Signs of Intelligence


By Jenna Land
Published in the January/February 2003 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Once Dr. Spock had all the answers a parent could want, and indeed his 1946 classic Baby and Child Care is still a perennial seller. But we’ve progressed a good deal since 1946, and today a budding generation of hyper-attentive young parents is clamoring for tools to help them raise their young.

Nancy signing “eat” with a recent graduate of one of her baby sign language classes.

Seattle-based infant sign language and communication expert Nancy Hanauer has unwittingly benefited from this trend-and the recent baby boom-with her program Signing With Your Baby. Hanauer was inspired by the work of Bellingham author and child development expert Joseph Garcia, who launched a regimen of sign language for babies with normal hearing to help them communicate with their parents before speaking age. Hanauer uses her experience from working with deaf and special-education children, as well as a mix of Garcia’s teachings, to instruct parents on how to communicate through simple signs.

Three days after advertising her first class in September, 2000, it was full, and Hanauer realized she had a winner. “In other parts of the country, signing with your baby is not nearly as popular as it is in Seattle,” she says. “Parents are far more progressive out here, much better read. There’s a different idea about kids and families.” Enthusiasm is growing. Her first two years, Hanauer taught 200 families; in the past two months, she’s taught 100.

Classes are one hour a week for four weeks. Signs such as “milk,” “more” and “bed” are taught, and babies typically start signing back after four to eight weeks of practice (Hanauer recommends the class for infants at least 5 months old). There are certainly naysayers who think parents are trying to push their babies too fast, Hanauer admits. But the proof is in the results, she adds. “People are saying, this is going to help my child’s development, but they are also realizing it’s cutting down on their baby’s frustration.” Instead of throwing a temper tantrum, when a baby wants to go to bed, he can calmly make the sign to express his need. Dr. Spock never taught that!

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