Saturday, February 26, 2011

Natural Baby Pros Interviews me for Practicioner Spotlight

1. What is your relationship to fertility, pregnancy, birth, and/or mommy/baby care, and how does your work relate to it?

I educate parents on how to effectively communicate with their baby using baby sign language, or as I like to say help parents "Discover what your baby is thinking!" Simply learning the signs to teach your baby is not enough because as most of us are aware, adults and babies learn differently and my role is to advise and coach both in our fun learning environment.

2. What inspired you to do the work you do?

While I took a leave of absence in my daughter's first year of life I would gather with our playgroup and I'd share with the other moms how to sign with their babies. Upon returning to my corporate job, I was pregnant again. Everyone joked that I had left this way... and asked if I'd planned to have another so soon because I was known as quite the planner. My response to that is that greater plans were laid out for me, wink.

Amberly was 17 months old when Kyle was born, and it was a rocky start. With a short 2 months to bond with him and exhausting all "eligible leave" on the books I struggled with the out of balance feeling daily. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and did not know enough about how to find holistic alternatives to the medicine that was prescribed. I was at a loss for resources when I told my doctor I did not want to take the medicine and little else was offered.

Driving to work one day I called my husband crying. He told me not to go to work, call them and resign and go home. I'd never done that before, quit a job without having another lined up, that sounded scary. I went to work then came home, had a long discussion with my husband where he encouraged me to do some soul searching and not work for a paycheck but to do work that fulfilled me.... and probably then it would be less painful to leave the kids behind.

In my soul searching I had two main ideas, create a baby shower gift basket company or teach baby sign language. I'd been approached by moms about creating gift basket as the gifts I chose were things that really helpful them, you know the kind, gripe water, teething tablets, Dr. Karp's Happiest Baby on the Block or Dr. Sear's The Baby Book. What drew me to decide on teaching baby sign language was the long lasting impact I could make on people's lives.

So often I attribute my inspiration to start Sign4Baby came from my children, and in part that is true, but the push to be inspired came from my husband Cory... and the fact that he is still a partner in the juggling act of being a work at home mom is pretty incredible.

3. What is the most important thing a pregnant woman or a woman trying to conceive should know about her body, giving birth, and caring for herself and her baby, based on your personal and professional experience?

Trust your instincts and realize that planning is great, but sometimes plans change and to be open to that. I hope to be able to share my birth story in the future, but one thing I tell moms that helped me achieve a natural birth was not being rigid in the plan. That sense of "flow" (even though parts are chaotic at times) is really needed and occurs when you're open to it. I'm laughing now because I'm thinking of Disney's Special Agent Oso "It's all part of the plan... more or less!"

4. What is your biggest obstacle in supporting pregnant or trying-to-conceive women and/or babies?

Oh, there's a whole list of challenges, but I'm learning to see obstacles as a way to create a solution. As a new business owner it was getting the word out to moms about the service I offered, I knew that if enough moms just knew what it was I offered and how much their day to day life would be altered from my education that they'd be seeking my services instead of me seeking families to serve. That's why I keep saying I wished Natural Baby Pros existed earlier, not just for families to find my service, but for the resources I so desperately needed with all my questions pertaining to health. Overall, creating awareness on your own is time consuming, which is why I so value word of mouth referrals... and as you can see they are abundant now.

5. Tell me your best success story.

Easy. I was still pregnant with Owen and my due date was was just a few weeks away. An email came through for a private in home lesson with a little girl about 16 months old, Grace. She is blind. Mom was at a loss for how to reduce everyone's frustration, especially at snack and meal time and she sought my services. At first I was unsure if I should take this client as I didn't have a specialization in helping families with special needs. I'd read something about doubt and procrastination stemming from fear, and decided I would at least try to help this family, that the worst case scenario is that they ask for a refund and I'd have donated my time in researching this scenario and I could in fact learn a lot from it.

Shortly after I arrived and we'd reviewed only a few signs with mom and caregiver it was apparent Grace was hungry. Because this was the area they were experiencing the most frustration it was great for me to observe and help, which is a key factor in the one-on-one private lesson. Grace's frustration was greater than what most of us moms experience with picky eaters. Even without words, a toddler who can see is able to point and identify what they would like when options are presented. I stepped in and showed Grace the signs for all the foods that were on her high chair tray. After a few tries at this the frustration diminished and Grace was showing us the signs for all her favorite snack foods! Snack time was over and we observed a happy playful Grace exploring the living room. I'd been there less than 20 minutes and Julie announced "It's already worth every penny I paid you!" By the time I left Grace had shown us 5 signs, and her family was armed with lots of useful scenarios in which to practice their signs. Not only did Julie continue on to bring Grace to a 6 week class with me, when Grace's little sister was ready for a class, Julie hosted a few of my classes at her home.

I took a risk, did a little extra work, believed in myself, and what do you know... it paid off!

Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their pre-verbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching tool for toddlers. Want to know which signs most parents start with but gets them stuck in the mud? I'll send you that hundred dollar tip for FREE.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Signing Story Time is Nourishing Baby's Brain

How many times have you heard that children are like sponges, soaking up all that’s around them? You’ve probably also heard that you should read to your children daily. Twenty minutes a day is like exercise for the brain. It makes sense, we want to enhance their language acquisition, provide them with tools for learning, give them a head start in school, and all the other things that go hand in hand with having a healthy well adjusted, love-to-learn kid. Did you know you can make an even bigger impact during story time by signing words from the story to your child? It’s true. While babies and toddlers may not recognize words or letters on paper, they can easily identify the symbolic sign for various objects and activities.

Research is showing that signing in the classroom is making learning to read easier. If we can engage a child in more than one of the learning styles, they experience greater success in learning. The left side of the brain is the language center, while the right side of the brain is visual based. When parents speak as they sign, both sides of the brain are activated to learn. (Marilyn Daniels – Dancing with Words)

A good story time program will engage the audience using all four main learning styles; visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. Visual learners will enjoy both illustrations and photograph images in books, felt boards or puppets to help tell a story, and signing key words to talk about the book. Not only is signing a visual language, it promotes eye contact and draws a longer attention span. Auditory learners enjoy music, singing and chanting and benefit from the inflection and tone of the story teller’s voice. Speaking the words you sign with your baby are just as important as the words you read aloud from a book, it is building an auditory association to the sound and symbol. Kinesthetic learners love participatory story times where they are invited to clap hands, get up to dance, or bring a toy that corresponds to the theme of the story time. Signing is not only using the hands, a lot of facial expression and body language are incorporated to fully convey a message. Tactile learners love the ability to participate in telling the story with sign language. Finger plays such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” have been made popular with gestures that children like to mimic.

The following tips can be applied to reading and signing, coupled together you’ll feed your baby’s hungry brain.

1. Repetition. Children benefit from reading the same book again and again as they become familiar with sequencing, they love being able to predict what comes next in the story and being correct.
2. Establish a routine. Reading a book before bed or naptime is a great way for a baby to wind down.
3. Make it fun. If your toddler wants to flip through the pages quickly to find their favorite page, go ahead and spend time talking about what interests them most.
4. Encourage participation. Pointing, page turning, and talking about the book, not just the written words are all great ways for a baby to begin the lifelong love of reading.
5. Be creative. When you find new ways to tell the same story it not only keeps your child engaged, it keeps you engaged as well.

1. Repetition. Signing a word over and over again helps a baby pick up the meaning of the sign, much the way we repeat words when using parantese with babies (the high pitched sing song repetition of words caregivers use when speaking to babies).
2. Establish a routine. Once you’ve begun signing in the context of reading books, or any other situation, continue to do so and your child will pick the signs up quickly.
3. Make it fun. Try signing when you’re laughing and playing, your baby takes note of what you’re doing and is encouraged to chime in.
4. Encourage participation. Asking your baby to show you the sign is great practice to build up to initiating conversation.
5. Be creative. A novel game is one of the greatest signing opportunities. One of our favorites is This Little Piggy, signing pig each time you wiggle each little toe, and of course making a great pig snort or squeal!

Take the traditional well known preschool finger plays a step farther and learn the signs for words that are important to your child, Soon your child will have the building blocks for literacy and the confidence necessary to further describe their thoughts and feelings.

This article was originally submitted and published in My Hometown Feb 2011 pg 21.

Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their pre-verbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching tool for toddlers. Want to know which signs most parents start with but gets them stuck in the mud? I'll send you that hundred dollar tip for FREE.