Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sign language has babies talking

Sign language has babies talking


Who: My Smart Hands

What: Classes for parents and babies to learn sign language

Where: At your home or where public sessions are being held

Since: 2009

Contact: 905-531-7023 or

Before he could talk, Hunter said milk.

Not seven months old, the baby learned how to ask for an apple, a bath and he could identify a dog.

Hunter's hearing and speech are not impaired but he uses sign language to communicate.

His mom, Karen Hewko, is the Hamilton-Burlington area franchise owner for My Smart Hands. As a certified ASL instructor, she offers four- and eight-week classes designed to teach parents and babies more than 100 signs.

MSH started with Torontonian Laura Berg, who was the 2008 regional winner of the Savvy Mom Entrepreneur of the Year. Franchises are opening internationally and there are now more than 100 instructors worldwide.

"It's about consistency and repetition," says Hewko, a 28-year-old mom-preneur with a second baby on the way.

"Hunter is really good with his words. But he wouldn't be if he didn't sign. It stimulates them so much more."

Hunter knows about 50 signs and uses 20 regularly.

Research suggests babies and infants can communicate with their hands long before they can verbalize what they want.

"It's as simple as just asking him," she says, and it reduces frustration and crying.

"They can communicate with you. It cuts down so many tantrums."

Hunter is still a toddler. He has his fussy moments.

Hewko stops him from wailing and he signs for crackers.

"I think it just rocks," said grandmother Kathy Andronico, who also learned to sign with Hunter.

The baby screamed and kicked when put on his back.

"Once he understood it was only to change his diaper, he was fine. I found it very helpful."

The idea has skeptics talking.

The worry is that it could delay the baby's speech. Hewko disagrees.

"It's the opposite. The baby could talk a lot sooner."

Every word is repeated and said along with the sign. Babies are always given the verbal language to associate with it.

Hewko is giving a demonstration at 12:30 today during the first annual Hamilton Baby Expo.

The event, which she helped organize, includes more than 50 vendors that bring mom-and-baby style businesses together. Apart from browsing the vast selection of merchandise, moms can learn about opportunities to start a home-based company of their own.

All admission proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House.

The expo will also feature Hewko's second business, Love Bump Baby (

It actually started out with belly painting or henna designs and now offers pregnant women the opportunity to have their belly cast as a keepsake that can then be decorated.

"It's so much more acceptable to show off your bump. It's not camouflaged. Be proud of what your body is doing," she says.

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Hamilton Baby Expo

What: The Hamilton Baby Expo features experts' seminars, local vendors, free kids' play area and more. Admission proceeds go to support the Ronald McDonald House in Hamilton

When: Today, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Where: Marritt Hall, 630 Trinity Rd., RR 1, Jerseyville

Cost: Adults $5, kids 12 and under free


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