Sing and Sign teaches you the magic of communicating with your baby before speech

Having a baby opens up a whole new world of learning for both you and your pint-sized human. As a new mum, I’ve loved trying out lots of different classes, which have been both entertaining and educational for us both. The most recent class we’ve gone to is Sing and Sign Belfast. Sasha Felix started the classes 18 years ago with the help of Speech and Language experts for her daughter Francesca (now a successful singer). Little Francesca’s adorable childhood cuddly toy Jessie is now the mascot for the multi-award winning programme. Katherine, who teaches Sing and Sign, is a devoted mum-of-three and has been running classes herself for two years. Incredibly patient and gentle, she brought her son Oliver to classes when he was just eight months old and she jumped at the opportunity to become a Sing and Sign teacher. She told me that it was so exciting when little Oliver used his first sign – an aeroplane. “I saw the magic of him being able to communicate with me by spontaneously telling me what he could see and wanted me to know.” Babies use all kinds of signs and gestures as a natural way of learning to talk. Encouraging your baby with extra signs like ‘milk’, ‘more’, ‘change nappy’ or ‘tired’ will help your baby communicate – and hopefully save you both some tears! The benefits of signing are many – from helping to understand your baby’s needs, building confidence and self esteem and encouraging the development of speech. Sing and Sign teaches keyword signing (alwaysΒ with the spoken word)Β at the one-word level, which is appropriate to the age group. The signs are used widely by nurseries and schools across the UK.

Fluffy duck…

It was a freezing morning we set off to Cooke Hall on the Ormeau road it but so worth it. There were lots of mums with their adorable tots and it was great to see them interact with their babies using sign. Let’s face it, life would be so much easier if babies could tell you what they wanted. They cry a lot. It must be incredibly frustrating for tiny humans (and mums) for them only to be able to express themselves through crying and screaming. However, using very simple signs when speaking to your baby can help them let you know when they want more food, they’ve had enough, although the latter will probably never happen!

Katherine said that sounds like ‘vroom’, ‘choo-choo’ and ‘ding ding’ are especially beneficial, enabling your little one make associations between sounds and things, in this case, a motorbike, train and bike. It’s also important to teach baby to point and wave ‘bye-bye’. The sign for the week was ‘peek-a-boo’, which Sonny loves! There were lots of sing-along songs too, of course, and playing with instruments (Sonny commandeered a maraca) and cute soft toys. There was even a song with the lyric ‘don’t wipe your nose on the sofa’, which made me grin. Katherine says, “It’s not about being negative, it’s about learning the concept of no and “you have to stop”. She recommends using just one sign for a sentence. There are lots of other songs too like ‘Change Your Nappy’, ‘More to Drink, More to Eat’, and ‘Three Little Monkeys’. Don’t worry if you can’t sing, it’s all about taking part and it’s a great mood booster.

Sonny is almost eight months, becoming more animated by the day, he’s sitting upright without any help, bum shuffling, even attempting to crawl. His main form of communication is by screeching at the top of his lungs. He looked like he enjoyed interacting with the other babies, (lots of cute gummy grins) and hopefully not a sign of what’s to come – had his tiny chubby hand nonchalantly on the the leg of the lovely mummy beside me! Well, he certainly seems to enjoy female company.

Making full use of the toys at before the start of the class!

The feedback for the classes is really positive. On the Sing and Sign Facebook page, mums are full of praise and describe the classes as “wonderful”, “enjoyable” and “so rewarding”. I concur with all of these glowing adjectives. I’m already using signs for ‘milk’ and ‘tired’ for Sonny. He is a bit bemused by my hand signals at the moment but I’m going to keep it up and hopefully soon he’ll be able to communicate with me that way other rather than by opening his mouth as wide as it goes and screaming, while big droplets roll down his cheeks. It hurts my heart even writing that. I love that the sign for his name is the sun. I could also use the sign for ‘s’ but the sign for the sun is so much cuter. He really is a sunny boy.

There are sing and sign classes for babies six months and under which involve lots of eye contact and nursery rhymes. The classes are also suitable for babies and children with hearing difficulties. I couldn’t recommend them enough.

Sonny meets Jessie.

For more information and to book visit:

https://www.singandsign.co.uk/

The day I went back to school…

There is nothing more terrifying than a classroom full of bright-eyed, inquisitive kids. It’s amazing how life goes. I was asked be a speaker at St Patrick’s Primary & Nursery School, Mayobridge, as part of Safer Internet Day. As I’ve quite recently adopted the rather foolhardy approach of, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, I accepted with a “what the heck” attitude and then thought, “holy shit”. I’d interviewed the lovely teacher Mary,  who’d asked me to take part, a while back for Family Life, a supplement I work on. However, I didn’t recognise her until I met her at school. We were actually classmates at grammar school together. It’s crazy how small the world is. I took the train to Newry, my homestead, with Sonny. I read over my notes, distracted by a sweet young girl who kept asking her parents if cats, dogs and sheep liked water. “I want to be a sheep!” she cried. Even in my petrified state, I stifled a giggle. As a journalist by profession, I covered my bases, doing as much research as I could, but I wasn’t prepared for actually delivering a 45-minute talk. I freaked myself out about the class being bored, or them throwing paper planes at me – or worse. (I wouldn’t have blamed them). As I nervously approached the school, doing my best to at least look the part in my new check trousers and (thank you ASOS) and trusty white blouse with black bow, I actually felt weak at the knees. I don’t even think I was as nervous on my wedding day. I plastered on a smile and had a quick chat with Mary, while Sonny settled in in the staff room with mum and dad. I was led to the classroom and suddenly, I had 34 pairs of eyes on me, boys and girls all curious about how I was going to entertain them before they could make their escape. It was now or never. I spoke in as loud and as confident a voice as I could muster and started talking about the internet, social media, blogging and how you can have a positive impact online, sticking as close to my carefully worded script as I could.

First day at school… for Sonny

After a few minutes, I felt a bit more at ease. Luckily, the table closest to me was full of bright, interested faces, asking lots of questions. I had organised plenty of activities so I wouldn’t be talking at them and putting them to sleep (and it was the last talk before home-time). As with every classroom I expect, there were some bright sparks and cheeky monkeys. My task, ‘draw the internet’ got a few pretty amusing responses. The funniest was when I asked the different groups to compose a tweet. One, I can’t repeat, but I think I went scarlet. Another was, “My cat is as old as Donald Trump.” The classroom assistant did a brilliant job keeping the classroom under control (things were getting a bit rowdy at times), probably down to the fact that I’m too nice (or so I was told), they even got a stern talking to, but overall, I was glad that they were so full of questions. The 45 minutes flew by. In fact, I didn’t even cover everything I wanted to say. But, you could say I was saved by the bell at 3pm. I don’t know who was more relieved, them or me, but I was really proud of myself for throwing myself in the deep end. I wasn’t completely unequipped for such an event though, at school I did public speaking and did verse speaking at the feis. But, I’m definitely a bit rusty as I approach my 40th year. Still, I was delighted to be invited back for teaching practice! If I had to do things over, I think training to become a teaching would be an awesome job. I love the idea of moulding young minds.

Selfie! obvs…

I really glad I pushed myself to do the talk. I believe every situation opens doors, and if I can survive a classroom of children, I can survive just about any situation, right? Unless that situation is meeting Ryan Gosling or Henry Cavill and then I’m just going to melt into a huge puddle. But enough about fantasies, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that if you take a leap, you’ll always feel better. Even if you land on your face.

You Got This…

As for Sonny, his favourite pastime is screeching at the top of his lungs, splattering food all over himself and the floor with his spoon and getting incredibly frustrated when he’s on his belly, flailing his arms and legs expecting to move. It’s pretty hilarious though. I can’t believe that one day, my little man will trotting off to school with his bag on his back. I know that will be incredibly hard for me as a mum, to see him begin his journey in this thing we call life. You can learn much from children though, and we should all take a more child-like approach to life… and never stop learning.