The interactive signing scheme helping babies communicate during lockdown


A baby sign class has gone online and interactive during lockdown. Catherine Scott reports.

Wednesday, 1st July 2020, 11: 45 am

Babies are leanring to communicate through on-line signing classes

Imagine being housebound with a baby or toddler, day and night, for months on end. That has been the reality for thousands of young families during this health crisis lockdown. Not being able to socialise,or have the support from their friends and families, has been tough.

Having a baby can be hard at the best of times. It’s exhausting, with limited sleep. It’s overwhelming, not knowing what you’re doing. It can be lonely, being away from others. The British Red Cross and Co-op conducted research into the loneliness of young parents and found a staggering 82 per cent of mothers under 30 felt lonely ‘some of the time’ and almost 50 per cent admitted ‘often’ or ‘always’.

Loneliness can have a serious impact on mental health, leading to depression, stress, anxiety and feeling unable to cope.

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Sarah Burke of TinyTalk in Harrogate

Then add on a lockdown.

Socialising develops important life-skills for children, playing with others and learning difficult concepts, such as sharing and turn-taking. Adults forge new friendships, ‘all in it together’, as they navigate this exciting but challenging new time in their lives. They realise they’re not alone, that others are going through it too, with similar experiences. This all leads to positive parenting: everyone doing their very best to raise their children. Social interaction, and connecting with others, is key.

Usually there is a plethora of baby and toddler classes out there, with baby signing, singing, dancing, swimming, massage and art all on offer. Singing, in particular, is proved to benefit post-natal depression significantly, releasing natural happy endorphins.

Baby signing allows parents to understand their children long before they’re able to talk, relieving parents of the frustration from ‘guesswork’ and giving babies a means to express themselves. Just spending time with other parents and carers, connecting over shared experiences, improves wellbeing.

Signing can help babies communicate long before they can talk

Many classes have gone online and the very best ones are live and interactive. They provide all the fun of a face-to-face class but from the comfort of your own home.

TinyTalk baby signing e-classes was founded in 2002 by Katie Mayne, an experienced primary school teacher and teacher of the deaf.

“Baby signing allows pre-verbal children to communicate – and they have a lot to say! Signing helps babies express what they’re thinking, looking at or wanting, whether it’s a ‘bird’ in the tree, their ‘milk’ or a favourite ‘book’. It’s fascinating getting to know your baby and how they think at such an early age – and their speech comes through just as well later on,” says Mayne.

Streamed live every week, ‘TinyTalk TV’ is taught by the whole team of teachers, supporting their local families. The parents and carers are able to join in the fun and games throughout each session, with song requests, answers to questions and quizzes, updates on their signing progress and plenty of chatting between everyone. The classes are upbeat and musical with plenty of multi-sensory activities to bring the teaching and learning alive. Flashing balls, voile scarves and mirrors are all part of the package – with suggestions for after-class ‘homework’,too.

The camera is always on the teacher, safeguarding the privacy of young families. No one misses any of the learning as they can see clearly what the teacher is doing – and the fun and games that ‘TinyTalk Ted’ also gets up to. The teacher can see who’s attending and is able to name-check and interact with everyone, each family being included and valued.

Sarah Burke, is the TinyTalk teacher for Harrogate and Ripon.

“I am loving my online classes, being able to support my lovely families. I feel very lucky to be able to be there for them, all of us going through lockdown together. I am getting such great feedback, saying it is ‘much-needed normality each week when everything else is so different’. If anyone would like to trial a class, just paying for one rather than for the whole term, it’s a great way of seeing what we get up to and joining in the fun.”

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