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Sign-language class is aimed at babies

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Mothers and their babies and toddlers sign during the BabyHands sign-language class.

Mothers and their babies and toddlers sign during the BabyHands sign-language class.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

April Stromberg was looking for a way to better communicate with her 1-year-old son, Oliver. She decided teaching him sign language would help.

She tried getting books and watching videos to teach him herself, but then a friend offered her an alternative: a new class teaching sign language to babies and toddlers.

After one month of classes, Oliver hasn't grasped all the signs yet, but it has helped.

"We've enjoyed it and we're still working on it," Stromberg said. "Interacting with the other kids and seeing the other kids do signs and pick up signs helps him pick them up."

Stromberg and Oliver are participating in BabyHands Signing School for Tots classes, taught by Cicely Cain. Cain is a certified American Sign Language Interpreter and says she has heard and read a lot about the benefits of communicating with children by sign.

"It's a way to communicate with children before they can speak," she said, noting her target audience for the BabyHands classes is 4 months to 3 years. "You can start signing with your baby when they're 4-5 months old. . . . Signing may help them have less temper tantrums because they're not able to communicate, (and) . . . it's a great way for parents to bond and communicate with their children."

Each class begins with a welcome song and then participants learn at least five signs. An activity or song at the end of the lesson reinforces the signs, and each keeper, or person who brings the tot to class, receives take-home information to help them remember signs learned that day.

The first few classes teach parents basic and commonly used signs such as "more," "all done," "thank you," and "finish." Each lesson teaches five signs so after eight lessons, parents know at least 40 signs. Repetition is the key to teaching children to sign, Cain says.

"The more keepers do it, the more the baby sees it, the more likely a baby is to respond. It's up to keepers to teach it to the kids," she said.

Such is the case with Cassandra Suite-Smith and her children, Tatum, 3, and Max, 16 months. Suite-Smith started teaching Tatum sign language at six months and by the time she was a year old, she knew 20 signs. Max has been picking them up quickly too.

"Instead of having a tantrum, they can sign what they want," she said. "Coming to classes has been fun to learn the signs."

Cain discovered she enjoyed American Sign Language after taking a class while she was in college. Her instructor had a 2-year-old and introduced the class to baby signing. After getting her license to be an interpreter in April, Cain decided to combine two of her passions into a business.

"I love babies, I always have," she said. "I love signing. Combining babies and ASL, what could be better?"

Other keepers share Cain's enthusiasm.

Laneace Gregersen said teaching daughter Elle, 13 months, how to sign has improved communication.

"I just think (BabyHands classes) have helped her be less frustrated and helped her let me know what she wants," she said, noting that some of Elle's most commonly used signs include "up" and "help."

Although Holly Bird's son, Wyatt, is just 10 months old, he has still picked up on the signs pretty well, his mother said.

"It's helped. I've noticed a difference. He always tells me 'done' when he's eating," Bird said.

The next set of BabyHands classes begins Aug. 15. Classes will be held every Tuesday and Thursday from 10-11 a.m. The cost for the lessons will be $52.50, and the first class is free, so parents can try it out. Classes will be held at 3660 East Millcreek Road. For more information, contact Cain at cicelysuitecain@hotmail.com or 801-520-3585.

Cain hopes others can catch her enthusiasm about the classes.

"I'm just so stoked, and I hope everybody else can be as stoked about (BabyHands)," she said. "Keepers can come to a free class and see if they want to pursue signing. It's a great way to spend time with your baby."

E-mail: twalquist@desnews.com