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Our Inspiration

One of the founders of the company, Kathleen Waidhofer, is the proud mother of two young children, a son and a daughter. Kathleen talks about what inspired her to found Baby Hands Productions:

"Even before I had my own children, I was very fascinated with babies and young children. I have always regarded babies as being as intelligent as adults and simply having fewer experiences. In my experience, many people tend to underestimate the abilities of babies and consequently treat them as if they do not understand or cannot learn basic concepts. This perception seems to be even stronger in regards to babies who cannot yet speak.

When my first baby, John Conrad, was 8 months old my mother suggested that I teach him sign language so that he could communicate with me before he could speak. My mother gave me a book to use as a resource to teach him to sign. I was very excited to begin signing with my son and eagerly read the book. This book suggested that I create my own signs so that the signs would be simple enough for my baby to make and inspired by my baby. On the first day, John and I invented four signs. On the second day, both of us promptly forgot these signs. I was a new mother operating on very little sleep. So I decided to write down the new signs that we reinvented on the second day and promptly misplaced the list. At the end of the first two weeks, we were using one sign for everything and realizing that we could communicate just as well through simply pointing, I gave up in utter frustration.

So until John Conrad was able to talk we created what we called the "Fussy John Conrad List." This was a list of things that I could do to attempt to comfort my baby when he was crying and it was not obvious why he was crying. The list included basic items such as change diapers, offer bottle, offer food, check temperature, offer favorite toy, etc. Sometimes the list helped and sometimes it did not.

A few years later I had a baby girl named Jessica. When Jessica was 10 months old I decided to try to teach her to sign. I purchased all the baby signing videos that were available and an ASL dictionary. I also read all the literature and studies that had been written in regards to signing with babies. I was determined to avoid the mistakes that I had made with John Conrad by using standard ASL signs instead of creating my own signs. Unfortunately, the videos that I purchased did not hold the attention of my daughter even though a number of the videos claimed to be produced in a format to teach babies directly. So I began to teach myself ASL from both a printed and on line dictionary as well as some videos. As I learned the signs, I began to teach Jessica.

There was a porcelain doll in my bedroom that fascinated Jessica from a very early age. Every night, after her bath, I would make the sign for the word "doll" and then bring the doll down from my dresser and let her play with the doll. One night, two weeks after I had begun signing the word "doll", I sat my daughter near the dresser and asked her to make the sign for "doll" so that we could play with the doll together. With a huge smile and a twinkle in her eye, Jessica made the sign. The feeling that this gave me was similar to the feeling that I had with my son when he began to speak, but Jessica was so much younger. I was amazed and thrilled. This event gave me the encouragement that I needed to continue teaching her to sign.

By the time Jessica was 12 months old she knew more than 100 signs and her ability to learn signs was only limited by my knowledge of the vocabulary of the ASL language. Shortly after her first birthday she began to use signs in sequence such as "baby" "horse" and "mommy" "horse." Jessica even began telling jokes about bugs on her foot and green owls in the trees. At eighteen months old, Jessica was able to sign more than 250 signs.

The difference between my relationship with my preverbal son and preverbal daughter was like night and day. Because Jessica could talk to me with her hands she was able to tell me what she wanted or needed and consequently she cried less and we both were far less frustrated. We never created a "Fussy Jessica List" because she simply told me with her hands what my son was unable to communicate at the same age. We developed a stronger bond at a younger age because we spent more time interacting with one another and she gave me a window into her world that would have normally had to wait until she could talk.

When Jessica began talking the words came fast and furious since she had already learned the associations between symbols (signs and words) and objects and actions - all by talking with her hands. Much of the testing and learning to place objects and actions into the correct categories had already been completed as a young baby and Jessica simply added the verbal word to her ability to communicate with her hands. In addition, Jessica moved very quickly from single words to complex sentences as she had earlier moved from single signs to combinations of signs.

It was common for people to approach me in public places to ask if I was signing with my daughter and inquire as to what we were saying. People were amazed that I was communicating with such a young baby and wanted to know how I had taught my daughter. I began to notice young babies everywhere who were struggling to communicate with their parents because they had no common language, no shared symbols. While Jessica and I were happily interacting with one another, Jessica's peers were attempting to make the same connection by babbling or crying. I wanted to help.

I was very inspired by my daughter's ability to talk to me with her hands before she could speak. The consequences of the difference between my experience with my preverbal son and my preverbal daughter was so marked that I decided to take all the knowledge that I had gained from my experiences with teaching my daughter to sign and create a resource that other parents could use to teach their babies to sign. I know how difficult it had been to teach myself and my daughter to sign. The challenge was that I myself had never signed before and the resources that were available to me were simply not effective in creating the learning context for my baby. I also know the demands that are placed on all parents and wanted to provide a resource that would make learning to sign entertaining and fun for both babies and parents so that they could both learn to sign together at the same time."

This was the inspiration behind the founding of Baby Hands Productions, Inc. and the My Baby Can TalkTM video series. These videos are produced in a format that is specifically designed to teach babies to sign directly by capturing their attention through delightful and engaging images and sounds while at the same time holding the interest of a parent. In addition, these videos include images of Jessica signing every word presented. This demonstrates to parents that it is in fact possible for young babies to talk with their hands. Further, the image of a young baby, in the same age range as your own baby, ensures an identification which facilitates you baby's ability to learn the signs presented. Finally, we have included a practical tutorial section at the end of the video to help parents to easily get started signing with their babies. Not only is it possible for a preverbal baby to communicate with you but it is fun and above all rewarding for both of you.

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