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January 7, 2003

Parents teach tots to sign before they learn to speak

From: Wyoming News, WY - 07 Jan 2003


The Daily Herald

PROVO, Utah (AP) - Kari Simpson's son, Gunnar, 2, is just up from his afternoon nap and sits on the living room couch, wiggling and whining. Simpson asks what he wants and Gunnar signs ''milk'' by making his fist to look as if squeezing a cow's udder.

Gunnar knows as many as 60 words of American Sign Language, but he isn't hearing impaired.

''I'm giving my child an advantage to be smarter,'' said Simpson, 30, of Provo.

Some parents in Utah County are becoming advocates of teaching American Sign Language to their babies before their children learn to speak.

Sign-language teachers and early elementary education instructors have mixed opinions on the practice.

The parents say signing helps their children learn to better communicate and then speak and read at an earlier age.

''Everyone wants to maximize the brainpower of their child,'' Simpson said. ''This has helped Gunnar speak. Before, he was just doing baby talk and babbling.''

The parents also say learning to sign has reduced frustrations and temper tantrums from their children, which comes from the inability to communicate their needs and wants.

''When he's fussing or whining, he'll use the signs 'milk' or 'sleep','' Simpson said. ''It's incredible. My child is telling me when he wants to go to bed.''

However, some experts say it has yet to be proven whether the practice helps the children in other areas of learning.

''I think it's a gimmick. It just seems to be the in thing,'' said Genan Anderson, assistant professor and director of the Utah Valley State College preschool program.

Chris Wakeland, who teaches American Sign Language classes at Brigham Young University, said he believes it's an effective tool if there are deaf children in the family.

''But as far as using it as any other type of tool, ... obviously it's being used as some type of entertainment tool and people seem to like it like that,'' Wakeland said.

Many of the parents, along with their children, are learning the signing technique from a new children's educational video series called ''Signing Time,'' which is geared for children who can hear.

Jon Pierre Francia of Pleasant Grove, who produced the video, said he believes it works on the child's literacy, verbal skills and IQ level.

''We're seeing a lot of early talkers because of this. I believe it actually accelerates their speaking,'' he said. ''It's making connections in their brain.''

The idea for the video came from co-producer Rachel de Azevedo Coleman of Salt Lake City. Coleman has a daughter who is hearing impaired and another daughter who has cerebral palsy. She put signing to music and implemented children, color and action into the video.

Simpson said they began showing Gunnar the video about six months ago and he picked up signing quite quickly.

''I hope Gunnar continues this and reaps the benefit of knowing a second language,'' said Gunnar's father, Ralph Simpson.

Wakeland worries that teaching babies to sign could take away from the deaf community and their language.

''American Sign Language is the language of the deaf community, not the hearing community,'' he said. ''It's not there to entertain children.''

Anderson believes parents are better off just picking up on their child's own form of personal sign language.

''If you're responsive for a toddler, you get a feel for their cues,'' she said. ''You don't necessarily need anything else - that's my philosophy.''


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