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Signing With Babies And Children: August 2009

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Monday, August 31, 2009


Zoƫ signs WAIT at 16 months
My daughter is 5 ½. It is amazing how time flies and how she grows right along with SignShine. This past weekend -- a beautiful one, even by California's standards -- we shared time with our guests from out of town at the Farmers' Market. What an interesting and colorful (albeit crowded) place to be with kids.

As we were enjoying lunch, one of the kids asked to go the potty. Sound familiar?? Of course, other kids wanted to join as well. I offered to take the kids to the restroom. My daughter stayed behind, but while waiting in line I spotted her back at the lunch tables -- she signed to me, asking "What are you doing?" And across the distance of a crowded place I signed, “We are waiting in line." We didn't have to shout back and forth. She didn't have to get frustrated. She didn't even need to walk across the market to talk. By simply making use of her beautiful little hands and her knowledge of this special language, we could say to each other everything we needed to say. Let the Sign Shine!

I could tell by my friend's reaction that she was impressed and intrigued. Then I watched as she asked my little girl something while gesturing to her feet. Next thing I know, my daughter is teaching her the sign for "SHOES." She was sharing the amazing world of sign language and I felt so proud.

If you are a signing family, I encourage you to try signing across the room, in a park, or from behind your child's window at school. Start with "I love you" or "I am proud of you." These are messages that kids love getting in all kinds of ways. The magic comes from sharing something unique with your child. And perhaps one day you'll witness your child passing that magic on.

Let the Sign Shine!

Etel Leit, M.S.
Founder & Owner

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Translating Signs - three tips

Three tips for translating those signs of your little ones.

1) Watch for that first sign. This sign may be used for many things referring to needs/wants.

ex. child signs "milk" for his first sign - understands that this sign gets him what he wants, "milk" - uses that sign when he wants other things such as food or toys - may even resort to enthusiastically using both his fists to sign "milk" hoping that these actions will emphasize the importance of this "want" ^_^

2) Share with others, so they too can translate your child's signing.

ex. you have come to recognize that your child's sign for "sleep" or wanting to take a nap is done by bringing her whole palm to the top of her head down to her forehead - your hubby watches your little one for the afternoon and later comments on how she sure likes to sign hat a lot and was really grumpy this afternoon - "that's her way of signing 'sleep'" ^_^

3) Watch those first reactions when you are teaching your child a sign.

ex. you are reading a book and an owl appears on the page - enthusiastically you begin to sign owl and make the owl sound while automatically seeing the reaction of your son - he is signing "owl" while rubbing his eye as if he was sleepy - later when he sees a bird in a different book, he begins to rub his eye - he's not tired, he is signing "owl" and you now have the opportunity to teach him the sign for "bird" ^_^

May your enjoy these times with your children and recognize the signs of signing.

written by Shawna Tran:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ASL and Gifted Children

Lora Heller, of Baby Fingers, is interviewed by writer and mother of 3 Alina Adams:

In our article on Multi-Sensory Reading Enrichment for Gifted Children, we suggested that a boy or girl who really wants to delve into a beloved book might try learning sign-language as practiced by one of the most gifted children and adults of all time, Helen Keller.

But the pleasures of sign language aren't limited to school-age youngsters. In fact, some of the greatest benefits have been noted among those who aren't even speaking yet.

The NY Gifted Education Examiner spoke with Lora Heller, MS, MT-BC, LCAT, Founding Director of Baby Fingers in New York City, and author of Sign Language for Kids: A Fun and Easy Guide to American Sign Language, and Baby Fingers: Teaching Your Baby to Sign, about the advantages of learning sign-language for children.

Examiner: What is the evidence that shows teaching young children sign language boosts their IQ and reading scores?

Lora Heller: In the 1980s, research was done by two women in California (Acredolo & Goodwyn) who followed a group of 103 signing children from eleven months old through their eighth year. These kids were found to have an average IQ of 114, compared to 102 among their non-signing peers. These babies also developed larger vocabularies, displayed more self-confidence, and engaged in more sophisticated play than their non-signing peers.  

Dr. Marilyn Daniels, a Penn State Speech/Language Pathologist and Professor of Communications, found that preschoolers who were taught sign language scored significantly higher on the Peabody Vocabulary Test when compared to preschoolers who did not learn sign language. Daniels concluded that a preschooler's vocabulary can be improved if words are presented visually and kinesthetically as well as verbally. She is the author of Dancing with Words, Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy, and has spent much of her career teaching early childhood educators how to use sign language in their reading instruction. In her work, she discovered that young students were motivated to read when sign language was incorporated in the process of instruction and practice, and that reading levels improved at a faster rate in sign-supported classrooms.

Working as a sign language interpreter in the 1970s, Dr. Joseph Garcia noted that the children of his deaf friends and clients could communicate much earlier and more completely than the children of his hearing friends. Exposure to and use of sign language was the main ingredient. Garcia is generally regarded as the world’s leading authority on baby signing.

As a music therapist and teacher of the deaf, I have discovered the benefits of sign language coupled with music to benefit the overall development with children who have a variety of special needs. Over the last 10 years, through Baby Fingers, I have found exposure to sign language key in language and overall development for typical and gifted children as well. My own children began signing at the tender age of 6 ½ months. They were using full sentences - expressing complete thoughts - with signs even before speaking. By 9/10 months, they were combining signs! When they did begin to speak, of course they labeled things with one word here and there, but they more often used more complete sentences, descriptive words, and emotions. We always signed as we read books to our children; They in turn spent time on their own "reading" aloud by signing whatever they saw on a page while sitting with a book---this truly aided in developing their love of books and interest in reading. The print, otherwise abstract, was given meaning through the incorporation of the signs. Participants have been overjoyed with the results - infants using signs and toddlers clarifying their new spoken words with signs so that everyone could understand.  

Examiner: Speech is an oral-motor issue that has nothing to do with intelligence. Could teaching gifted children sign at an early age facilitate communication and help keep them from getting frustrated?

Lora Heller: Teaching and using sign early on significantly decreases frustration. Children who have developed receptive language, or understanding of language coming in to them, can then use a true language (ASL) to communicate regardless of their oral-motor abilities. When a signing child begins to speak/attempts to use words that are difficult to produce, incorporating signs helps the caregivers to understand what the child is trying to say.

Examiner: Is American Sign Language (ASL) considered an official foreign language and what are the benefits of learning a second language at any age?

Lora Heller: ASL is a sophisticated language distinct from English, with visual equivalents of phonology, morphology, syntax, and grammar. ASL is an official language, and considered a "foreign" language by many educational institutions. It is offered to fulfill language requirements around the globe. The English-speaking student who learns ASL instead of German (Spanish, French, etc.) cannot compare the relationship of sound and graphic symbols (spoken and written language forms) in the foreign language to his native tongue. However, the student learns how signs combine to produce a passionate, complex language, where the signer becomes vulnerable through the highly emotional, personal nature of a language that must be signed face to face. Knowledge of Deaf culture is necessary to fully grasp the language. Through learning a second language, we improve cognitive abilities and learning skills, we challenge our brain and more completely develop the linguistic hemisphere of the brain. Learning a second language builds creativity in children and develops their literacy skills; school-children who study a second language are found to perform better than their monolingual peers. ASL has a positive effect on intellectual growth. According to the National Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, learning a second language: enriches and enhances a child's mental development; leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening; improves a child's understanding of his/her native language; gives a child the ability to communicate with people s/he would otherwise not have the chance to know; opens the door to other cultures and helps a child understand and appreciate people from other countries; gives a student a head start in language requirements for college; increases job opportunities in many careers where knowing another language is a real asset.

Examiner: Does learning ASL help with the acquisition of other languages down the road?

Lora Heller: Learning ASL sets the foundation for the acquisition of other languages. It bridges the gap between two spoken languages, allowing a child (in a bilingual home) to "see" the word and to understand through sign that the two very different sounds mean the same thing.  

You can learn more about sing language for children at:

Or come and see for yourself!

Lora is offering Examiner readers a free trial class at Central Park's Turtle Pond in New York City on September 15th at 10 AM. E-mail Lora through her website for more information!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thank you for voting SignShine for BEST OF LA 2009

Thank you for being an important part of SignShine Family!

Click here to read SignShine Best of LA 2009 online version or pick up the magazine at your local store.

Questions? Amazing stories to share? Email me at:

It's Time to Shine!


Etel Leit, M.S.
Founder & Owner

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Two New Arrivals!

I have not posted a blog post for a little while now.  The reason for my absentee posts was because I was pregnant with my second child and it was a bit rough towards the end.  I am now please to announce (as a proud mother of two kiddos now) that my son, Hartford Jack Berg (aka Hart or Harty) was born at home on Aug. 4th and weighed in at a whopping 9Lbs!

Another thing I wanted to share with you is my other ‘baby’ that I’ve been working on for the past year. I am pleased to announce that I’ve finally posed our online baby signing dictionary here:

I hope you find this dictionary useful.  If you have any word requests please feel free to email them to It may take me a little while to post the new signs seeing that I have my hands full with a newborn but I will get around to them as soon as I can!

Laura Berg

Founder of My Smart Hands 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mommy, I Love You!

Here is an inspiring email I received from Jennifer, Jaxon's Mommy:

"Hi Etel-

Just wanted to forward proof of yours and Rachel's awesome teaching of American Sign Language to my son and to me.

Jaxon Julius signed "I love you" -- on his own, and correctly! -- to me for the first time yesterday!!! I've been signing it to him ever since I started signing with you in September 2007, and numerous times he waved his first and some random fingers attempting to sign it in response to me signing it, but leaving the Starbuck's drive-through and having a fun afternoon he signed "I love you" to me and let me take his picture doing it!

He and I sign with his 4 month old sister Georgie. I'm so proud of him.

Thank you for inspiring us with ASL.

Jennier W

Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing the miracles of signs with all of us. Let the Sign Shine!

Etel Leit, M.S.
Founder & Owner

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Signing becoming a part of the Family

Signing is some thing that is engaging and proves to be as a gift in our family: a gift you want to share and have a hard time keeping it to yourself at times. This was the case when my sister had her first child. My son was two years old at the time, and she had witnessed the gift of communication through signing.

It wasn’t long until her little one was signing up a storm. As our children are getting older, signing continues to be a part of our families in the simplest ways. Just the other day, I was with my sister at an airport. She was on the phone with some one, and I gave her the impression that I was going to go ahead a bit. She automatically signed “wait,” and soon after she was done with her phone conversation.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself to realize how signing becomes a part of you. Just as Lora wrote in her last post, "Growing up with Sign," I feel it's a joy to sign at all ages. It connects us from close and far ages as well as distances. My sister was only a foot a way from me, but she chose to sign "wait" instead of interrupting a phone call with a friend.

Do you have a family member with whom you are hesitating to share your testimony of ASL? I challenge you to send them a link to this blog or email/tell them some of your stories with signing and your own children and see where it takes them.

Written by Shawna Tran: and

Saturday, August 1, 2009

How did it all start?

In the late 1980’s, Joseph Garcia, a student at the University of Alaska, became fascinated with sign language. While there were no deaf people in his family, he thought that learning how to sign would be interesting – and he began to study it seriously. Once he had a solid grasp of American Sign Language (ASL), Garcia made a number of friends in the deaf community. This resulted in an observation that changed his life – and the lives of many to come. What Joseph Garcia noticed was that the hearing babies of his deaf friends were on their way to becoming sign language “experts” at around 9 months of age. Yet the 9-month old babies of his hearing friends were not communicating much at all. The difference intrigued Garcia so much that he made it the subject of his Master’s thesis.

Why was it possible, he asked, for deaf babies of that age to communicate by gesturing… but hearing babies of the same age unable to communicate at all?

And if deaf parents could communicate with their hearing babies, would there be any benefit to teaching sign language to the hearing children of hearing parents? Using his infant sons as “test subjects,” Garcia was able to demonstrate the positive effects of signing with hearing babies in his thesis. Eventually, it evolved into his popular program, “Sign With Your Baby.” We’ll discuss the benefits of his program later in this module.

Let the Sign Shine!

Etel Leit, M.S.
Founder & Owner