Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baby Signs

Earlier this week I blogged about sign language and Deaf children. Today I want to follow up with a post about using American Sign Language (ASL) with hearing kids.

When my daughter was born we had three Deaf foster kids and signed all the time in our home. She started making up her own signs when she was about five months old and soon learned to use real ones. Once she realized she could get what she wanted by communicating her needs and wishes she was motivated to learn to talk as well, and by the time she was a year old she had a vocabulary of about 30 words and signs. By 18 months she could communicate - and understand - just about anything. And being bi-lingual made it easy for her to learn a third language when she was older.

Since it's easier for babies to control the muscles in their hands than the ones in their mouths they can learn to sign sooner than they can learn to speak.


The "Baby Signs" books, videos, etc. are often not real ASL and many Deaf people find them insulting.

Nobody would make up sounds and call them "Baby Spanish" or "Baby German." Parents might copy their own child's baby talk or simplify the pronunciation of certain words, but they would also use the real vocabulary and pronunciation of their own language in the presence of the baby. And parents seldom try to teach their little ones to use the same baby talk as other people's kids.

Anyone who wants to use ASL with a baby can find the real signs in several locations. One online resource showing specific signs in a video dictionary is ASL Pro .

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What If...?

What if you had a baby and discovered it had a neurological condition that meant the only language it would ever be able to learn was Mandarin Chinese? If you lived in China or already knew that language it wouldn't be much of a problem. But if you lived in the US, Canada, or western Europe and didn't know that language what would you do?

Would you forbid your child to use it, hoping the diagnosis was wrong? Or would you do everything possible to learn Mandarin yourself and find situations where your little one could interact with others who use that language?

If you were a smart and loving parent of course you would choose the second option.

Not too long ago that's the sort of choice parents had to make when they learned their children were couldn't hear. For a long time the philosophy was that forbidding deaf children to use Sign Language would motivate them to learn to speak and read lips.

A hundred years ago when lots of kids lost their hearing due to infections and diseases after they had already been hearing and perhaps using spoken language that approach might have worked for some of them. But by the mid twentieth century medical advances had made it very rare for people to loose their hearing for those reasons.

Instead, most deaf children were born that way because of prenatal damage and forbidding them to learn Sign Language meant they would have no exposure to language at all. Of course some deafness is hereditary, but kids from Deaf families would learn to sign from their parents.

When I started working at California School for the Deaf in the 1960s I was one of the first people who knew American Sign Language who was allowed to work with the young children. At first the kids who were not from Deaf families had tantrums all the time, but as soon as they learned to sign the tantrums stopped.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lessons for Kids

When I was a kid (longer ago than I want to say) some kids took music lessons and girls might have dancing lessons. Lots of us belonged to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Campfire Girls. Religious classes and activities also took up some time.  There were no organized sports or after school child care and even most of us whose mothers worked outside the home were cared for by relatives or neighbors. Of course we had chores to do, but homework in grade school was mainly studying for tests or finishing something we hadn't done in school and seldom took much time.

All those things only took a few hours a week and once school was out kids were free to go out and play.

Lots of the activities kids participate in today are good for them.  Learning things like how to play an instrument and being physically active in sports will benefit them in the long run.

But it's too bad today's children can't ever play without adult supervision. We used to use our imagination and pretend while we played until we were ten or eleven years old. Now most kids stop that sort of play by the time they're in first grade and only escape into imaginary worlds by playing video games. 

But there's one way kids can still exercise the creative part of their minds; they can read. Once kids can read fluently books can take them anywhere and they're much more likely to become good readers if adults read to them a lot. And even older kids can participate in family times when a book is read aloud and shared by everyone.

So if you have kids please, please, find time to read to them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Riley's Heart Machine

Anyone who knows me is aware that I care a lot about kids with special needs and want to help anyone who is different to feel accepted. It's no surprise that I absolutely loved Riley's Heart Machine by Lori M. Jones.

This charming picture book is about a girl who has always kept her difference a secret from her friends, but she finally dares to share about her pacemaker at a show and tell time in her class. To her surprise the other kids find the "heart machine" and the story of how she got it fascinating.

I'm sure lots of kids who feel different for various reasons will find this picture book inspiring and it may even help kids who don't feel different (if there are any kids like that) to be more accepting of those who do.

The illustrations by Julie Hammond add to the charm of the book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Here in the USA as the Presidential Election approaches the news is full of politics.

I wish I had a bumper sticker that said "If you don't vote, don't gripe" because lots of people who complain all the time don't bother to vote.

Does voting by ordinary citizens really make a difference? Well, maybe only a very small one, but it's certainly more likely to influence how things are done than not voting.

Unfortunately almost nobody in a high political office is likely to vote for anything that offends the people who finance their campaigns. It would be nice if campaign donations were illegal and the government provided equal amounts for all candidates to notify the public of their qualifications and stands on political issues. But since the people who could make that happen benefit from the way things are now, that probably won't change.

I understand in Canada they have three major political parties instead of two so if there's a split the third party always breaks the tie.  Maybe someday in the US a third party will become equal to the two major ones, but that's not likely to happen in the near future.

Since there's no mention of political parties in the Constitution maybe it should be illegal for Congress to differentiate between them but, again, the people who have the authority to let that happen would be opposed to it so it won't be allowed.

Yes, our system is flawed in many ways, but ordinary citizens do have a voice and can make a difference in the world if we let our opinions be heard, and voting is one way we can do that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wilderness Warriors

Like many kids today, Tyler and Caitlin were getting into a lot of trouble. And I mean a LOT!

 But their parents had an idea of a way to change their behavior and attitudes and the kids didn't know what it was.

They found out the hard way when their family moved into the wilderness, but would that help to change the kids' attitudes or only make things worse?

I don't want to spoil things by giving away too much of the plot, but I will say this is an exciting book. It's also extremely realistic since it's based on things that actually happened to the author Colleen L. Reece, and to a family she knew.

Kids who read this novel will be carried away into the adventures and I hope they'll also learn about the meaning of courage. As Tyler and Caitlin's Dad said, "Chickens are people who are so afraid of what others think they just go along with the crowd."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Signs of Trouble

I don't often post things about my own books because I don't want to be a bragger. But I've recently been in some Special Ed classes at local schools and was reminded why I wrote Signs of Trouble. It's about kids on a field trip who get separated from their Special Education class and use what they've learned about recognizing signs and following safety rules to get reunited with them.

Many years ago I worked as an aide in a Special Ed class that took similar field trips and later I took my preschool students on similar trips. Of course no kids ever got separated from us in real life.

The educational activities in the back would be useful for teachers of kids with various special needs and any young children because it helps them learn how to stay safe and develop beginning reading skills. It would also help children who don't have special needs learn to understand those who do.

And when I've read it aloud the laughter and other reactions show the story is enjoyable.

Local bookstores can order Signs of Trouble, it's available at the usual online stores and can be ordered from the publisher at

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

R.O.V.-R the Undersea Explorer

R.O.V.-R the Undersea Explorer is a picture book that will appeal to parents, teachers, and kids. Lots of young boys will especially enjoy it because many of them tend to love mechanical things and science.

The story is told by a Remote Operated Vehicle (R.O.V.) who goes under seas to explore things and send information back to his human on a ship. In this book he gets to examine the Bimini Road under the Atlantic Ocean near Florida.

Kids will learn a lot about that fascinating site and how scientists study it, and they won't find the information boring since it's told by a life-like character. Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a grown-up but I learned some new information from the book and enjoyed reading it myself.

Of course Kevin Collier's illustrations portray the story perfectly since he both wrote and illustrated it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

They Used to Last

Way back in ancient history when I was a kid if someone bought a major appliance, such as a stove, washing machine, or refrigerator, they assumed it would last for the rest of their lives and they were often right. Smaller things like irons, electric mixers, toasters, phonographs, and electric hand tools were expected to last forever, too. And when people bought a new car they thought it would probably last for for fifteen or twenty years if they took good care of it.

Sometimes people who could afford it would buy newer versions of things because they had features the old ones lacked, but that wasn't a necessity.

Now we're lucky if things can be used for a fraction of the time they once were. That phone from 2000? A ten year old computer? Toss them as e-waste! Even major appliances wear out far sooner than they used to.

Some of the need to buy new things is because of technological advances that keep older things from working, but even some of those changes aren't improvements. Others are legally required because of energy efficiency. And household items don't need a lot of fancy features. But many things are just changed because of planned obsolescence. That helps manufacturers make money, but it's sure hard on individuals, especially in this present economy.