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 (always with the spoken word) at the one-word level, which is appropriate to the age group. The signs are used widely by nurseries and schools across the UK.
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.
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.
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