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Never too young: Baby sign language specialist visits Athol Public Library

  • Angela Bergeron and her 2-year-old daughter Amelia practice the sign for “more” as Sheryl White of Boston Kneads teaches sign language for infants at the Athol Public Library on Thursday. March 30, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Aurora Costino, 2, is watched by her mother, Jacqueline Burns, background, as she is enthralled by Sheryl White of Boston Kneads who was teaching sign language for infants at the Athol Public Library on Thursday. March 30, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz

  • Sheryl White of Boston Kneads teaches the sign for “more” to infants at the Athol Public Library on Thursday. March 30, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Monday, April 03, 2017

ATHOL — Karon Parker was having dinner in Keene, N.H., on a recent day when her 2-year-old daughter noticed something outside.

Olivia LeBlanc can’t speak yet, so she repeatedly tapped an index finger to her thumb — an action resembling a beak — to tell her mom she saw birds. She was using sign language she and Parker had learned from workshops.

Sign language, which can help babies communicate before they learn to speak, is taught specifically for youngsters and their caregivers by educators like Sheryl White of Baby Kneads in Boston.

Parker, who lives in Orange, had previously seen White in eastern Massachusetts, so she was eager to attend one of her workshops in the Athol Public Library recently.

“This is my third time seeing her, so I really enjoy it,” Parker said after the hour-long workshop.

The Athol Public Library and Wheeler Memorial Library in Orange are hosting White to teach a four-week American Sign Language workshop for the caregivers of babies and preverbal toddlers. The next class is scheduled for Thursday at the Athol Public Library. The final two classes will meet on April 13 and 27 at the Wheeler Memorial Library. Classes meet at 10:30 a.m.

White welcomed roughly 15 adults with children in the Athol library’s children’s program room. She introduced herself and sang the “Hello Song,” signing the lyrics and the names of each little tot individually.

White captured the attention of the youngsters — who averaged about 2 years old — with playful songs, stuffed animals and a “Curious George” jack-in-the-box. She demonstrated the ASL signs for “more,” “bird,” “red,” “bunny,” “please,” “butterfly” and “sock,” among other words. She spoke to the guests, who formed a semi-circle in front of her while the children old enough to walk played with one another and still found time to be fascinated with White’s props. She blew bubbles for them and sang a song to teach them the ASL sign for the shiny floating orbs.

“Bubbles falling down/Bubbles falling down,” she sang, “Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles/Bubbles falling down.”

The adults laughed and flashed glowing smiles nearly as often as the children, many of whom spoke in sentence fragments and walked around the room to form a mosh pit. At one point, two little girls held hands and danced.

A woman asked about the best way to incorporate baby sign language lessons, and White said it is important to include a learning opportunity during natural parts of an average day — make the ASL sign for “juice” when it’s time for breakfast, or show your baby the sign for “cat” when a feline walks by. White said mealtimes are a good opportunity for an ASL lesson because babies are usually strapped into a chair.

White became certified by the International Association of Infant Massage and eventually incorporated ASL, which she learned years ago from her former baby sitter, who was deaf.

“My specialty is my approach in engaging the children, showing the parents how to engage children,” she said.

White said she typically conducts workshops for children younger than a year old.

Angela Dumas, the children’s librarian in Athol, said she invited White after learning about her work and its effectiveness.

“They’re like little rocket scientists, these babies. They really are,” she said.

Dumas said money for the workshop was provided by various local organizations.

You can reach Domenic Poli
at: dpoli@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 258.