December 27, 2012

2012 Year End Post

I went quiet after December 14th. Not my typical modus operandi. I had blog posts written and queued up to post, but I rescheduled them for future publication dates because it didn't seem right to maintain normal routines. I took comfort in the words of others, but I couldn't find words of my own that felt appropriate to share. I read and watched tributes. I walked around lost in my thoughts. I cried.

I did not personally know any of the victims of the December 14th tragedy, and yet I felt like I knew them all. I work with teachers and young children. I have children of my own. I write picture books for young children.  And, I'm passionately protective of childhood. It's something I feel called upon to honor, treasure and protect. Yet I'm aware that for many children, childhood is a place filled with less publicized pain. That awareness is one of the many reasons December 14th shook me so deeply. It forced me  to stop and think about the suffering in the world. In my country. In my neighborhood. In my extended family.

I got stuck in the sadness and had to force myself to resume normal activities. One of those activities was taking the time to pause and reflect on the past year. I typically devise some type of creative way to share the past year's events with family and friends. I found the escape into creativity a welcome respite. Here is this year's offering:

It was a year mixed with blessings and difficulties: Amazing family travel experiences. Book launches. Health challenges endured by people I love. And lots of ordinary happenings.

As I reflected on 2012, I continued to ponder the emotions I felt after the December 14th tragedy. I realized that embedded in the sadness was a sense of  powerlessness. I felt so very small.

Feeling powerless and small stinks.

I decided for my own sanity I needed to redirect my attention. Instead of focusing on the bigness of the problems in the world, I would reclaim my power by focusing on the small ways I can make a positive difference:

I can smile at strangers.
I can laugh with children.
I can notice my neighbors.
I can lend a hand.
I can offer friendship.
I can share my time.
I can say thank you.
I can listen.
I can teach.
I can write.
I can treasure the work that I do, as a parent and as a professional.
I can bear witness to the joy and innocence of childhood. The wild laughter. The thrill of new discoveries. The intense energy. The curiosity. The questions. The language. The love.

Thank you friends and colleagues, for supporting and encouraging my work, and for sharing my books with the children you love. You've helped me make a small difference in this world.

December 12, 2012

When To Use Signs Such as Want, Again, and Please

Building on the question I answered in last week's blog post, today I will discuss when it might be useful to introduce more intermediate signs such as "want," and "please," in addition to more basic signs such as "eat"/hungry" and "more."

In the early developmental stages, babies' language and conceptual categories are very broad. Food is Milk. Over time, a new category for food develops: crackers. As more time passes, more categories for crackers develop: fish crackers, graham crackers, saltine crackers.  As even more time passes, even more sub-categories for crackers develop: cheesy fish crackers and plain fish crackers; regular graham crackers and chocolate graham get the idea.

Photo ©
Language acquisition follows along in this pattern. In the beginning, basic signs like "eat"/"hungry" and "more" will apply to many of the concepts your baby will want and need to convey. As I discussed in my last post, even though your baby likely means "I want" when he signs "more," the basic concept s/he is trying to convey is "bring me the things I need and want!" Over time, his or her wants and needs will become more specific: "I want more food." "I'm feeling hungry."  "I'm hungry for bananas." "I want more bananas."

All that said, once babies start signing, it's not at all uncommon for them to start babbling in sign. Picture this scene: You're on a walk with your baby. S/he is making all kinds of vocal articulations. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. This is verbal babbling. It's not uncommon for signing babies to likewise babble in sign language. Their hands will be moving like crazy. You'll see the sign for banana. You'll see the sign for apple. You'll see the sign for cracker. It's not that your baby necessarily wants any of these things right now...he is just yaking about the things that are important in his world.

But then at some point on that same walk, you'll see him sign milk. It will be emphatic. He will sign it over and over again. You might even see both hands going.  THIS is a baby that's ready to add the sign for "want" (and/or "please") to his repertoire." You might find yourself saying, "Do you want your milk? Here's your milk." Or, you might say, "Show me please and I can get your milk for you." Good job. Here's your milk."

Now, granted, if this particular baby is really hungry for milk, or it's getting close to nap time, or he or she has an intense temperament, dragging out the conversation like this (with our without signing), is likely going to lead to a frustrated baby.  You'll have to be the judge as to the right situations and timing to introduce these more intermediate concepts and signs to your baby. The overall point I'm trying to make is that your baby will reach a point when they will sign about things they don't actually need or want at that moment, and there will be times that they do in fact want what they are signing for. When a baby has reached that level of sophistication in their communication, they are ready for more intermediate words that can enhance their communication.

Photo Courtesy of Fotopedia
Quick side note: Some of you are reading this and thinking, "Hey, my baby has been signing please for months. It was one of her first signs..." It's true. Many babies do sign please very early, and a tee tiny baby signing please is an absolutely darling sight to behold (not to mention, it makes us look good as parents when our babies appear to be mannerly). Here's the rub: In my experience, most babies that sign please early are likely using that sign as a substitute for the more general concept of "I want" (similar to the discussion in my last post, re: babies who sign "more" when technically they mean "I want"). So, you can kid yourself all you want by thinking that your baby is mannerly, when in fact, more realistically, he or she is using a symbol that we associate with manners (please) with a concept that they associate with getting their needs met (bring it on...). But not to worry. It does look darned cute when a baby is rubbing their chest ferociously to convey their desire for something. And I'm all for darned cute! In fact, if YOU have some cute pictures of your baby signing, I would love for you to share them with me so I can feature them in a future blog post. Get in touch if you do. Cheers! Dawn

December 5, 2012

My Baby Signs "More" When She Means "I Want"

A former class participant sent me a question that ties into my most recent blog post. She said that her baby started signing in October when she turned one. Her baby signs "more" fairly regularly, but the mom has come to realize that her baby often means "I want" when she signs "more." For example, the baby signs "more," and then points at something she sees that she wants. The mom wondered if she should start showing the sign for "want" in addition to the sign for "more" or if that would just complicate things.

What this mom describes is very common. For a baby, the distinction between the concepts of more and want is a very fine line. More = "I want more of something I've just recently had" and "I want" = I want something I'm thinking about right now or something that I can see and point to." When a baby learns to sign more to get more of something, (and it works!), it's completely logical that he or she would make the  same sign to convey they want something/anything/everything, whether they've recently had it or not!

Photo ©
In this situation, what I encourage parents and caregivers to do is add the sign(s) for the objects or activities the baby is trying to communicate that he or she wants. For example, when your baby sees you getting a container of ice cream out of the freezer and she emphatically starts signing "more,"you would probably notice yourself saying, "Oh this ice cream looks good, doesn't it? Would you like some ice cream, too?" As I discussed in my last post, as you converse in this way (which you likely do without any "training"), you are naturally providing a verbal label for that interaction. For signing, all you need to do is add the sign for ice cream to that conversation, so you are also introducing a sign label for that motivating object (or activity).

Another thing to be aware of is that it's not uncommon for a baby to sign "more" when it isn't immediately obvious what they want "more" of (or, more accurately, what they want). In this case, you'll need to do some sleuthing to figure out what your baby is trying to convey to you. For example, when my son was a baby, the first thing he would do when he woke up in the morning was sign, "more." I'd laugh to myself, "More what?? You haven't had anything yet!?" However, when I thought about our morning routine, I typically nursed him soon after picking him up from his crib. With this in mind, it was logical that what he wanted when he was signing "more" was "milk." So, I'd say to him, "It looks like you are ready for your milk this morning," while I signed "milk" and got settled in to nurse him. Over time, his emphatic signs for "more" in the morning shifted to the emphatic signing of "milk,"which, incidentally, he signed constantly, but alas, that is another story!

So when should you sign "want?" Well, if you've taken any of my classes or followed my blog for long, you know I don't think there are many shoulds in signing...But next week I will share when I think "want" can be a helpful addition to your baby's signing vocabulary. If you have other questions in the meantime, post them here, or send me a direct message and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Happy Signing! Dawn