they will probably sign milk with both hands, simultaneously!)

Okay, so here are a couple of other  common questions: "Is it okay to manipulate my baby's hands to help him or her make the signs?" or "Should I make the signs on my baby's body?" Let's put these questions to The Wheels on the Bus Test: Do you ever hold your babies hands/arms and help them go "round and round" or "swish, swish, swish?" Do you ever "Beep-Beep-Beep" on their nose? For some of you, the answer is, "Absolutely!" For others, your answer might be, "It depends." And it does depend...Some babies like to have their hands manipulated and/or have signs made on their body. Other babies do not.

My daughter used to hold her hands out towards me and say, "Help, Mommy," if she was trying to make a complicated sign. My son used to arch his back and say, "By myself!" if I tried to manipulate his hands to help him form a sign. Two different kids. Two different personalities. Two different preferences. Two different answers. How did I know what to do? I paid attention to their nonverbal queues. If your child doesn't like having his or her arms moved for them in the "round and round" motion for "The Wheels on the Bus," they likely won't like having their arms moved for them to make the handshapes for signs. If your child giggles when you Beep-Beep-Beep on their nose, they will likely giggle when you make the sign for APPLE on their cheek.

So, what are your questions about signing? How would you answer these same questions if you were singing/playing "The Wheels on the Bus" instead of signing? Generally speaking, I hope your answers give you peace of mind and help you relax and have fun with signing. If you're relaxed and having fun when you're signing, you'll likely sign more often than if you are feeling stressed or rule-bound while you're signing. If you're signing regularly, your baby will catch you signing more often and will eventually start copying you. Once they develop the cognitive and physical skills to copy you, they are just steps away from being able to sign independently to communicate their wants and needs. And then the real fun begins!

Stay tuned. More on this later!

October 17, 2012

Sign When You Play (More Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

Have you ever wondered, "Why isn't my baby signing back to me yet?" There are several possible reasons, but sometimes it's simply because you haven't yet introduced signs that are of interest to your baby. Another possibility is that the bulk of your signing has been in task mode. Do a quick self check: Do you predominantly sign "more" and "all done" during mealtime, and reserve the signs for "change" and "sleep" to diaper changes and nap times? If your answer is, "Yes," I'll encourage you to shift your attention a bit, so that the majority of your signing happens when you are singing and when you're playing.

The last several posts I've talked about the value of singing and signing. Equally effective is signing during playful times.  I find that parents and caregivers are more successful at signing with their babies if the majority of their contextual signing is introduced during play time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't sign during mealtime or during diaper changes and before nap time. It just means that ideally those aren't the only times (or even the majority of the times) you are signing about those topics.

When we're focused on a task (such as getting our baby fed, diapered or down for a nap), we are generally more hurried and focused on getting the task accomplished. Mealtime can be stressful when you're trying to get your baby fed and get a little morsel of food into your own mouth as well! Adding an additional "task," such as signing, requires a conscious effort to add an "extra" step to an already stressful process. As a result, it might feel like work, or like a technique we're trying out on our baby versus a way of communicating with our baby.

When signing is emphasized during playful times, your habits around signing will be established more deeply, and you will be able to more easily incorporate those signing habits into task activities as well. This is because when signing becomes a habit, it becomes routine and natural to join your words with a sign. Think about how you wave and point without giving it any thought. You body just naturally adds those gestures to your communication. When you build the foundation for signing through playful activities, your body will likewise more naturally gesture with signs when you use those same words during task activities.

Here are some examples of how you can incorporate signing into playtime:

*Bounce your baby on your lap. Stop every now and then and ask your baby if she wants MORE bounces.

*Tickle your baby or blow raspberries on your baby's belly. Stop every now and then and ask your baby if he wants MORE tickles or more kisses.

*Put your baby in the wind-up swing and say, "It's time to SWING."  When the swing stops, say, "would you like to swing some MORE?" When you can tell that your baby has grown tired of swinging you can say, "We're ALL DONE swinging."

*Blow some bubbles.  When the bubbles die down, ask your baby, "Do you want MORE bubbles?"

*Play some music.  Say, "Let's turn on the MUSIC." Once your baby starts movin and groovin, say, "Look at you DANCING!"

*Cover up a favorite object such as a ball or a book or a doll. Sing "WHERE is the BALL" to the tune of the "Farmer in the Dell" (i.e. "Where is the ball? Where is the ball? Hi Ho the Derry-O. There is the ball").

*Put a baby doll or teddy bear into the high chair or booster seat. Playfully interact with your child and the baby doll. When you feed the baby doll, you can say, "Do you want more BANANAS?" or "Oh look, the BABY likes her bananas," or, "Oh, it looks like the baby is ALL DONE," as you are cleaning up the baby doll and taking her out of the high chair.

*Use one of your old (clean!) diapers from when your baby was younger, and playfully interact with your child to give a teddy bear a diaper change. Say, "It's time for the teddy bear to get his DIAPER changed."  When the diaper change is over, say, "We're ALL DONE with your diaper change, Teddy."

*Get a box of bandages and examine your legs and your baby's legs to find some owies.  When you find a bruise or a shaving nick, or a scratch, say, "Uh Oh. Mommy has an owie," (and sign HURT). Toddlers love to help you cover your legs with bandages!

The more you sign during playtime, the more familiar you will become with a wide variety of signs, and this will help you become more comfortable incorporating signs during routine tasks. In addition, your baby will have more and more opportunities to notice you signing. Your baby will come to realize that your hands are full of meaning...and theirs can be, too!

October 8, 2012

Sing Me a Story (More Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

If you've seen me read any of my books, you know I like to sing them to kids, not just read them. Many of my signing stories came to me as songs that grew into stories. It's nearly impossible for me to  just read them!

When I'm invited for guest appearances at conferences and book signings, I'm often asked, "What tune were you singing to when you read us that story?" This post is for those of you who are wondering just that! Beware, some of the tunes are loose fits...you have to be creative and embellish as you read and sing. Here goes:

Series One:

The Best Day in Room A:  The Twelve Days of Christmas. This one works best if you skip the rhythm/pattern change that typically happens in the fifth verse in this song. 

The Big Blue Bowl:  This was originally written to fit to the tune of "The Green Grass Grows All Around," but that tie-in was lost as the story changed during the editorial process. I find that this one works best when I simply read it--but I like to add to the fun by inviting participants to chant along with the "fill it up, fill it up, fill it up" refrain, which kids REALLY get into.

Famous Fenton Has a Farm:  This one fits nicely to "Old MacDonald." Invite participants to chant, "Yee Ha Hee Ha Ho!" with you (instead of the more traditional E-I-E-I-O) and they will have a grand time!

The Nest Where I Like to Rest:  This story fits the structure of "The House That Jack Built," so it does not go with any particular song that I know of.  I invite children to "sniff" like the rat, "honk" with the goose, and say "Hey!" with the boy when I read this one. I also wear my silly chicken hat when I read this story. 

See the Colors:  This one fits beautifully to "Oh My Darlin, Clementine." I CANNOT just read this story. I wrote and revised the verses for this one while my own kids were still small enough to hold in my arms. I have very fond memories of sitting with my then preschool-aged daughter while holding my then infant son, singing various "under construction" verses of this story for nightly tuck-ins.  This book still holds a very special place in my heart. Here is a clip of me singing this story.   

Silly Sue:  This one fits nicely to the tune of "Skip to My Lu." I embellish some of the words when I read it to get into the song (i.e. I tend to chant, "And I say...." right before I read the pages such as "Slide, slide, slide Silly Sue....").  I also invite the kids to chant along and sign "Silly" with the refrain, "That Silly Sue." This one is really fun to sing and sign. Try it! 

Watch Me Go:  This one fits with the tune, "She'll be Comin' 'Round the Mountain."  I invite kids to echo "Watch me Go!" "Don't you know?" and "Here I go!" for extra fun!  I sang this story at my very first book launch event. One of my favorite memories is of my local library's meeting room full of loving friends and supporters, singing and signing along with me.  

Wear a Silly Hat:  This story originally fit loosely to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It" but the text of the story doesn't include the full level of repetition of that song.  I usually read the first line of each page, then I sing the remaining lines to the "Happy and You Know It" tune.  I use hats for props to add to the fun. I love using hats to dress up my stories!

Series Two:

A to Z Sign With Me: I had the tune of the Alphabet Song (aka: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) in my head when I wrote this book. It fits loosely...very loosely. Also, you have to repeat the melody as you proceed through the story, because the story is longer than the song. I find that I don't usually sing this story because I like to read it with a pace that enables me to really emphasize each featured alphabet word. 

Four Season! Five Senses!: This story is a series of four poems. They were not written with a particular melody in mind. (Interesting tidbit: I wrote these poems while sitting in a hotel room near Disneyland. I stayed back in the hotel to tend to my son, who was sick with the flu, while my daughter and husband spent the day at the California Adventure theme park. My son slept most of the day. I stayed by his side and wrote poetry). This continues to be one of my favorite books. I especially adore the artwork. 

Hip, Hip, Hooray! It's Family Day!, Opposites Everywhere, and Shape Detective: These stories do not fit to a particular song, but each have a strong rhythm, and they are fun to chant!  

One Trick for One Treat: This story does not fit to a particular melody, but in the early stages of development, it did. The story originally began, "The first time the bell chimed..." and it fit with the rhythm of the Twelve Days of Christmas. After many, many revisions, the original structure was set aside and the current, chant-able rhythm prevailed.

So Many Feelings: I LOVE to sing this story. You can sing this story to the tune of "On Top of Spaghetti." Kids catch on within a few pages and they start to sing or hum along. FUN!

There's a Story in My Head: This story is all rhythm and no melody. I remember distinctly when the rhythm for this story came to me. I was on the airplane (flying back home from the above mentioned trip to Disneyland). I felt the rhythm of the story tapping out of my fingers before I had the words. 

So there you have it. I hope you have fun singing the singable stories and chanting the chantable stories!  Do you know what I would LOVE? I would love it if readers would capture digital video footage of themselves reading, singing (or chanting) and signing these stories. Any takers? How cool would it be to have a bunch of videos of people reading/singing/chanting my stories on my YouTube channel? Think about it...Give it a try...I can't wait...