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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Signing Time--New Baby Signing Time Videos, but No Longer on PBS

As everyone who reads this blog knows, we're big, big fans of Signing Time. The work that Rachel Coleman (and her entire family) have done is fabulous. Rachel is an inspiration to me and Sharon; when she learned that her daughter Leah was deaf, instead of accepting that Leah would be shut out from communicating with her peers, Rachel and her sister Emilie responded by teaching Leah and Alex sign. But this--which alone was great--was not enough. Rachel and her family decided to bring signing to all families--those whose members were typically developing and those whose members had various special needs--in a way that was fun, friendly, and educational.

We've seen how powerful Rachel's enterprise is first hand. If you scroll back into our archives, you will note that Hallie used no words consistently and babbled only very infrequently until some time this past spring/summer. She was nearly 2 years old and had already been in speech therapy for more than a year. We had taught her a couple of signs on our own (more, all done, and book) but we had no way of communicating with our charming, adorable, and clearly very bright little girl (her receptive speech was well above average).

Signing Time changed all that. First Hallie learned dozens of signs. Then, this summer, she learned dozens of words. And then, to our amazement, Hallie learned the entire alphabet -- both in English characters and in sign. She can identify all of the upper case letters, most of the lower case ones, and all of the signed ones.

We are amazed, and if we had to do it all over again (wait...we DO get to do this again, we hope, this winter when our hopefully-full-term little baby girl arrives!!!), we'd start even earlier. I know that there has been a lot of research about television/videos being detrimental to kids' development. But my own sense (as an educator and as a parent) is that this very much depends on what you expose your kids to, and how you view these visual materials. We never just plop Hallie down in front of a video and ignore her (at least not too much--just for bathroom breaks and to get her lunch). We watchthem with her and we interactwith the materials. Sharon and I have learned to sign along with Hallie and this has been a great help because, even though she is saying words at this point, she is still speech delayed (probably at the 18 month level, but she's 27 months old) and has trouble with articulation. Knowing sign, signing to her, and setting up a framework of communication still helps us meet her needs and helps avoid excessive frustration and the horrible tantrums that accompany the terrible twos.

Anyway, we can't recommend these videos enough, and many of our friends with full-term children (some who are speech delayed and some who are right on target) agree. Kids love to watch other kids and they learn from them; the songs are catchy; and the videos are charming. What's not to love?

And now there are some new additions to baby signing time--the previews are below.

But, on a sobering note, sadly, Rachel has had to pull Signing Time from PBS because it's too expensive to air these videos without sponsorship (public television, like so much else, has been gutted as far as funding is concerned over the past eight years). This is deeply troubling to me, because that means that only those of us with extra resources (and that is a shrinking number of folks in this economy) will be able to get access to Signing Time for our kids. I talk about Signing Time a lot with our OT and ST and our OT has recommended the series to several of the parents of children with whom she works. We live in a city, and a lot of the kids that Jenine handles on her caseload are super poor. Their families don't have money for toys, they don't have computers with which to order things on the internet, and their kids are missing out. Signing Time on PBS was one way they could get access to a resource that really does help.

That Rachel has been forced to pull Signing Time from public television will further widen the division between haves and have-nots in our country, which strikes me as so very very wrong. Helping poor families gain access to resources and helping kids whose parents' educational level is something that all of us should get behind. This will make for a stronger, better, more united country with a stronger, better, more educated youth.

I don't blame Rachel; I blame the lack of federal funding for birth-to-three programs. The ideal would be to restore funding levels for these programs to a proper level and for our society as a whole to commit to making good resources accessible to all. But a second best would be to secure sponsorship for Signing Time to restore the series to PBS. So, on the off-chance that you are reading this and have a company that makes oodles of money and is looking for a quality place to advertise, or if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can fundraise and make contacts to advance this endeavor, please contact Rachel (see Hallie's favorites and follow the links, or just leave me a message). If I had a million dollars, I'd forego the nice Chesterfield and an Ottoman and the Reliant automobile and the real green dress and the pre-cooked bacon and sponsor Signing Time myself. I am almost certain that the Barenaked Ladies would agree.


Kate Butler said...

Another way to help and have an almost immediate impact is to donate a set of Signing Time DVDs to your local public library. And you don't have to be super rich to do it.

Ours go in and out with great frequency!

Dubin said...

Wait, did I miss the part where you found out it's a girl???

Janel said...

Did you also know that Signing time is having a scavenger hunt and giving away $1000 to the winner? visit my blog or signing time for the full details.


This could be your chance to give to your community????

tsquared said...

When did this/will this happen? They're going through the first series of Signing Time (one ep. per week) right now on our PBS channel. We watched it this morning. It did go off the air here for a couple of months earlier in the year, but then it suddenly came back and has been on Saturday mornings since.

We splurged on a DVR through our cable service and have recorded about 20 episodes of it. (Most all of the first two series.) Best $6/month we ever spend. We watch them to death. Even though our son doesn't sign (autistic kids seem to have a hard time with that), he absolutely loves him the Rachel. It makes him happy, so that's good enough. He's starting to try to talk a little back to the TV, so anything that does that is great too!

abby said...

I think that the show is slated to go off of PBS on October 1st. Our local affiliate seemed to have dropped it some time in July or so, but another affiliate picked it up. It's a shame, and I'm trying to talk up sponsorship among my friends who know CEOs of major companies in the hopes that someone with the great sense to care about both typically developing and differently abled kids will sponsor Signing Time. It's made such a great difference in our lives and has helped give our girl a voice and a way of communicating. And while purchasing or passing down the DVDs to our public library will help some, it's still not quite enough. Only one family can watch at a time (though the idea of Signing Time ge-ttogethers is a nice one) and the kids who tend to use libraries the most, sadly, are the ones who are already getting the educational stuff at home.

Nancy said...

Nominated you for an award....have a look at my blog to see it :)