Those who have seen the movie, “Meet the Fockers,” probably laughed at Robert Deniro’s communication with a toddler through sign language. But, imagine the reward a parent and baby would experience through effective expression of the child’s wants and needs.
Rend Lake College is offering a course in Christopher that will teach participants how to communicate with infants through sign language. It is being offered to those 12 years and older by the Community Education Department at Rend Lake College for an affordable fee of $12.
The first session of “Sign Language: Communicating with Infants” will be held from 6-8 p.m., Oct. 16, at the Christopher Civic Center. The second session will be at the same time, same place, on Oct. 23.
Dawn George is teaching the course. George is a sign language interpreter who works with deaf children enrolled in the mainstream public school system. She interprets to the student what the teacher is saying. George explained some aspects of the course she will be teaching later this month. She said it will be geared toward teaching family members some basic signs that they can use with their children, grandchildren or siblings.
‘We’re going to look at some real basic signs that they can use to sign with their baby,” she said. “These are signs that a small child could learn after seeing the sign several times. I am also going to try to have some statistics on how many signs children of various ages can hold in their vocabulary.”
Signing with infants has been an established practice at Rend Lake College for years.
Michelle Allen, lead infant teacher at the Rend Lake College Foundation Children’s Center on the campus in Ina, introduced infant signing to the Center about five years ago. Now, teachers of toddlers and pre-Kindergarten students at the Center are using sign language in their classrooms.
“We start when they are very young,” Allen said. “When they are little, they are like little sponges. They are able to pick up on it. They know what they want to say before they area able to say it.
“It has become Center-wide,” she said. “All the teachers use it in their classrooms.”
Some of the messages infants are taught to convey through signing in the early stages are “more,” “eat,” “please” and “mine,” Allen said. They also use the signs for milk and “diaper change.”
Although they are shown certain signs at a young age, the infants and toddlers will incorporate signing into other activities and invent their own signs for certain situations, according to Allen. For example, a child will imitate wiping their hands when they want to play in the sandbox because they wipe their hands when they get out of the sandbox, she explained.
“To see the look on their face when you understand what they are trying to tell you ... it is very rewarding for them that you know what they are trying to communicate,” she said. “It opens their minds.”
According to Allen, the ability to express needs and wants through sign language can be a stress reliever for, not only the child, but for the parent and childcare provider.
“Signing alleviates some of their aggravation because they are able to communicate what they want,” she said. “It is beneficial for the parents and for the child.”
Children who are involved in sign language are typically more interested in books and other aspects of language than children who are not taught signing, according to her.
She said parents really enjoy it and get excited when they see their children signing.
Another huge advantage that comes as a result of learning sign language is the ability to communicate with members of the community who are hearing impaired.
“It’s like a second language,” Allen said.
She said one question that arises from infant sign language is whether or not the process focuses too much on signing and not the spoken word. At the Center, teachers say the word out loud while teaching the sign for the word to help the children make that connection, she explained.
Those who miss the infant sign language course through RLC can take a more intense sign language course with instructor Dawn Allen in November at Benton Consolidated High School.
“Sign Language” will be held every Tuesday, from 6-9 p.m., Nov. 7 - Dec. 12, in room 116 at Benton Consolidated High School. The cost of the course is $54, which breaks down to $9 per session.
Allen, who is hearing impaired, has taught sign language to numerous individuals and classes.
RLC Community Education Director Lori Ragland said, “People who have taken her class love it and say that they have learned so much from her.”
To register for either sign language learning opportunity through RLC, one may call Ragland at 618-437-5321, ext. 1267 or 1-800-369-5321, ext. 1267 (in-district only).