Thursday, 5 May 2016

SuperHands - Baby Sign Language




Naomi is the SupetHands Instructor based in Sligo, Ireland.
Naomi kindly agreed to talk to me about this interesting work she does and the wonderful talent she has.

Here is here story....

SuperHands is the leading company here in Ireland for teaching all babies and toddlers sign language.
Baby Sign Language as a concept originated in the US over 20 years ago (of course babies have been signing as long a babies have been around, we just didn’t call it baby sign) and has become very popular worldwide but is relatively new to Ireland.
So basically baby sign allows parents to communicate with their babies before they can speak using simple gestures and signs.
Most babies are doing this already; waving goodbye, clapping their hands, pointing at things.
At our baby sign classes we are just simply adding to that vocabulary.
During our courses parents and babies learn to sign with each other in just 6 weeks through songs, poems and stories. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and we always have a tea/coffee and a chat afterwards.

So what first sparked my interest in baby sign was the idea of being able to understand what was going on in your babies head before they could speak, that just sounded so amazing to me.
I think it is a wonderful way to tune in with your baby or toddler and to realise how smart they are.
When you see them responding to your signs or signing back to you can already start seeing their personality.
I remember being in a park with my little girl when she was less than a year old and she started pointing excitedly.
I thought she was pointing at the dog but when I started waffling on about the dog and didn’t get much response I realised she was signing bird.
From that day I realised how much she loved birds, sometimes when I couldn’t see them she’d be signing it and lo and behold there was a bird chirping nearby. That was my number one benefit but of course for others it could be something different.
One of the big benefits is how it really helps to reduce toddler tantrums because a lot of tantrums come from their inability to communicate their need or want.
Can you remember ever being in a country where you couldn’t speak the local languages, it can be terrifying and downright frustrating.
And funnily enough we usually resort to gestures.
I definitely saw the benefits here with my little girl before she could speak, I think her feeling that she was understood just made her so much calmer.
And for me knowing that she had the means to communicate with me really made me much more relaxed.
Of course it’s not the golden pill to temper tantrums because sometimes they don’t like what you are signing and saying, like no you cant have more ice cream!
But I can honestly say I don’t feel like we’ve experienced the so-called terrible twos (hate that term, self fulfilling prophecy) and I really put this down to baby sign!
Please don’t throw this in my face if next time you meet me my little girl is in the midst of a meltdown reduces not eliminates!
A lot of people worry that using baby sign will hinder a child’s speech but the reverse has actually been found in studies.
I think this is for a few reasons, you always say the word when you sign so you end up speaking a lot more.
Maybe things you may have done in silence you now start signing and saying the word.
I think also your little one is understanding the whole concept of communication from a much earlier age and as a parent when you start seeing how clever and responsive you're baby is you end up speaking and sign more and more to them.
Infact a few research studies in the UK and the USA conclude that babies that sign have a wider vocabulary at school going age and a higher IQ at the age of 8. To be honest I’m not to fussed about those benefits but it helps to put peoples minds at rest that it will not delay your child’s speech.
I also love the fact that the signs we use in our classes are all from Irish Sign Language.
In fact by the end of the course you know over 100 of these including the alphabet so should you meet a deaf person here in Ireland you would be able to communicate in some way.
How amazing would it be if your child was to meet a deaf child and they would be able to start communicating with them?
One of the mums who did the course recently contacted me very excitedly to tell me that a neighbour of hers who is deaf had called to the house and she was able to introduce herself in sign and ask her name too. 
So its not just a skill that ends once your baby starts talking fluently its something that you could keep for life or it may actually spark your interest enough to learn more ISL.
My little girl speaks so much now it feels like she’s learning a word every minute but I’m still using sign with her at times. Apart from thinking we might as well continue learning ISL its great for teaching her the alphabet or colours or showing her the difference between words that sound the same, like hungry and angry.
Sign is a visual language so it helps to stimulate both parts of the brain when learning.

When my husband and I lived in Africa we had a lot of friends who were deaf or who had learned the local sign language so I guess sign language was on my radar.
So when Molly Mia was about 3 months old I read about baby sign language on the Internet and I was instantly intrigued. The closest baby sign course was in Dublin which wasn’t really going to happen so I rang Miriam the founder of SuperHands and she said they were wanting to get baby sign classes all over Ireland and if I was interested I could see about becoming a teacher.
So to cut a long story short after training I became the SuperHands teacher for Sligo.
I’m also now in my second year of ISL classes.
So it worked out very well, I got to learn baby sign language and now my job is teaching something I’m very passionate about.

So really the main purpose of baby sign is to give babies the means to communicate before they can talk but as I said before one of the great benefits is that hopefully lots more babies will be growing up in Ireland knowing some ISL and also have the awareness that a lot of people can’t hear but they communicate with their hands.

Sign language, like spoken languages developed naturally out of groups of people interacting with each other so it is unique to it location.
For example in the USA and the UK we speak English but the sign language in the UK and the USA are very different. Linguists know this because they were able to witness it recently in Nicaragua. We had the opportunity to visit there this year.
So the story of Nicaraguan sign language is amazing.
The first school Nicaraguan school for the deaf opened there in 1980.
Students who had been isolated from other deaf people brought the gestures they used at home and created a sort of pidgin sign with each other.
It worked well for communication but there were no grammatical rules and it was quite changeable.
The next generation who came to the school learned the pidgin sign but naturally started to create grammatical rules and to regularise it.
Now it is a fully fledged Sign Language system.
So naturally it made sense that if we are in Ireland we should use Irish Sign language.
Infact this was one of the big reasons that Miriam Devitt founded SuperHands. When her baby girl was born she wanted to teach her baby sign but all the resources available were either in American Sign Language or British Sign Language. 
So she started to learn ISL and developed Superhands. 
She first created an illustrated baby sign dictionary and we just released an app this year.

I’ve been teaching baby sign in Sligo for over a year now and I’ve met so many lovely parents and babies.
I love hearing back from the parents when they tell me excitedly that their baby has just started signing or about some insight they’ve had into their baby’s mind. I love now that my little girl is so aware of sign language.
When we were in Nicaragua this year we met some local deaf boys.
It was wonderful watching my daughters face light up as she saw them signing and seeing her brain processing that this isn’t just something I do with mammy and daddy at home.
I’ve met some amazing grandmothers too, one grandmother signed up for the course as her little grandchild was born with complications and would most likely not be able to speak so she knew it was important for her to learn sign language.

The next 6-week course will be in May 2016.
Dates are on the website 
I occasionally run Saturday morning workshops for all the parents that cant make it the weekday classes.
The next Saturday morning workshop will be in Le Cheile FRC, Castlbar, Co Mayo on Saturday May 28th at 10.30am.


The SuperHands Instructors:

"Miriam Devitt - Founder"

Naomi - Sligo
Megan - Dublin
Michelle - Louth & North County Dublin
Paula - Meath & Kildare
Geraldine - North Dublin
Pamela - Claire & Limerick
Helen - Dublin South
Louise - South County Dublin


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