When I was taking my now 4-year-old daughter to Book Babies at the library, it seemed like I was surrounded by a sea of moms signing to their babies. I can understand why parents find it appealing; proponents say it can help children communicate earlier, reduce toddler tantrums and raise a child’s IQ. I was never quite on the bandwagon. But I tried out a Tiny Talkers Sign, Sing and Play class, armed with my then 9-month-old son, Cruz, and the attitude that it would be a fun way to spend time together with other kiddos his age. And on that metric, Tiny Talkers rated off the charts.
At our first class, owner Shira Fogel cheerfully greeted all the moms and babies gathered. Ages of the dozen babies assembled ranged from 9 to 20 months. One mom carted in her triplet toddlers and another had twins. (And I really understand how parents of multiples would find having preverbal babies able to sign “milk” or “tired” be a very valuable thing.) Little stuffed dogs and cats were lined up on the floor of the roomy studio in preparation for our lesson. Fogel showed pictures of dogs and cats and demonstrated the signs for dog (a double slap on the thigh) and cat (fingers swept across the cheeks like whiskers), and had us practice with our babies while saying the words. She offered attention-getting tips such as doing the sign on the stuffed animal or your child, or making the animal sounds while signing. All good stuff, but at this point of the class most of the little ones were more interested in mouthing the stuffed animals, or crawling or tottering over to the mirrored wall.
Next Fogel, who always kept things upbeat and lively, led the class through some songs with signs inserted. The babies seemed to pay more attention and really enjoy this aspect of the class. Fogel then brought out some instruments for more noisy play and songs. The 1-hour length of the class was just right.
Another very helpful component of the class is that Fogel sends out an email that recaps topics discussed in each week’s class, lyrics to songs sung and video links to all the signs covered, so parents can continue working on signs at home, especially if (like me) they only have the bandwidth to remember two of 10-plus signs learned at each class. It’s also a nice way to involve another parent who is working and can’t make the class.
While I didn’t keep up practicing signing with Cruz, I felt our time at Tiny Talkers was well spent. It felt very similar to the fun, easy vibe at Multnomah County Library’s Book Babies sessions — but with signs actually being taught. So I’m with the American Academy of Pediatrics stance on baby signing, which is that any time spent having fun and interacting with your baby is a good thing.
Before You Go
Tiny Talkers Sign, Sing & Play class is for ages 9 months to 2½ years, $75 for a five-week session. Classes are held: Mondays 10:45 am at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, 2036 SE Jefferson St., Milwaukie; Thursdays 9:45 am and 4:45 pm at Tabor Space, 5441 SE Belmont. Send an email to email@example.com for information about session registration, and drop-in and caregiver classes.
Let Your Fingers Do the Talking
More parent-baby sign language classes in the Portland area:
Portland Early Learning Project offers a variety of baby sign language classes. You can even book in-home sessions with a group of friends.
Westside Baby Sign Language’s all-ages drop-in classes meet twice a week at the Upper Westside Play Gym. And you can go early or stay late for the baby open play. 503-381-7626.