A commenter (named, delightfully, Jane Wiley) on my recent Signing Time post asked:
Melissa…have you heard about “Sign Art” the interpretation of music through sign language…
Sign Art is a beautiful way to see a picture… of a song… through the interpretation in sign language…
Several years ago, Scott called me to the TV to watch a clip from a Pearl Jam concert DVD he was watching. “Trust me,” he said. “You’re going to love this.”
As usual, he was right. I stood transfixed as a young ASL interpreter accompanied the band in a performance of “Given to Fly.” Her movements are lovely and captivating, lifting the song itself to a level of beauty I would never have associated with Pearl Jam.
I found the clip on YouTube so you can see for yourselves. (Parents with younguns looking over your shoulders, be aware that Eddie Vedder drops an F-bomb at minute 3:28—with a bit of sign language of his own).
What Rilla’s saying at the end there is “With Alex, Leah, and Hopkins.” Totally unprompted, I swear.
When I watched our Christmas 2005 video the other day, the bit that gave me the biggest pang of nostalgia was watching Wonderboy signing away. He hardly signs at all anymore, now that he talks so much. I’m thrilled with his verbal speech, but I really miss the signing. It’s funny to think back on how much ASL dominated our lives (in a rich and satisfying way) for a couple of years there, and now our use and pursuit of sign language has slipped to the back burner, becoming something of a hobby rather than a daily necessity. Jane still wants to certify as an ASL interpreter someday, and every few months we pull out our materials and learn another chunk of vocabulary and grammar. There are community college courses we might take next year. It’s a beautiful and important language, and I don’t want to let it go, even if our boy doesn’t need rely on it for communication the way he once did.
And of course the Signing Time DVDs remain in great demand with my little people, as the video above attests. With Rilla, we’re seeing all the benefits of sign language we saw with the first three girls—because rudimentary ASL was a part of our baby & toddler life from the get-go, long before we had a Wonderboy or knew he had hearing loss.
Here are some old posts singing the praises of our favorite kiddie DVDs:
I was wondering what the research says about how hearing kids learning sign affects (if it does at all) their verbal speech acquisition. I assume it is like my 4yo learning romanian and english. his english is miles ahead of romanian, but learning romanian hasnt affected his english at all. just wondering if you had read anything about this.
That’s a very good question! As a matter of fact, teaching babies to sign does seem to have an affect on their verbal language development—a good one. I’ve read about at least two separate studies whose results demonstrated that children who used sign language as babies tend to score higher on IQ tests than non-signers. There was a study at the University of Alaska and another one at Davis, I believe. One of them tracked kids through age 8 and found that the baby-signers wound up reading at earlier ages and showed higher cognitive and verbal skills.
But honestly, even if that weren’t the case I’d be on board with baby sign just for the way it smooths the toddler years. You get to bypass that stage where the little one knows exactly what she wants to tell you but doesn’t have the words for it yet, leading to the intense frustration that often winds up in a meltdown.
We’ve used baby sign with all our babies, even before Wonderboy came along. When Jane was about a year old, Scott’s boss’s wife very thoughtfully sent me an article on the subject, and I thought it was a brilliant concept. I taught Jane a few signs but we didn’t really take off with it until Rose came along. By then, Jane was three and had spent a lot of time in the hospital where she saw an ASL interpreter working with another patient. She was very interested and I was a young would-be homeschooling mommy eager to start strewing. 😉 I ordered this set of videos from the Timberdoodle catalog and we dove in.
The videos didn’t appeal to Jane—they are intended as tutorials for the parents of deaf babies and toddlers (and yes, how goosebumpy is that, considering what was in store for us a few babies later? God’s providence, anyone?) and the format is rather dry. But the vocabulary was perfect for daily use with my little ones. By the time Rose was 18 months, she was using about two dozen signs on a regular basis. I remember my relatives being impressed by her “please” and “thank you” at a family funeral. It is awfully nice to have “please” be a habit even before verbal speech begins.
When Beanie was a year old, Jane was six, and she and her friend Summer were both interested in learning ASL, so we watched the Sign With Me videos again. The little girls hung in there with the videos despite their dry format, and since they both had one-year-old sisters they really enjoyed being able to sign words like “yucky” and “silly.” We started checking children’s sign DVDs out of the library, and Summer’s family came across Signing Time. That was the beginning of a beeyootiful friendship…
But we had no idea, then, how important the Signing Time series—or, indeed, ASL itself—would become to us. When Wonderboy was born I launched right into baby sign, same as always, having no clue that he had hearing loss. He was six months old before we started to seriously worry about his hearing, and it was another three months (after a set of tubes proved fluid buildup wasn’t the problem) before we got a firm diagnosis.
I’ve already written about what happened next: how our family threw ourselves into the study of ASL for Wonderboy’s sake—and our own intense enjoyment. ASL is a beautiful, beautiful language. I wish I were more fluent—we are still plugging away on our own, but one of these days we’d like to study with a fluent signer. Jane hopes to become certified as an interpreter one day.
One piece of advice I have about teaching babies to sign is that it’s better to use real ASL (American Sign Language—if you’re American, that is) rather than one of the made-up “baby sign” programs. It seems to me that as long as you’re teaching signs, why not give the child a head start on a real second language? That’s one of the reasons I come out so strong for Signing Time (and no, I don’t get a commission from those folks)—it uses ASL.
We recently received the three latest installments of Signing Time, and once again I’m blown away by how fun and engaging they are, how practically useful the vocabulary is, and how effective the instruction is. Both Wonderboy and Rilla are doing a lot of counting these days, because there is a new “Counting Time” section of the show. The “ABC Time” segment has also been a big hit. The new editions are:
Move and Groove
Happy Birthday to You
Nice to Meet You
I really like the manners signs taught in that last one. I admit I still think the songs in Volumes 4, 5, and 6 are the best of the whole series, but once again the music is catchy and fun, and I honestly can’t say enough good things about these DVDs. Rachel Coleman and crew have hit upon a perfect format. In fact, I also think Signing Time gives reading skills a boost, since the English word for each sign is displayed next to the person demonstrating it.
Once Wonderboy’s hearing loss was diagnosed, we knew ASL would be an important second language for him—both as a bridge to verbal speech and as a backup for times when he isn’t wearing his hearing aids (or in case his hearing degenerates further as he gets older). There are different theories about signing with hard-of-hearing kids, and the “Total Communication” approach is what made most sense to us. His expressive and receptive language skills have consistently tested as at-or-above-age-level despite his “speech delay”—that delay is only with pronunciation. I am so grateful that we were already primed to jump into the use of ASL with him because of the “baby sign” trend. Some trends are sound and sensible. This is one!
Whoops, it’s all pixelly. No time to fix it now—back later!
UPDATED: Well, I tried and tried. I don’t know what’s wrong with the upload. Tried saving the movie file in various formats, but it comes out pixellated every time. Ah, well. She’s cute even in tiny dots.
Don’t ask me why I picked that particular moment to capture her litany of signs on film—a moment when one hand was clutching the treasured Pink Plastic Phone. She was there, the camera was there, and I’ve been meaning to record her baby signs for weeks. She is exploding with new ones every day, courtesy of her big brother and Signing Time. When Wonderboy and Rilla start signing to each other, I swear my heart turns to jelly. It’s sweeter than I could ever have imagined, back when she was in utero, kicking him through my belly as he signed himself to sleep.
It’s been a while since I wrote about Signing Time, but it occurred to me that I ought to mention it for new readers.
The Signing Time DVDs are a wonderful series of half-hour shows designed to teach American Sign Language (ASL) to children. Adults who happen to be in the room will find they can’t help but learn as well. The shows are delightful, with catchy songs, cute kids, and practical ASL vocabulary.
It’s hard for me to imagine our lives without Signing Time. Rachel Coleman, the creator, and her daughter Leah, who is deaf, and Leah’s cousin Alex, who is hearing, are practically part of our family. “Rachel says” and “Leah says” are regular utterances around here. When Wonderboy watches the videos, he looks back and forth from me to Rachel, or from his sisters to the children, in awed delight. His hands soar through the air, mimicking his beloved Rachel. He understands the spoken words “Signing Time” even without his hearing aids in. (This is significant. He probably hears something like “eye-ee-eye,” but he sure knows what it means.)
Rachel’s songs have become my personal highway belt-it-out favorites (along with Marie Bellet and Bruce Springsteen), because she *gets it* so completely. Leah was a year old when her parents learned she was deaf. Rachel’s family’s love and occupation is music, and my hat is off to Rachel Coleman for finding a way to so beautifully combine her old life with her new one. Next to the joy she has brought my children, my favorite thing about Rachel Coleman is her honesty in lyrics. Her song, “The Good,” expresses my understanding of motherhood better than anything I’ve ever written: “Maybe we won’t find easy, but baby we’ve found the good.”
Lately, Wonderboy has been re-immersed in these DVDs, asking for them daily. They are the ONLY television show he has ever shown any interest in watching, ever. When his sisters watch other shows, even cartoons, Wonderboy pays no attention. But for Signing Time, he is always all eyes and ears.
He has learned a ton of vocabulary from them, including (just lately) words like “remember,” “learn,” and “smart.” I wrote a post for Bonny Glen last night about what a big deal it is that he is now beginning to grasp abstract concepts (such as remember, learn, and smart!). I really think ST has a great deal to do with that.
Rilla (she is 15 months now) is also enchanted by ST and enchants the rest of us with her perfectly scrumptious signing…when she signs “More,” her daddy is putty in her plump little hands.
I also think the DVDs spurred Beanie along the path to reading when she was four and five years old. The English words for each sign appear on the screen before the signs are demonstrated, and those were some of the first words she learned how to read.
The shows are now being aired on PBS, so you can check your listings to see if it’s playing in your area. But the DVDs are a worthy investment (and they make great gifts). (And no, I don’t get a commission on these materials! I just love them.)
The first three volumes are simpler, younger, than later editions. Volumes 4-6 are my family’s favorites, except for Wonderboy, who prefers, ironically, the “Welcome to School” disk.
I see on the website there are two new “Practice Time” DVDs—I haven’t seen those yet.
We seem to have lost Volume 11, “My Neighborhood,” somewhere along the trail during our cross-country trip. I’m thinking about re-ordering it, because I know Wonderboy would be very into the whole police- officer-firefighter theme right now.
Wonderboy has speech therapy today. It’s been a while (we’ve been on a break since Rilla was born in April) and I’m eager to hear what his therapist has to say. He’s made big strides in both speech and sign since the last time she saw him. Between this and his newfound ability to get up, he’s had quite an amazing couple of months.
Every now and then, though, I step back from my up-close-and-elated view of his accomplishments and recognize that as far as he has come, he still has a long way to go. When I wrote that post about the speech banana last week, I ended the first draft with “The speech banana? It doesn’t scare me” and later amended that to “The speech banana? We’ll get there one way or the other.” Even the revised version was nagging at me as not being quite what I meant, and I realized that it’s because of the difference between speech and comprehension, between expressive and receptive language skills.
In that post, in those sentences, I was talking about receptive language, what he hears, sees, and understands. His receptive language skills are excellent, given the degree of his hearing loss. He understands a great deal of what we say. Sort of. Yesterday I was unloading the dishwasher and I took out a pot.
“Pot!” I said, showing him.
“Ah!” he agreed—signing “hot.”
Um. Not quite, but I like that he was repeating what he thought he’d heard. He can’t hear the P, see, and I hadn’t signed along with my speech that time. He really needs the visual cues for comprehension.
Despite hitches like this, he really is doing beautifully as far as receptive language goes, gaining comprehension at a lightning rate. And that’s what I was thinking of when I said the speech banana, and where his range of hearing falls on the chart, doesn’t scare me. He may not hear all the sounds, even with hearing aids, but if he’s understanding as much as he is at age two, I really believe he’ll have total comprehension when he’s older.
His expressive language ability, however: that’s another ball of wax. Here again, I’m not worried about his being eventually able to express his thoughts in one way or another. He is already using a combination of sign and speech to communicate, and thanks to the gorgeous marvel that is ASL, he can tell me most of what a two-year-old wants to say. And then with verbal speech, he seems to be smitten. He loves to talk, spends much of the day practicing words. Without his signs to cue me, I probably wouldn’t be able to translate them: to know that “ah ah ee ah” is caterpillar and “eh-ah” is elephant.
“Watermelon,” I’ll say, signing it also.
“Ah ah eng!” he’ll shout triumphantly, believing that he is echoing me completely. His hand comes to his mouth, three fingers pointing up like a W, tapping his chin—”water”—and then he pokes the back of his hand with a finger, like tapping a melon. Watermelon. Ah-ah-eng. I gotcha.
So, yes, when it comes to his slow crawl toward verbal speech I am comfortable, but not complacent. I think we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us if he is going to manage some of these consonants that elude his ears. We play babbling games; I press his lips together and say “buh buh buh,” trying to help him catch the B. He laughs, touches my mouth, says, “Uh uh uh.” So far, that B is nowhere on his radar.
But oh how he loves to experiment with talking! His joy is infectious; you can’t help but grin.
“Amp Ha ain ow-hie!” he tells me, his flying fingers clueing me in to his meaning. Grandpa train outside. Yes, buddy, you and Grandpa saw a train on your walk, didn’t you? Two months ago. That ain made a big impression on this little boy.
Are you learning alongside your children and just signing as you can, or are you the “expert” in the family? How are you teaching yourself?
Actually, Jane is the family expert. We are all learning together, but she’s ahead of me. My downfall is fingerspelling—I can spell words quickly, but I can’t read fingerspelling to save my life!
We have used (are using) a number of different resources. The Signing Time DVDs are definitely our family favorites, and all of us—including Wonderboy—have learned dozens of practical, useful, everyday signs from those. A dear friend of mine gave us the four new volumes as a baby gift for Rilla. Such a great present!
I’ve heard there’s now a Signing Time show on PBS—anybody know if that’s correct?
Another video series we have learned from—and I get goosebumps over the fact that we actually went through this program long before Wonderboy was born, just because Jane and I both had an interest in learning ASL—is the Sign with Me program published by Boys’ Town. This video series (not available on DVD, unfortunately) is aimed at parents of deaf children, with the vocabulary consisting of words frequently used when talking to babies and toddlers. This made it a delight for then-seven-year-old Jane and four-year-old Rose, who enjoyed being able to sign important things like “yucky,” “sticky,” and “Cookie Monster” to their baby sister. After Wonderboy—and his diagnosis—came along, we watched the 3-volume series all over again. And somehow I think having gone through it once already, having watched deaf toddlers signing on the video, helped me take Wonderboy’s hard-of-hearing diagnosis in stride.
Last year Jane and I took a course online. Signing Online is geared for college students or older, but it worked out beautifully for us. Each lesson teaches conversational vocabulary through video clips. Again, we found the vocab extremely pertinent and functional: phrases like “What are you doing?” and “Of course!” really help you to converse in a natural manner. (There are a good many nouns, verbs, etc also.) It was a little pricey but we felt it was worth the expense. I think the full course is the equivalent of a semester at the university level.
However, there are some excellent free resources as well:
• ASL Pro and ASL Browser are free online American Sign Language dictionaries with video demonstrations of each sign.
• ASL University offers a free online tutorial with a combination of video clips and stills.
• I really have no excuse for my lousy fingerspelling skills—I could be honing them with this Fingerspelling Quiz.
• Finally, if your family has a deaf or hard of hearing member, you automatically qualify to use the Captioned Media Program’s free lending library of videos and DVDs—including a wide selection of ASL instructional materials. You can even view them via streaming video! Jane, Rose, Beanie, and I plan to begin a new series in the fall. (I just have to figure out which one.) CMP is funded by the Department of Education and has a library containing thousands of captioned movies, documentaries, and other resources. It’s an amazing program. Your tax dollars at work!
Our family favorite: the Signing Time DVDs and videos. My girls got these for Christmas and we’re all captivated! See All About Wonderboy to find out why we’re learning sign language. Signing Time creator Rachel Coleman, her daughter Leah (who is deaf), and Leah’s cousin Alex (who is hearing) have got my children signing and singing up a storm! We bought them because of the signs and fell in love with them because of the songs—Rachel is a gifted singer and songwriter. Highly recommended. Check them out at www.signingtime.com.
Need practice reading fingerspelling? This site spells out words for you in the manual alphabet, and you type in your answer. It repeats the word over and over until you get it right. ASL Fingerspelling Quiz
He is 13 months old and has had his hearing aids for two months. His hearing loss, diagnosed last fall, came as a surprise to us—we spent his first nine months focused on various and sundry other medical issues. First it was the omphalocele, discovered immediately after birth: a small section of intestine had herniated into his umbilical cord. He was rushed to the university hospital, where our favorite surgeon in the world tucked his bowels back where they belonged and custom-stitched him a belly button. (It’s a beauty, too.)
Then came the string of new and alarming discoveries: seemed like half the departments in the hospital had something to say about our boy. Cardiology, genetics, neurology, neo-natal…plus a couple of others who were able to cross him off their lists, thank goodness. The next six months were an adventure of appointment-juggling, full of surprises. In March, a second surgery. In April, he was diagnosed with hypertonia (high muscle tone) and developmental delay. Wonderboy’s physical therapy became our new family pastime. His sisters are a big help with the homework.
An MRI in June showed specific types of brain abnormality but offered little insight as to what to expect in terms of future mobility. PT has worked wonders, but there is a long way to go. He’s a tough little guy, and his physical therapist is a gem–a gentle, patient soul with a wonderfully warm manner. Wonderboy loves her even if he doesn’t always love what she makes him do.
Just about the time we were getting a handle on the PT, we began to be concerned about his hearing. More tests, a surgery to insert tubes, yet more tests—and finally confirmation of what we already knew: he is hard of hearing.
Now that he has the hearing aids, he can hear everything we say to him. We’re teaching him how to make sense of it. Sign language helps, so we’ve all immersed ourselves in the study of ASL (American Sign Language) and I’m not sure which one of us loves it more. My shy Rose blooms when her hands can do the talking—she loves being able to tell me something without opening her mouth. Beanie is learning to fingerspell before she can read. And Jane is burning with an insatiable need to know WHY each specific sign is what it is.
The first time Wonderboy signed “Mommy” I thought my heart would burst. Now he says “Maaaa” and that’s just as magical. He enchants friends and neighbors by studying their faces when they speak, those big eyes serious and fascinated, a little smile quirking the corner of his mouth. And I think there can be no audience in the world more satisfying to sing to than a hard-of-hearing baby. His spellbound gaze says I’m the wonder, as if I’ve somehow invented this marvelous thing called music all by myself.
I think the real wonder is how God works it out: the child with hearing loss teaches me how to listen; the one who can’t talk yet has the most profound things to say.