Even In Utero

Sign a Story


Parents make an inpact–even in utero.

We know that, as expectant mothers, we need to be acutely aware of what we eat and drink, what medications we take,  how much to exercise, what to avoid, etc.

It’s also important to remember that our emotions effect our developing baby–and by 20 weeks, the baby can hear our voices.  Singing and playing music can make a lasting impression.

My older son was born via unexpected c-section, so my husband was the first to hold him. Behind me, I heard Zeke’s crying suddenly stop as Ian began to sing to him.  He clearly recognized his daddy’s voice–Ian had been singing into my belly daily for 41 weeks!

During my 2nd pregnancy, Zeke sang into my belly along with Ian.  I had a V-bac and was able to hold Sian right away.  He recognized all our voices, and even seemed to favor some of the songs we had sung most often.  Both the boys study music and love to sing.

Not surprisingly, a very early sign they both used was “music.”    :)

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To Sign or Not to Sign

I’d like to share some insights on teaching tots sign language.

Parents take strides to teach their children not to talk with their mouths full. But, what’s the right stance to take regarding babies talking with their hands?

It’s a common misconception that introducing sign language during infancy delays the onset of speech. In reality, focusing on language development before children are verbal enhances speech, vocabulary and overall communication.

In 1989, researchers at the University of California and California State began a longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes of Health. The goal was to determine whether actively encouraging babies to use manual communication, such as sign language, would have an effect on subsequent language and cognitive development. The authors of the study found that by 24 months of age, the group of children signing had a receptive and expressive advantage over the group of non-signing children. By the age of 8, the children followed were retested and those in the signing group scored, on average, 12 points higher than the non-signing group on IQ tests.

Though some people remain skeptical or critical of the value of signing for a baby, scientific data has clearly demonstrated that sign language has a positive effect on language acquisition and overall intelligence.

Will sign language aid your child in gaining acceptance to Harvard or winning the Nobel Prize in linguistics? Who knows? However, we do know that expressive language at an early age largely motivates toddlers to progress from the manual communication of sign language to the acquisition of speech used around them.

Sign language also allows toddlers to interact with the deaf community. And by incorporating American Sign Language (ASL) in your child’s life, you set up the foundation for second language learning. ASL is a true language with its own words, phrases and syntax. It is the third most used language in the United States, following English and Spanish. ASL is also offered and accepted in many schools and universities to fulfill the foreign language requirement.

Dr. Marilyn Daniels, author of Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy(Bergin & Garvey), is a speech language pathologist and professor of communications at Pennsylvania State University. She is additionally the most prolific researcher in the area of teaching sign language to children in preschool through 6th grade. Daniels agrees that introducing ASL to young children gives them a head start on bilingual education and benefits their reading skill development. Daniels states that learning ASL furthers brain development in hearing babies, as spoken languages are stored in the left brain while sign language utilizes both hemispheres.

During his work as an interpreter, Dr. Joseph Garcia found that the hearing children of his deaf friends and clients were able to fully communicate through ASL at a much younger age than the children of his hearing friends could communicate through speech. In 1986, Garcia’s thesis focused on early childhood language acquisition and how sign language influences the process. Garcia’s Sign with Your Baby program, developed from his previous research, is widely utilized throughout the United States and Britain.

As early as the 1800s, educators working with hearing children who had deaf siblings found they often developed superior skills in reading, spelling and writing due to exposure to sign language at home. When the teachers incorporated signs in the classroom, the students appeared more engaged in the learning process.

Music teachers further noticed that children had better focus during class and retention of song lyrics if the teacher was signing while singing. Contemporary children’s classes like sign language and music programs teach parents and their young children American Sign Language through songs and musical play. Babies naturally attempt to communicate via melodic vocalizations, gestures and facial expressions. What better way to tap into this vast potential than by exposing little ones to sign language and songs?


Research and experience has demonstrated that there is no downside to learning sign language. Whether your child develops a working knowledge of American Sign Language, uses a few signs or simply watches your hands, the emphasis on communication and language provides lasting benefits— as well as unique parent-child bonding sessions.

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First Words

milk <—— “MILK”

Babies can utter their first words as young as six months via sign.  It’s not until closer to a year old that parents can typically understand their baby’s first spoken word.  By that time, my own children were putting 2 – 3 sign phrases together.  Pretty AWESOME!  For more about first words and signs, take a look at http://www.mybabyfingers.com/our-story.

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“Home” from Hands4Learning

When my older son was just a baby, we took a long drive to Rochester, NY to visit my parents – our first long drive with a baby.  It was slow going – stopping to nurse him, stopping to change him, stopping to calm him, stopping to nurse him and change him again (after all, it was a 330 mile trip).  He finally fell asleep in the car, and was still asleep when we arrived fairly late at night.

So we brought Zeke inside the house in his car seat, allowing him to continue sleeping while grandma and grandpa could look at him and marvel over how he’d grown. Eventually, he woke up and was very disoriented.  He looked around and began to cry.

Of course we provided (or tried to provide) every possible comfort – he responded to my signs with a strong shake of his head “no” when I offered milk, a diaper change, music, and asked if something was in pain. Suddenly Zeke put his fist gently to his cheek in what we had gotten to know as his approximated sign for “home.”

We were amazed.  We tried to explain to this young baby where we were and and why we couldn’t go right home.  We carried him around the house to orient him to his surroundings. We gave him lots of love, and soon enough he was ready to play with his grandparents for a while before going to bed.

“Home,” he had signed to us.  Something very specific but very abstract given the circumstances.  Home is probably your baby’s favorite place – his or her safe place; a place of comfort, peace, familiarity.  Zeke was too young to talk – if he hadn’t had sign language, there’s no way he would have been able to tell us that he wanted to wake up at home. He couldn’t point to home like he could have pointed to a book, or the piano, or a toy.

This is just one of the many incredible communication moments we shared with our children – being able to sign to us in an otherwise difficult, confusing, overwhelming, emotional situation was a true gift.

Join us.  Bring this gift to your family. Learn to sign with your baby at Baby Fingers.  www.mybabyfingers.com.

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Music & Sign, A Powerful Duet

As a music therapist, I knew that my graduate degree in Deaf education would have to be put to work that included music. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work in a therapeutic preschool where I had a class of deaf children whose parents were hearing, together with hearing children whose parents were Deaf. Many of the deaf children with hearing parents who didn’t sign, did not have access to language until they began school, where their hearing counter parts with deaf, signing parents, were much further along. So learning Sign in the classroom opened many doors for these 3 and 4 year olds. Finally they knew what to call a table, a book, an apple, a friend… and signing while singing songs helped to solidify their new language. Seeing the sign for “stop” watching hearing classmates stop marching, and noticing the vibrations of the drum diminishing, helped them to understand the meaning of stop—both for their movement and for sound.

Aside from my own experience, research does support the benefits of music and sign. An article by Patricia Ivankovic and Ingrid Gilpatric in a 1994 issue of Perspectives in Education and Deafness includes a table of songs that teach parts of speech. For example, Where is Thumbkin teaches verbs, nouns, pronouns, and sequencing; coupled with ASL, deaf students can fully participate in the learning process. An article by Heather A. Schunk in a 1999 issue of the Journal of Music Therapy focuses on the receptive language benefits of singing & signing for ESL students. Steve Kokette, the producer of award winning signed song videos featuring Deaf performers, wrote in 1995 on the benefits of sign paired with music–for the level of sign learned when presented through songs, and the memory of rhythms when presented with sign. Also in 1995, Buday wrote an article for the Journal of Music Therapy highlighting the benefits of signed songs on sign and speech imitation by children with autism.

Music aids the development of speech. Even without using sign language, singing simple songs teaches your child how language is constructed. According to Jessica Pitt from the Pre-School Music Association: “Babies seem to learn best when songs are experienced through their bodies. Movement and music greatly enhance acquisition of language.” Sign language can provide that meaningful movement to music.

Learn more at www.mybabyfingers.com!

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Back to School Signs


Here are some signs to get you started this Fall with your student of any age!

Friend      Help        More

Play        Book       Class


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Signs AND Speech?

baby fingers class 1


We’ve talked mostly about exposing our babies to sign language pre-verbally, and when they are developing speech, to jump start language and provide a means of self-expression.  But is it also helpful to continue signing once our toddlers and preschoolers begin to talk?  What about signing with our kids in elementary school?  YES and YES!

Why?  What are some of the benefits to signing once our kids have speech?  There are so many!  Research – and our experience here at Baby Fingers – point to the following benefits to signing even when our kids begin to talk:

It’s so much fun!

It’s helpful in loud places (like the subway) and in quiet places (like the library).

Signs can help clarify words our toddlers say that we can’t yet understand.

Continuing to sign together can continue to strengthen the bond within the family.

Expanding ASL vocabulary and use can lead to bilingualism.  It also sets the foundation for later 2nd spoken language learning.

It’s a great skill to have.

ASL can help bridge the gap between two different spoken languages.


Signing can help children with stutters or other speech issues to feel more confident communicating.

Finger spelling can help with spelling new words.

It helps with development of reading skills.

Since ASL requires both sides of the brain, it exercises and strengthens brain development.

It’s a great visual cue for word recall, and for reminders to say “please” & “thank you.” 

Signs can help with transitions at home and school.

Signing can serve as a private language between siblings or school mates, and opens children up to friends with different ways to communicate.

Fine motor skills and coordination can improve through the use of ASL.

ASL is a beautiful language.

There are no downsides to signing together at any age!




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Back to School



<—– “FRIEND”

It’s hard to believe another school year is about to begin!  In my children’s elementary school, they started each year with an assignment for students and parents to write their hopes and dreams for the year.  Students typically write about wanting to learn to tie their shoes or to improve their reading. Parents tend to hope their children will make a new friend, enjoy learning, be accepted for just being themselves.




<——- “BOOK”     

Now as my children are entering 8th and 10th grades, I still hope they have a good friend at school, have an inspiring and motivating teacher, and feel comfortable just being themselves.   I hope they’ll make good choices and work hard.  I hope they’ll fulfill their own hopes and dreams, whatever those may be now.   I hope life will be challenging but not too harsh, and that they’ll have opportunities to succeed in the things that are important to them, continue to focus on things that they value.

What are your hopes and dreams for your children this school year?

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Dream, dream, dream….





What dreams do you have as a parent?  What dreams do you have for your children?  What dreams have you already fulfilled for yourself or your family?  Email us to share your dreams at lora@mybabyfingers.com.

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Childhood Memories


I have such wonderful memories of my grandparents’ house.  We used to spend so much time there, and one of my favorite things to do was explore their basement.  We had to go into the garage and down steps to get down into it.  There was a bathroom with an old sign that said 5 cents for toilet paper.  My grandmother’s wedding dress was hanging in a clear plastic bag. There were also sorts of treasures.  I also loved going through my mom’s childhood bedroom.  I once found a little toy in a drawer that became my favorite toy of all time.  It was a little troll with orange hair – I called him “mumfy.”

I also loved visiting my grandparents in Miami, Florida.  As a toddler, I used to call it “gramma’s-ami.”  They had an 8th floor apartment with a terrace that looked out over the pool, a golf course, and way out to the ocean.  My grandpa used to show us how to look through his binoculars and we could sometimes see a boat on the water.  He also used to whistle down to us if we were at the pool without, to tell us that lunch was ready (he had a very specific whistle for anytime he needed our attention or we got separated).  Lunch was often a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich.  Yum!

I was fortunate as a kid to have been able to attend summer camp and youth group.  Some of my memories from CSL and BBYO are some of my favorites – canoe trips during senior camper year, conventions where we stayed at each other’s homes, and so much more.  And I’ve been able to re-live some of those times a bit, working at the summer camp that my own kids attend.

My children have provided their own incredible moments for me as a mom, and I hope they’ll always hang onto special childhood memories.  Evening walks as a family, laugh until you cry tickle fests, watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Met’s Hansel & Gretel as they sang and danced along, long drives to visit their grandparents, two trips to Israel, playing in central park, signing together, going to camp during staff week, and whatever they each remember as most special.

We all grow up or grow old too quickly, it seems, so it’s helpful to try living in the moment, really enjoying each and every moment, so those times become special memories to hold onto forever.






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