Sign language for babies: Grant helps teacher reach 200 families | SierraSun.com

Sign language for babies: Grant helps teacher reach 200 families

Alisha Wyman

Chris Otto hopes to make “communication strides” by teaching sign language to families and their pre-verbal babies.

With a grant from First 5 Nevada County Children and Families First Commission, Chris Otto can now offer her services to families who can’t afford the baby sign language class.

“I’m very grateful for this grant obviously, because I’d like to be able to teach it in every home,” said Otto, a baby sign language specialist who began her own business, Sign with Kinders, in Truckee. “I wish I would have had it when my kids where babies.”

About a month after she started Sign with Kinders in January, she applied for a grant with First 5 Nevada County. They told her she will receive $1,000 for her program on July 1. The money she is waiting to receive will cover the cost of classes for 200 families.

Baby sign language is a technique that began 14 years ago, and research shows it helps babies speak earlier, avoid frustration, have a higher IQ and develop a deeper bond with their parents, Otto said.

She teaches three basic signs first-one requesting milk, one meaning “more,” and one for food. When a parent repeatedly uses these signs while doing the action, a baby will begin to learn itself. Seeing a baby sign for the first time is an amazing experience, Otto said.

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“You can see their eyes light up like they’re thinking a million things,” she said.

It’s the chance for a baby to communicate with their parents before they can speak, instead of crying. When a baby can express what they are thinking, they are more content and trusting.

“A trusting child is one that is more susceptible for learning,” she said. They also grow better when they can convey their thoughts and wants.

Sign language promotes the growth and connection of dendrites, or connection points between brain cells, Otto said. When the hands and feet cross the body, it uses the left and right sides of the brain. This promotes growth and stimulates the dendrites.

Brain development begins at conception and is 90 percent complete by age 3. This is why baby sign language at an early age is valuable, she said.

Otto began her own research after she observed a baby sign language class at the University of Reno. She wanted to validate that it worked, so she began reading about studies and talking to people who use the technique.

She was amazed at watching babies communicate with the teachers, something that at first resembled telepathy, she said. When she noted that there were no classes for the parents themselves, she decided to provide her own.

Since then, she has taught more than 50 families. With one lesson of about one hour to an hour and a half, parents learn 50 signs and can begin communicating with their baby. It’s like being “turned onto their world,” she said.

“[Babies] are a lot more aware then we ever believed.”