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Positive signs for toddlers at nursery

PUBLISHED: 06:05 28 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:03 07 July 2010

One youngster is entranced by the signing of Maria Holloway.

One youngster is entranced by the signing of Maria Holloway.

It's not always easy being a toddler, especially when it seems nobody can understand you.

But little ones at a nursery near Dereham are getting a helping hand in their communication skills after staff became some of the first in Norfolk to take a training course in baby sign language.

It's not always easy being a toddler, especially when it seems nobody can understand you.

But little ones at a nursery near Dereham are getting a helping hand in their communication skills after staff became some of the first in Norfolk to take a training course in baby sign language.

Little Owls day nursery in Toftwood has had all the staff trained in the TinyTalk programme, the UK's leading baby signing organisation, which uses British Sign Language signs to communicate simple objects, feelings and events.

Many of the children at the nursery already attend TinyTalk classes in the area with their parents but nursery owners Johnny and Justine Watts felt it was important to keep up this continuity for the children already signing but also to give their staff better communications skills with all the youngsters.

“It has been superb for the younger children and has been really beneficial,” she said. “There are 150 signs in total and we use many of them in songs and stories and general conversation. We also focus on two signs a week and parents are told what they are so they can try them at home as well.”

Mr Watts said the most popular signs the children picked up on were generally food related.

“They tend to use “milk” or “hungry” signs more than others but they don't like the “all gone” sign very much!” he said. “We also find that the older children, who are also learning the signs, can use them with the younger ones.”

Earlier this month scientists in America published research showing children who conveyed more meanings with gestures at 14 months old had larger vocabularies when they went to school.

Psychologists from the University of Chicago said parents and teachers could help children learn to speak by encouraging the use of gestures.

TinyTalk teacher Maria Holloway said there were benefits for all age groups.

“Children feel comfortable with signing,” she said. “My children use it at school with friends who have hearing or speech difficulties and it can also help in families where the parents speak different languages. Sign language helps bilingual children who are often thought to be slightly behind at school because they are learning two languages. The sign is the same whatever the language.”

When the Times visited, under-twos were joining in with songs and starting to pick up their first signs under Mrs Holloway's guidance and encouragement from the staff.

Mr Watts said: “I think it is fascinating that children can communicate before they verbally start talking. I feel I can communicate more and the children enjoy it too.”

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