Signing is for Everyone at the Pikesville Branch Library
Little hands learn American Sign Language before little lips can form the words.
Kayla is 9 1/2 months old, an age when speaking isn't yet her forte. But through sign language, she and her mother Anna Winkel of Hunt Valley have been communicating for a while now.
Their signing education doesn't stop in front of the TV. Winkel and her daughter also attend "Little Hands Signing" classes at the Pikesville Branch Library.
Recently, about a dozen mother/baby couples attended a class.
Kisha Kader brought her daughters Aja Dawn, 17 months, and 2-month-old Anastasia, and mother’s helper Ezo Sahin.
Kader's girls also got their signing start at home. “We got started with a video from Baby Einstein," Kader said. "She’s beginning to imitate some of the things she sees us doing. We know the library has different events for kids and we picked this project after looking online first," Kader said.
Some mother/baby couples in attendance last Wednesday were checking out the class, and the idea, for the first time. They had come for Story Time in the main library, but the program was overbooked and this class seemed like an age-appropriate alternative.
At about 10:30 a.m., the mothers and babies settled down in a semi-circle, while Kathy MacMillan, an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter and storyteller, introduced the concept of signing for hearing children. “Babies make the most brain connections in the first three to five years of their lives,” she said. Her audience sat comfortably on the carpeted floor, surrounded by piles of winter gear, strollers and infant seats, and overflowing diaper bags.
“Using sign language is an important way to make eye contact and foster bonding with your child,” MacMillan said. “Young children learn about the world through their senses — when you’re signing, then they’re learning by seeing it.” To make her point, she broke into her signature smile. (When she makes a crucial connection with her listeners her whole face lights up and she crinkles her nose.)
She had finished laying out the basics for the parents, so playtime was about to begin in earnest for the children. On a easel-mounted white board, MacMillan slapped up drawings of common objects, including foods, animals and toys. As she worked, she signed the names for the various objects, eliciting responses from each mother/baby couple in the circle.
A simple story emerged, based on a typical day in the life of a baby. Sometimes a song or ditty popped out. Other times a game evolved with participation from each mother-baby dyad, such as rolling a ball back and forth to each child. It was always fast-paced, fact-filled and fun.
Jessica White, mother of 26-month-old twins David and Eden, has attended at least eight of Kathy’s programs at various branch libraries. “There are lots of unexpected benefits to signing,” White said. “We’re at the ‘terrible twos,’ and he’s a very spirited, busy baby,” she said, referring to David.
“They can communicate. They have 40 or 50 signs, for sharing, eating, drinking, whatever is going on,” she said, adding that the twins’ ability to sign to her and to each other cuts down on potential frustration.
It cuts down on her frustration as well. For example, “I was at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) having a conversation with a mother and I could have a separate conversation with the kids without having to interrupt the adult conversation,” White said.
Not only that, but she said she is able to leave the twins with her Spanish-speaking caregiver — or the twins' grandparents — and the signs are a universal language. “Any person can come and take care of my kids. I show them 10 basic signs — I have an ‘Idiot Guide Book’ — and then they can communicate,” she said.
White stressed how much enjoyment signing has added to her daily childcare chores. “The picture books are so much more fun with signs. Good Night Moon, Brown Bear, Brown Bear — it’s a blast. My daughter can do almost all of Good Night Moon with her hands.”
She said both of her children are speech delayed and signing has helped with their language development. “It actually helps them with acquiring language — they’ll have a larger vocabulary. They’ll say and sign a new word at the same time.” Her daughter is “more likely to say the word if she has the sign.”
MacMillan said she understands the enthusiasm of parents like White. “There is so much demand for programs for this age group," said MacMillan, who teaches in several county library systems, including Carroll and Howard counties, and is especially busy with the summer reading program. “I develop a program to go with their theme,” she explained. She usually has 10 to 15 bookings in a “non-summer” month, but during the summer, she said, “I do 10 to 15 per week!”
MacMillan started taking classes in sign language in 1996 “as a way to be a better librarian.” She became a children’s librarian in Eldersburg in 1998, and from 2001 to 2005 she was the librarian at the Maryland School for the Deaf. After she had her son in 2005 and completed her training in ASL interpreting, she decided to devote herself to freelancing full-time.
Today she works as an ASL interpreter, offers educational programs through the library systems and the Department of Recreation and Parks in various counties, and writes resource books and provides training for library staff. “I do a lot of staff training about using sign language during Story Time. There are a lot of benefits and values — not just for deaf people — but for hearing children.”
Click here for MacMillan's Entire Winter/Spring 2011 Class Schedule.
While there are no Little Hands Signing "performances" listed for February at the Pikesville Branch Library, there are plenty scheduled nearby.
Click here for a chronological list of performances.
MacMillan's performances next week, according to MacMillan's website, are:
- 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011, “Little Hands Signing: Family Signs," Historic Ellicott City; for ages 0-24 months with adult; registration required; $15 per class or $55 for 4-class series; click here for registration information.
- 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 9, “Little Hands Signing: Family Signs," Historic Ellicott City; for ages 2-5 with adult; registration required; $15 per class or $55 for 4-class series; click here for registration information.
- 9:45 a.m. Friday, Feb. 11, “Little Hands Signing: Valentine Signs” at The Finksburg Branch of Carroll County Public Library; for ages 0-24 months with adult; no registration required.
- 11 a.m., Friday, Feb. 11, “Little Hands Signing: Valentine Signs” at The Finksburg Branch Library of Carroll County Public Library; ages 2-5 with adult; no registration required.
For information about other upcoming events at The Pikesville Branch Library, visit Calendar of Events, or call 410-887-1234.
The Pikesville Branch Library is located at 1301 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville. Hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon. through Thurs., 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., and from 1-5 p.m. Sun.
Ruth Goldstein is a freelance writer and a lifelong patron of the Pikesville Branch Library.