Hey there, friends! This episode is probably one of my favorites because I have always had an interest in learning to sign. I find that using sign language would be super helpful as a mom and as an educator. I am so excited that you decided to tune in today because I have a super special guest. Her name is Laura Payne and she is a highly qualified educator of the deaf. From her experience and help from a mom group, she decided to branch out and start offering a 4 week sign language course in Baby Sign Language, but I’ll let her tell you more about that in this episode.
Interview with Laura Payne about Learning to Sign
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, your life as a momma etc…
-I live in Houston, TX. I have been married for almost 3 years and I have a 18 month old daughter. We are expecting our little baby boy in September. I am a former teacher of the deaf, I taught ages 3 years old to 4th grade. I eventually stepped away from the classroom to stay home as a mom before my daughter was born. Now, I’m all about that nap time hustle to fill my cup and serve other moms.
2. How did you start your business? Where did the idea come from?
Since my background is teaching deaf students – so I’ve known sign language since I was 7 and studied it formally while getting my undergrad degree. One day, I joined a mom’s group when my daughter was about 3 months old, and some of them were wanting to get together and freshen up their signs they learned from a baby sign class they took. I asked more questions and it turned out the instructor only had taught herself the vocabulary she was teaching the class – she’s not actually fluent in sign, knows about the language itself, etc – and would google a word if a question was asked that wasn’t on her list.
I quickly offered to teach them, and they gave me so much input about their goals, signs they wanted to learn, their expectations – and it created the blueprint for my sign language course I still am teaching over a year later. It’s evolved into so much more, it’s now taught virtually so I’m able to reach more moms regardless of feeding and sleep schedules, locations, and all other logistics
3. I don’t even know where I would begin to teach my daughter sign language, I have always wanted to learn myself as well, do you have any recommendations?
Start small, and take baby steps at first: think of 3-5 words that would benefit your child’s communication and confidence. That looks different based on age, interests, etc. My daughter was a newborn, so we started with MILK, SLEEP, ALL DONE. That then evolved as she grew and her needs changed.
Why do we need to learn to sign?
4. What are the benefits of using sign language with hearing babies and toddlers?
Your baby is born communicating with you, and communication needs increase as they get older. With that frustration builds too because they can’t use speech yet or use it to the full capacity they need. Learning to sign can reduce that frustration. Babies and toddlers experience the world in multi-sensory way (visual, verbal, tactile, kinesthetic), and learning to sign taps into each of these. No matter how your child learns, sign will benefit them
It also helps increases their confidence in communication because you will be able to meet their needs and wants faster. It takes out the guessing game of the grunts, pointing, crying, etc. And a faster response from you, boosts their confidence
Gross motor skills develop earlier than fine motor skills (ie: they can wave before they can put a straw into a juice box). Same as speech: very small muscle movements required for speech sounds develop over YEARS and your child can often go misunderstood or unintelligible for a long time. Sign uses those gross motor skills that are more refined.
It is possible for a baby to sign before they can speak, and for a toddler to express more of themselves even though they have multiple words under their belt.
5. My toddler is 3 years old, is it too late to start learning to sign with her?
Not at all! You can sign at any age, for any goal or purpose. During a tantrum, the left half of the brain shuts down. That’s the part that allows your child to listen, be logical, and stay calm. So if that’s shut down, the right half is the one running the show: the side that’s the Tazmanian Devil, distractible, impulsive, and emotional.
But, the benefit to sign language and non-verbal communication is that the right side of the brain can respond to it! So while your attempts at talking to and reasoning with your toddler during a tantrum go unheard, your signs can be processed. Sign language can be your child’s second, third, or even fourth language. Multi-language learning has many benefits including: boosted brain development, help with acquisition of their first language, encourage problem solving, spark creativity, empower critical thinking, and support listening skills. The signs you use with your 3 year old will look much different than your 13 month old. Their needs, goals, and developmental milestones (including language abilities) are different and that’s how it should be!
Will learning to sign hinder my child?
6. Some people might think if they use sign language with their hearing child that it might prevent them from language development, is that the case?
Not the case at all! Like I said earlier, sign language is a language. And multi-language learning to sign is only a benefit to overall language learning. When your child’s verbal communication skills have progressed, you’ll start to see them dropping signs. They are now confident in using a spoken word.
My own daughter has chosen to drop some signs already. She’s 18 months old, and no longer will sign DOG. She now will say “woof woof” for a dog. That’s her communication preference, and I totally support it.
A friend of mine used sign with her son and he had dropped all of his signs for the spoken word except for THANK YOU. She was so concerned that he was still only signing it at 2 years old. I reassured her: his confidence in saying “thank you” isn’t strong enough yet. He wants to make sure his point is understood, and he’s doing that by signing it. The oral-motor requirements to produce the sounds in “thank you” are quite complex and some aren’t mastered for another year or two. When he’s ready, he’ll drop the sign. And sure enough, he started saying it rather than signing it about 6 months later. It was just on his terms!
7. What are some best practices or tips for parents when starting to use sign language with their little ones?
Follow their lead: physical developmental milestones, interests, temperament
In the area of development: Where is your child in their physical, gross motor development? If they aren’t clapping yet, signs that require two hands to come together aren’t possible yet. (ex: more and book) Can they cross one hand over their middle to reach to the other side? That’s when you can incorporate signs that require that (ex: whale, lizard). When deciding what signs to use with their baby, be sure to think of where they are in their physical development and focus on signs that meet their communication needs AND their current motor developmental milestones.
In the area of interests: Do they love books? The sign for “book” and “read” may be very motivating for your child to learn. Do they have favorite foods? Teaching them the signs to those will spark great conversations and language development opportunities during meals.
In the area of temperament: Just like you aren’t always in the mood to be talkative, go outside, or be productive… your child isn’t always in the mood to “learn” sign language. Take just a few seconds to expose, repeat, and review signs as they are playing or whatever it is, and let their temperament tell you when enough is enough. Don’t push it. Let them play freely, circle back if you can, or re-expose them next time.
Where can we find out more?
8. Now, I know you have a couple of interesting activities coming up, could you tell us a little bit about those?
Yes, “Look Who’s Signing Now” is my “trademark” 4 week sign language course for moms with 0-2 year olds. That’s where I teach EVERYTHING you need to know about baby sign language and the EXACT strategies, signs, and techniques I have used with my own daughter. My daughter was signing by 6 months old with this baby sign language “formula” and currently has over 50 signs at 18 months old. I am currently teaching that course, but I launch every few months!
I also taught “Sign Through the Seasons: Summer” and have released that as a self-study. If you’re a mom of any aged baby or toddler and looking for sign books, songs, and activities for the summer season, plus my secret sauce of how to actually do it all – it’s the perfect workshop for you. I will be launching a “Fall” version of this workshop in a few months, so stay tuned!
9. Tell people where they can find you…
-check out available courses and workshops: https://signingwithlaurapayne.vipmembervault.com/
-subscribe to my FREE sign language newsletter: https://www.subscribepage.com/signnewsletter
I am so grateful that Laura was able to come on the podcast today. I feel like we have known each other for years. If you are interested in learning to sign with your little ones of any age, I encourage you to check out Laura’s resources. Peace, love, and communication skills and I will see you back soon!