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Research-based baby sign language program offered in Berkeley County, W.Va.

June 13, 2013|By TERESA DUNHAM CAVAGNARO | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Donna Day practices sign language with grandchildren Jade Singh and Nicholas Milito in her Inwood-area home. Donna teaches signing to babies and young children.
Kevin G. Gilbert /

INWOOD, W.Va. -- — Change the diaper. Feed the baby. Burp. Hold. Sleepy time.

After babies are born, fussing often is a way of communicating some basic needs. 

When they get a little older, it’s not always that simple. Babies can point, or they can make some more insistent noise, but they might not get the message across every time. Then, when they do start talking, some of the words come out like gibberish.

For Donna Day, 50, who reads lips and uses a hearing aid, she was uncertain how she would communicate with her grandchildren when they came into the world. Without a hearing aid, Day is completely deaf.

“Because I’m hearing-impaired myself, I really have trouble understanding kids,” said Day, of Inwood, W.Va., whose hearing impairment was diagnosed at age 3. 

She heard about baby sign language and wanted to try the method with her grandchildren so she could bond with them —and she was impressed with the results.  

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“Nicky is 3 and talks like a 10-year-old,” she said of her grandson, who picked up baby sign language successfully and then seemed to have a greater vocabulary in his spoken communication later.

If he wants chocolate milk, he just signs to her that he wants it. 

Day, who is a certified baby sign language instructor, has been teaching in Virginia for three years. Recently, she started offering classes in Berkeley County, W.Va.

She’ll offer a free demonstration of Baby Signs at 10 a.m. Monday, June 17, at the Berkeley County Schools GED classroom, 3635 Winchester Ave. in Martinsburg, W.Va.

She uses the Baby Signs Inc. program. According to www.babysigns.com, it is the only research-based baby sign language program, founded by doctors Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, who began their first study in the 1980s.

“Baby Signs is about keeping it simple,” said Day, explaining that some of the first words little signers master are “eat, sleep, milk, more and all done.”

For example, a parent would verbally say, “Do you want milk?” and do the sign for milk at the same time. Ideally, the baby would sign back “milk” or “all done.” 

At the crucial time before the baby can verbally ask for more milk, Day said this form of communication can make parents and babies happier. 

For fun, babies can even learn the signs for various colors and animals.

“It’s never too early to start,” she said.

Some parents worry that their children might not learn to speak as fast if they use baby sign language, but Day said that is not the case.

“It’s not going to stop the babies from talking,” she said.

She has noticed that more parents are gravitating toward baby sign language. 

Sometimes when she is in public, she notices people doing signs with their babies, not even realizing that a person with a hearing impairment is watching them.

Several celebrities, such as Tia Mowry-Hardrict from the 1990s show “Sister, Sister,” use baby sign language. On her Style Network reality series, “Tia & Tamera,” Mowry-Hardrict was shown signing with her son, Cree. She blogged on the Style Network site, “Cree really loves to do the sign language for ‘milk.’ Even though a baby can’t communicate verbally, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t or don’t understand you. Taking a sign language class really allowed me to see that.”

Day said she has even seen cases in which signing was helpful for children with Down syndrome, autism spectrum or speech problems.

For the June 17 class, parents of infants up to 24 months, expectant moms, grandparents, childhood educators, social workers and health specialists are invited to learn new signs and songs, along with interactive play activities, and find out what a Sign, Say and Play class has to offer. 

Babies will get to meet BeeBo, a big teddy bear with yellow glove hands that Day uses to help her demonstrate the signs. BeeBo has been known to cheer up babies who come into the classroom feeling a little fussy.

Parents who would like more in-depth instruction may also sign up for Day’s six-week class offered through Adult Education every Monday morning starting July 15. Advance registration and payment are required because the class size is limited — a minimum of three infants and a maximum of six —for ages 4 months to 24 months. 

“It’s been wonderful,” Day said of her experience as a Baby Signs teacher. “I’ve seen a lot of moms happier with their babies.”


If you go ...

WHAT: Free baby sign language demonstration

WHEN: 10 a.m. Monday, June 17

WHERE: Berkeley County Schools GED classroom, 3635 Winchester Ave., Martinsburg, W.Va.

CONTACT: To register in advance, call 304-267-3585 or go to www.babysignsprogram.com/withdonna 

MORE: Find Donna Day’s upcoming events and contact information at www.babysignsprogram.com/withdonna.

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