Babies learn sign language

New programme helps little ones communicate

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 07:46 22/02/2013
Baby
ROBERT KITCHEN/FAIRFAX NZ
Signing for their supper: Keana King with mum Kelly King, learns sign language at Shannon Playcentre.

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Hungry babies, cry no more.

Shannon Playcentre is making waves by adding a new baby sign language programme to its repertoire to help little ones communicate their wants and needs to their parents.

Early childhood educator Jennifer Ives has brought baby sign language to Shannon Playcentre with the aim of getting babies to communicate better with their parents - and one another - before they begin to talk.

Baby sign language has been in vogue for about 25 years but had only recently begun to take off in New Zealand, Mrs Ives said.

Daughters Milly, 2, and Gracie-Mae, 5 months, have been her "guinea pigs".

"I always wanted to do it with Milly but when I saw how successful she was with it I wanted to teach it to other children too."

She trained in baby sign language instruction overseas and is now a qualified instructor.

Shannon Playcentre will be incorporating the lessons into a six-week workshop with its children from this year onwards, and Mrs Ives says it is the first in the region to make it part of its early learning curriculum.

A common fear among parents that teaching a baby to sign could stunt their verbal language development had been debunked by international research, Mrs Ives said.

"They wouldn't be promoting it if it was going to be a negative for their speech."

Baby sign language is instead being touted to decrease frustration as children who do not yet have words learn to communicate their needs via gesture, to promote a transition to verbal language learning, and help jump-start their intellectual development.

Beebo the Signing Bear helps Mrs Ives lead the signing sessions, which require parents to model the signs and use signing and miming to help their child's kinaesthetic recall.

The decision was made to teach sign language to toddlers who could already talk so that they could "chat" to their younger siblings and babies at the centre who could not yet talk.

Mum Kelly King hoped her two little girls, Kaitlin, 3, and Keana, 10 months, would find a secret language to share through signing.

"I kind of thought it would be neat to teach them some signs, we were really interested in trying with Keana and we thought it would be cool for them to be able to talk to each other."

Children were able to learn sign language from about 6 months, and usually took about a month to begin using the signs, Mrs Ives said.

Each session revolves around a different theme of needs and wants, such as food and play, and the gestures are based on American sign language.

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