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Parents, teachers learn how to use sign language to communicate with toddlers

Sign Lauange Class

A room of expectant mothers, child care providers and local teachers raised their hands to their chins for feminine and their foreheads for masculine. They pressed their right thumbs into their middle fingers to make a “K,” so as not to be confused with a “V.”

In just over an hour, the group of 12 people were walked through how to make about 100 signs in American Sign Language to communicate with the youngsters who fill or will soon fill their lives.

Walkersville Public Library hosted the “Signing With Young Children” workshop Tuesday evening. Cheri Dowling, coordinator of the Maryland School for the Deaf Family Support and Resource Center, led the presentation about the benefits of signing with children as young as a few months old.

“Your baby is trying to tell you something,” Dowling said. “From the time they are born, they are trying to talk to us.”

Children who can sign can avoid some of the frustration of not being able to communicate with adults about what they want or need, Dowling said. The language promotes parent-child interaction, too. What a toddler can absorb and communicate is amazing, Dowling said.

Seated in the second row, and flanked by two soon-to-be grandmothers, Kerri Skroupa followed Dowling’s presentation of the basic signs, such as colors, numbers and basic foods. Skroupa, a Parkway Elementary School teacher, is expecting her baby in August.

The Ellicott City resident said she is excited to communicate with her child earlier than what is possible with speech.

“They can communicate before they can talk,” she said. “And for me in the classroom, it can help.”

Skroupa has had deaf children in her class before but none this academic year. While the deaf students have an interpreter, Skroupa said she would like to be able to communicate directly with the students.

Karen Skroupa, one of the future grandmothers, said she had heard about young children signing before attending the workshop.