City Centre Mirror
As one of the world’s foremost experts on the merits of teaching sign language to babies, Annex resident Laura Berg was surprised to find how few resources there were on the practice.
To help spread the word on the benefits of teaching babies to communicate through signing, she wrote The Baby Signing Bible, which is set for a Sept. 4 release.
Berg certainly knows her subject matter. A former teacher who used American Sign Language (ASL) to help students improve their literacy skills, she started up her company, My Smart Hands (www.mysmarthands.com) after giving birth to her daughter, Fireese.
“I thought starting up this company would be a good way to be able to stay home with my daughter,” she said.
She quickly discovered the benefits of signing with her baby, helping Fireese develop language skills even before she developed verbal skills.
“A baby is able to communicate using signs as early as six months (of age),” Berg said. “As a parent, you don’t have to play as much of a guessing game because your baby can communicate what it needs. It cuts down on frustration for the baby and the parent.”
Signing will offer other benefits as well, encouraging babies to learn a second language, thereby opening their minds. By being able to communicate better earlier, children can also grow up happier and more confident, and grow up with stronger bonds to their parents.
When Berg and her daughter were communicating through sign language, some people asked whether Fireese was deaf. That, the author said, is a common misconception.
“What people don’t understand is that this has benefits just as a learning tool and it has long-term benefits for (non-hearing impaired) children,” she said.
While some parents may be concerned teaching sign language could hinder their child’s speech development, Berg pointed out that such fears have proven unfounded.
“My daughter started using (verbal) language at a normal age and once she did, she started talking up a blue streak because she was already able to communicate well,” she said.
Berg showed off her teachings on a Youtube video that has already gotten more than four million hits. She also managed to work out a deal for her company on the television show Dragon’s Den to help her market everything from lessons to flash cards to smart phone apps.
Her upcoming book came about when parents who bought products or took classes at My Smart Hands asked which book she would recommend to help them learn baby sign language.
“I was surprised to learn there wasn’t a single one out there I felt I could recommend,” she said.
The Baby Signing Bible contains instructions on 400 signs to help communicate words such as ‘milk’, ‘eat’ and ‘more’. It also includes games and songs to teach families to sign and sing.
Berg has lived in her Annex neighbourhood for the past 11 years and finds it perfect for her lifestyle.
“What I love most about Toronto is that the city has little pockets like the Annex,” she said. “You can get to know the people in your community – your local fruit vendor or storeowner.”
Berg’s upcoming book will be available at major book retailers both online and in stores.