Midland family makes time to sign: Mom, daughter learn sign language
October 20, 2014
Matthew Woods, [email protected]
Kaydee Foerster of Midland is sharp as a tack, and very sure about her age.
“Six and half,” Kaydee said loudly and proudly when asked how old she was.
“When you are that age, that extra half is very important,” her mother Mary said.
Mary and Kaydee have a special bond as all mothers and daughters do, but the two learned a new way to communicate when Kaydee was younger.
“This is how to sign ‘K’ and this is how to sign ‘D,’” Kaydee said, making the letters with her hand. Kaydee learned a good bit of American Sign Language when she was less than 2 years old.
Mary and her family fell into sign language quite by accident. Mary said she was visiting her sister, and while sleeping on the couch, she learned her sister and nephew had become fans of a television program.
“It was six in the morning and they came tip-toeing in to watch ‘Signing Time.’ She said it was only on Saturday mornings,” Mary said. The PBS show, starring Rachel Coleman, brings sign language into many homes around the country. Coleman created the show after she developed techniques to communicate with her own hearing impaired child.
“My nephew Tommy is on the autism spectrum, and he has been mute since about a year and half or so when he was first diagnosed,” Mary said.
“My sister (Tommy’s mother) discovered the show and they watched it together on Saturday mornings,” she said. After returning home, Mary sought the show out on DVD so her sister and nephew could watch the show whenever they wanted. Mary learned the show also had content geared toward teaching babies to sign.
“Then Kaydee came along and we started watching the baby signing,” she said. “I learned enough sign in about six months just watching it with Kaydee.” Around the same time, nephew Tommy had been learning some sign at his school. At a family dinner, Mary recognized some of the signs Tommy was using. She replied with sign, and the two talked for the first time ever.
“In five years, Tommy has never been able to talk to me. I had tears in my eyes,” Mary said. “Now he can talk to his Aunt Mary.”
Mary said one of the reasons she introduced Kaydee to signing was so the girl could communicate with her cousin.
“I wanted her to be able to talk to Tommy,” Mary said.
To say Kaydee learned quickly is an understatement.
Mary said Kaydee’s ability to sign has resulted in some humorous instances. Kaydee began signing at 14 months old, and was able to use her new tool to communicate with her parents. One incident took place while the family was at an ice cream social before heading to see Kaydee’s grandparents. Time slipped by as Mary spoke with a friend, and Kaydee began to get restless.
“We were at church and I was holding her.” Mary said, laughing. “She started signing and my friend asked me what she was doing. Kaydee was signing, ‘It’s time to go.’”
“I was bored,” Kaydee said, showing how she said the phrase through signing.
Another phrase the family learned in sign language was the notice that it was time to change Kaydee’s diaper.
“Sometimes babies that sign can learn too much. When we would sign to her that it was time to change her diapers,” Mary said, laughing and showing the signing, “Kaydee would just turn around and run the other way.”
Mary became so interested in signing and the benefits for all children, she began taking classes offered by the producers of “Baby Signing Time.”
Now as an advanced instructor with Signing Time Academy, Mary teaches seminars to children as well as adults.
Mary stressed that her mission is to help families communicate, but she does not teach a complete American Sign Language curriculum.
“I don’t teach ASL grammar. My goal is to give you enough vocabulary to communicate,” she said.
Mary said teaching sign language to a child who hasn’t learned to speak or cannot speak involves repetition: signing the name of the item or action in which the baby is currently involved.
“They can sign ‘milk’ and ‘more’ and ‘eat’ and ‘all done.’ All of this stuff,” Mary said. “When they learn it, they learn to sign it back.”
As Kaydee has no communication impairments, as she learned to talk, sign language was used less in her home.
“Once she learned to talk, the signing went away. But we are encouraging it so she can communicate with Tommy,” Mary said.
And when someone forgets a bit of signing, Kaydee is quick to help them along.
“I translate for my dad,” Kaydee said. Chuck, her father, is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Midland.
Chuck said he thinks signing is something that benefits more than the hearing impaired.
“I think it is awesome, whether it is for the hearing community or the deaf community,” Chuck said. “It crosses those boundaries. It’s not just for people that are deaf. It’s another language.”
Mary said Michigan has the seventh highest population of hearing impaired people in the country.
“There are 870,000 people (with hearing impairments) according to Michigan.gov,” Mary said.
Many adults are finding applications for sign language as well. Mary told the story of a woman who suffered a stroke and could no longer speak, but because she and her husband stumbled onto “Signing Time” through their grandchildren, the couple learned enough sign language to be able to sign and understand each other.
“It’s a fun little show,” Mary said, “but they both picked up enough to learn how to communicate.”
The show’s production company began producing a preschool DVD series, titled “Rachel and the TreeSchoolers.” The company was looking for children who learned from the show, and Mary inquired about Kaydee appearing in one of the filmings. Kaydee, along with her niece Aubrey, traveled to just outside Washington D.C., to spend a little time in the limelight.
While there, Kaydee got to meet the person who helped bring signing in to her life. Show host Coleman spent time with the children and their parents during the production.
“How neat for Kaydee to meet her rock star,” Mary said. “She’s grown up with Rachel.”
When asked what she thought of meeting her favorite TV personality, Kaydee was quick with an answer.
“It was like, awesome,” she said.
Kaydee made a quick appearance in The TreeSchoolers DVD “The Amazing Body.” Kaydee will return later this year to spend more time in other productions with host Coleman.
For the Foerster family, sign language found a start that gave a voice to a loved one.
“I wish all parents could use this,” Mary said of signing. “It’s just an added learning skill. But it can do so much.”
For more information about Signing Time, visit http://www.signingtime.com