Sign With Me
Video Review by Chris Wixtrom © 1997
Sign With Me: A Family Sign Language Curriculum (Vol. 1 and 2)
(Each volume includes a video and a workbook)
by Mary Pat Moeller, M.S., and Brenda Schick, Ph.D.
Published by The Center for Hearing Loss in Children
1993, Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE
Created specifically for hearing parents of deaf infants and toddlers, this video and workbook series delivers exactly what it promises: support for parents in communication development with their deaf babies and children. The tone is gentle and persuasive, the philosophy is positive and upbeat, and the content is clear, practical, and well-presented.
Statistically, most deaf children are born to hearing parents. These parents, upon diagnosis of their baby's deafness, may experience emotional tidal waves of shock, confusion and fear about the child's future. Facing the challenge of learning a new language is usually difficult for adults, but may seem even more difficult for parents who are overwhelmed with concerns about their child. However, given that early development of communication skills provides the best avenue for deaf children's educational success, something must be done right away, whether or not the parents feel "ready." This teaching series is exemplary, beginning with a very positive picture of successful communication: the video shows a happy hearing mother and cheerful deaf child signing together as they walk along a pleasant pathway. The program continues with very simple, practical communication exercises. The attitude of acceptance and the developmentally appropriate suggestions for beginning dialogues with deaf children meets the parents' needs for reassurance, support, and concise information in these early days. The series guides parents in developing a strong root system of responsive non-verbal communication which will surely flower into successful language acquisition for children and parents together.
The sign lessons include vocabulary (over 200 signs) and concepts which are important to families with babies and children. Attention is given to the needs of families which include older hearing siblings of the deaf baby. There are teaching activities designed to draw these older siblings into the circle of sign communication.
Sign controversies (such as whether to use ASL or English, and whether to use sign only, or to combine sign and speech) are minimized. As the program is available in both ASL and Signed English, those who have decided on one or the other can select that version, and those who are undecided might want to look at both. Parents are led to make choices which are comfortable for them: "Many people like to speak while they sign. Other people find that speaking interferes with their signing ...You can decide with your child's teacher if you want to speak and sign with your own child."
A variety of signers are shown on the videos, including both male and female, adult and child signers. Signs are demonstrated in citation form, (called "plain" or "basic" signs) and with many variations expressing plurality, size and shape distinctions, direction of movement, subject/object information, intensity of feelings, and other contextual differences. Using the videos and workbooks, parents can check their comprehension with simple evaluative exercises. Also built into the workbooks are exercises and descriptions of parenting behaviors ("tools") which are designed to expand the length and complexity of expressive communication. Parents are reminded that they sign to children in ways that promote language learning, which is appropriate, but adult signers use different conversational styles. The parents are encouraged to add adult-style signing to their repertoire as they continue learning, and to socialize with deaf adults.
Any parent of young children could benefit from this program, whether that parent is hearing or deaf, knows no sign or is fluent in sign language, has children who are deaf or children who are hearing, because Sign With Me provides so much supportive information about the process of promoting language development. Since sign language communication may facilitate parent-child communication for both hearing and deaf babies and toddlers, I would recommend this program to all parents of young children. A personal anecdote may illustrate. I used sign language with my oldest daughter, who is hearing. She was born 11 weeks early and spent three months in the NICU. From the time she came home, I signed and spoke with her. By 18 months, she had a vocabulary of several hundred signs, and was speaking well, too. As she learned to voice more clearly, she eventually dropped the signs, but amazed everyone with her advanced spoken language development. I believe this experience with sign language developed her visual acuity and helped her gain an early facility with printed materials. She taught herself to read at age four, and could easily read any book in the house by age five.
Sign With Me can be used by any family with a working VCR, right in the home. Time devoted to the material in Sign With Me will prove a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in furthering communication skills.