I: What drove you to design WBTH the way you have?
M: For many people, learning a new language can be very challenging. Having experienced the overwhelmingly daunting nature of being the mother of a new baby, I wanted to give moms, dads, grandparents, and others an easy way to learn and share signs with their little ones. Children (even us grown-up children) learn best through stories. I designed the Words by the Handful books to incorporate signing into a fun story that can be read over and over. Words by the Handful is also a philosophy of signing and teaching for me. Start with a handful of signs – a few can make a big difference. Then add signs as you go along and as your child gets the hang of it. It’s a lot less daunting than thinking you have to master an entire language while learning what to do with a new baby.
I: Your credentials are extensive and compliment your focus inherently. Can you think of one experience that developed you most for your work? (i.e in school, as a mom, in corporate America, with The Motherhood Center, etc)
M: I have had the extreme good fortune to travel and live in parts of the world such as Europe, Africa, and Asia. I have seen some amazing sights and met very interesting people. I know what it’s like arrive in a strange place where I don’t speak the language. It’s hard to ask questions, learn and understand new things, or even share the wonder of joy in seeing something new and beautiful. I think babies experience something like this as they take in the world, but can’t talk or ask about it until sometime in their second year. Signs give them a way to interact more successfully at an earlier age.
I: How many books are in your series and where can parents find them?
M: The Words by the Handful Series has four sturdy board books: Milk and More, Book and Bed, Boat and Bath, and Baby and Bunny. They are available through my website: www.wordsbythehandful.com (signed and dedicated, if desired) as well as through local retailers and Amazon.com.
I: What other sign language support can parents look forward to after purchasing your work?
M: In addition to my books, I have also produced Instructional Cards. Five sets of 10 signs each feature key words (some of which are in the books, some of which are not) demonstrated by a child. The word is written above the photo, and a description of how to do the sign appears below (all in comic sans, the font preferred in early education settings). The cards are also available on my website.
My website features 80 words (and growing) with descriptions, as well as general information on signing with babies, benefits, and frequently asked questions. Www.wordsbythehandful.com
For parents interested in classes, I have ongoing classes at The Motherhood Center. Fall session will begin on September 11, 2012. Details and registration are here (http://www.motherhoodcenter.com/words-by-the-handful-baby-sign-language).
Special presentations are available for preschools and school groups by request. I provide teacher training at conferences and workshops, and at raining programs for preschools and day cares. I love helping people bring signs into their lives!
I: Have you worked with “special education” groups before and what was your experience?
M: Children with developmental challenges often have language difficulties. Sign language can be extremely helpful throughout the early years and beyond for these children and their families. I frequently get calls and inquiries from parents and professionals working with special education children. I advise them on signing options and provide resources to help them bring signs into their efforts. I am proud of my work with the therapists at Houston’s Neurodevelopmental Therapy Services (http://www.ntstherapy.com) , who use signing with excellent success with many of their clients. Research confirms that sign language helps bridge communication before speech for special needs children in a very effective way.
I: What message, if any, do you have for homeschooling parents?
M: Using American Sign Language with babies and toddlers is a natural fit for homeschooling parents. Creating a rich language environment is one of the most important things we can do for our children’s vocabulary and communication skills. The Words by the Handful Stories are an easy, fun, and family-friendly way to enrich every child’s language environment at a very early age, and encourage practice reading for early readers with the signs providing links to pivotal words in the stories.
I: Are there any events upcoming that the Imagiread readers should know about?
M: I will be offering training at the Presbyterian Weekdays Ministries Conference for preschool teachers in early August. This is one of several great teacher training opportunities in which I participate throughout the year. I’m working on a calendar of events for the fall which may include a free demonstration class, so follow me on Facebook( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Words-by-the-Handful/108779119145433), or check my website (http://www.wordsbythehandful.com/blog/?page_id=540) for news on upcoming events.
I: What would you say to the student or parent who struggles with communicating effectively? What tools would you recommend for them if any?
M: Communication is skill. To do it well, you have to develop the ‘muscles’ required, strengthen them, and use them on a regular basis so you don’t lose that capacity. The ‘muscles’ of communication include the vocal muscles that make the sounds, and the vocabulary and the mental muscles of acquiring the knowledge related to the subjects about which you want to communicate. You also have to work on the emotional and psychological muscles of knowing that when you prepare well and give it your best effort, that’s good enough. Talk, read, learn, practice, take a deep breath, and communicate! The more you do it, the better you’ll get.