A MAJOR new development in child communication is taking place in County Down and is set to spread across Northern Ireland. Children’s signing was first developed in the United States in the Seventies but now Deirdre McLaughlin, who lives close to Downpatrick is promoting her fun-filled version through structured sessions for children from infant age to six years old… and the benefits to their development are startling.
Deirdre, a qualified social worker with a Masters Degree In Psychology, and married with three children, said, “Sign2Music has grown over the past number of years as parents, families, and groups have realised that when a child learns to sign at an early age, it supports their development in a number of ways and helps their self-esteem as they master new signs.
“It is a very innovative and rewarding role. I am so pleased that Sign2Music has been nominated in two categories in a UK-wide competition, ‘What’sOn4LittleOnes Junior Awards’. This is a huge accolade as Sign2Music is the only group in Northern Ireland nominated.
“Each and every children’s activity, party venue, entertainer and volunteer from throughout the UK has had the opportunity to be nominated, thus ensuring these awards are a true representation of parents views and a reflection of their eagerness to reward the very best!
“From 7th March to 6th May, 2011, parents can log on http://www.whatson4littleones.co.uk/awards-voting.asp to vote for their favourite. Please vote for Sign2music in Best Local Activity for the Under-5s category and for Alison Priddle in the Most Outstanding Activity Leader for the Under-5’s category. Every vote is important. One vote could make the difference!”
Deirdre explained, “I learned NI British Sign Language up to Stage 2 many years ago. When my daughter Cara was born, I became very interested in the growth of ‘baby signing’ taking place in the United States. I did a lot of internet research and decided to give it a go as it made sense to me. When Cara was five months old we started signing and at five and a half months she did her first signs. When she was 12 months old she could use 50-70 signs and could tell me how she felt, if she wanted her nappy changed, if she was hungry or thirsty. At the pre-verbal stage she could actually ‘converse’ with her family, her first words coming from her hands!
“And from an early age Cara was interested in letters and sounds. Signing letters (finger-spelling) became a multi-sensory game. Research has shown that finger-spelling helps develop literacy skills. She is now 4, in her pre-school year, is already reading simple texts! Cara also has the ability to communicate with my deaf friends too at a basic level.”
It has not been all plain sailing for Deirdre, but her determination to drive the business forward saw her not only teaching herself at the initial stages, but later doing some market research. Finding there was a local need for her business, she contacted Sign2Me, the internationally recognised baby signing body, acquired recognition, then set up her own Northern Ireland-based business, Sign2Music.
“As there were no classes near where I lived, I decided to start my own. I wanted them to be relevant to the NI market, using regional BSL signs used by deaf people locally, rather than English BSL signs which are very different. In May 2007, I gained accreditation as a presenter with Sign2Me, an American company, based on the original SignWithYourBaby programme of Dr Joseph Garcia, one of the pioneering researchers, and Sign 2 Music was born,” she said.
Deirdre has since then provided a range of activities which promote children’s communication and create a rich bonding experience between parent and child.
“The fun sessions include puppets, props, lively music, stories, fun activities such as bubbles and a parachute for older children and are tailored to different age groups. Deirdre offers free taster sessions. The baby classes are for up to 18 months, and toddler classes to three years old. Signing sessions are also available for nurseries, pre-schools, and after-school activities. The emphasis is on ‘fun’, and Sign2Music also organizes birthday parties with a difference,” added Deirdre.
“The sessions are a great opportunity for your child to relax and socialise, and the children all love the puppets Signing Sandy and Daisy Doggy.”
The Early Background To Signing In The United States
Back in the Seventies, while working as an interpreter, Dr Joseph Garcia discovered that babies of deaf parents could communicate their needs at an earlier age. Although infants did not have the motor skills to communicate spoken language, he found that they had the conceptual ability to understand language. He found that when the child did learn to speak that it had a better grasp of grammar, syntax, tenses, and language development was actually quickened. After a number of publications (eg Toddler Talk 1994), the Sign2Me programme was set up.
In the Eighties, further research by Acredolo and Goodwin showed that children who had learned symbolic gestures through signing had greater vocabularies, understood more words, and engaged in more sophisticated play. Added to this, parents of children who had learned to sign said the children showed less frustration, were bonding better, and could generally communicate better. The hub of the research was that signed communication learned early on in life promoted early language development and when assessed at 7/8 years old, children showed a 12 point IQ advantage.
Now the signing movement is spreading across the world as parents recognize the benefits it is to their children. And Deirdre is at he leading edge of it in Northern Ireland.
Busy Time Ahead For Deirdre
As business grows, Deirdre has had to not only learn a few business skills, but train her own five signing specialists to deliver the sessions to a high standard across the country. She said, “To date this is going very well. My five trained presenters are a dedicated and capable group of practitioners that have been carefully selected and recruited.
“We have sessions across County Down in Ballynahinch, Bangor, Carryduff, Clough, Comber, Lisburn, in North and East Belfast. In other locations we provide specialist sessions for our clients. We also provide sessions as far away as Coleraine, Derry and Limavady.
“I am absolutely delighted that Sign2Music and Alison Priddle have been nominated in the ‘what’son4littleones’ awards.
”The closing date for the competition is on 6th May so we are still looking for support and for people to vote for us in the two categories. It would give a huge impetus to the business if we were successful enough to win but it is a UK-wide competition and we can but try. It would be nice to bring the silver to Northern Ireland.
“Like many businesses, I have had to embrace social networking as a means of marketing and I allocate time each day to do this. It’s certainly a new way of doing business, and I find that parents are often well tuned in to Facebook, Twittter, and You Tube. Communication is what Sign2Music is all about and this fits in very well with what we do. There are a number of videos which cover our sessions and signing.
“Getting the business off the ground has been a long and interesting journey, and it has been a real passion for me. I feel so proud when I see parents and children bonding and watch children thriving with the help of signing. It is such a natural process, something every child with their parents can take part in.”
From her academic studies, professional training, motherhood and feedback from parents, Deirdre has concluded that signing really is highly beneficial in enhancing children’s ability to communicate. The benefits are significant not only for infants but through early school years, when the developmental benefits are considerable. It is an area which parents, who are keen to give their child every advantage in life, will explore with their children… laughing, smiling, sharing, singing, bonding… and signing.
Information and contacts:
Sign2Music Website: http://www.sign2music.co.uk
You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/user/Sign2Music1
E-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: mobile – 07874742704
VOTE TODAY FOR SIGN2 MUSIC ON: http://www.whatson4littleones.co.uk/awards-voting.asp