Seated in his high chair, 16-month-old Wil is squirming with frustration. Then in a burst of aha! joy, he raises his arms and taps his fingers together twice. Wil’s mother, Terri Meadows, 32, now knows exactly what her son wants: more juice.
That’s because “more” is one of 10 sign-language words used by Meadows and her toddler, neither of whom is hearing-impaired. Both are graduates of “Signing Together,” an innovative sign-language class for babies taught by Charlotte, N.C., speech-language pathologist Celeste McAlvaine Davis, 37. “It’s a great communication tool for children who haven’t learned to express their needs verbally yet,” says Davis, who lives outside Charlotte with husband Ritchie, 35, and daughter Emily, 3. Teaching Emily to sign didn’t delay her learning to speak, says Davis, and “helped prevent frustration for both of us.”
Enrollment in Davis’s classes, which admit infants as young as 6 months, has doubled since last year and is part of a growing interest in teaching nondeaf babies sign language. Some research even hints that babies who learn sign language may go on to score higher on IQ tests. Davis says her classes have been particularly useful to parents who adopt children from non-English-speaking countries. “There’s no pressure, they learn at their own pace,” says Meadows. In class, Davis shows the children the sign while saying the word aloud. For most words she sticks to standard signs. One notable exception: diaper. “It’s too complicated to sign,” she says, “so I have them just point.”