A baby's first word is an exciting and rewarding moment for any parent.
But mothers like Regina Biesinger know that their child's first word doesn't always need to be spoken.
Biesbinger began teaching her son sign language when he was just 5 months old. When he started signing back to her at around 8 or 9 months - before he spoke his first words - she wanted all parents of young children to realize that they don't have to wait for their children to talk to share the bond of communication with them.
Signing Times instructor Regina Biesinger signs the word “crocodile” to toddlers at Penn-Mont Academy in Hollidaysburg during a signing class. Children are (from left) Tegan Sunderland, Lilyanna Weakland and Neil Ake.
"The little light will go off in their head, and they'll look at you like, 'Oh, you know what I mean. You know what I want,'" Biesinger of Hollidaysburg said. "And when you sign with them, they'll just be so engaged with you and they'll get it."
This realization prompted Biesinger to make a career switch from being a flight attendant to a master Signing Time instructor. She now provides classes for babies and toddlers at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, at the Creative Kids Education Center and at Penn-Mont Academy, all in Hollidaysburg.
Biesinger said she enjoys sharing sign language with children, as well as relaying the benefits of learning the language to parents.
Any parents or educators interested in private lessons or group classes in sign language and baby signing, contact Regina Biesbinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also will give a free "Sign and show" to introduce the program to anyone interested at 10:15 a.m. Friday in the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library.
"When you do sign language, you're giving a visual to what the word is, so it sticks," she said. "If there are kids that are visual learners or textile learners, they're seeing it, they're hearing it and they're signing it. A lot of times, words look like what you're signing. So it sticks, and kids learn so much, they're little sponges."
Biesinger was certified to teach sign language and baby signing through Signing Time. The company was started 10 years ago by Rachel Coleman, a mother and folk singer who did not want the fact that her daughter was born deaf to detract from her ability to communicate with friends, family and schoolmates. Coleman and her sister made a video to help teach hearing adults and children how to sign by using engaging visuals and songs. But when she realized the benefits that signing could provide for any child, Signing Time took off, and now offers dozens of DVDs, books, flashcards and other educational products.
"It's been such an amazing journey and such a wonderful surprise how many children and how many families we've been able to make a difference for," Coleman said in a phone interview from her home in Utah.
According to a study by Claire Vallotton, Ph.D., a professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., learning to sign can be an important resource for children with special needs, including dyslexia, language impairments, Down's syndrome and autism. The verbal IQ's of the signing children were 12 points higher on average than their non-signing peers.
Biesinger believes that signing is what helped virtually eliminate the "terrible twos" for both of her children because increased communication leads to less frustration and temper tantrums.
"There are just so many benefits to signing," she said.
Joanne Prasad, 42, of Hollidaysburg had heard of baby signing and decided to take a class with Biesinger at Penn-Mont this past summer when her son, Lucas, was a year old. Though they didn't keep up with signing when he started talking shortly thereafter, Prasad said she could see that signing with children had its benefits.
"You can see that they can understand things more than they can express themselves at that age, so it was a good experience for both of us," she said. "It is a means of communication, and an effective means of communication."
For parents who may think that they may not have enough time to learn a new language themselves, Biesinger said starting out with a few simple signs like "milk," "more" and "eat" are easy and effective.
"Once they get one, you will be amazed at how quickly it snowballs," she said.
Coleman said her 13-month-old niece knows 25 signs, but she doesn't speak more than two words.
"That's all she says verbally because she's barely a year old, but she's got 25 other things she can say," Coleman said.
And though using Signing Time instructors or products can effectively teach children sign language on its own, Coleman said it doesn't work unless kids and parents sit down, face each other and learn together.
"So, if you're planning on just plopping your kid down in front of it, they'll learn sign language, but you won't have less frustration because you won't know what they're saying," Coleman said. "So it's really a family activity. ... The bond and communication that occurs, my gosh, the bond is so sweet. You get that your child trusts you and wants you to understand them."
Biesinger said she hopes using Signing Time can help parents realize that no matter who or how old their child is, all it takes is a little more of their time to build on that bond of communication.
"For anyone who invests the time in their children, they will get a great reward from it," she said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.