2010-09-16 / News

Islander finds joy in teaching babies to sign

By Holly Benton

Lori Halloran said her granddaughter, Alexandra Bruce (above), began to respond to signing during her first week of life and that her first sign was “light.” At five-and-a-half months, she now has five signs that she uses to communicate with her family. Lori Halloran said her granddaughter, Alexandra Bruce (above), began to respond to signing during her first week of life and that her first sign was “light.” At five-and-a-half months, she now has five signs that she uses to communicate with her family. Most parents are all too familiar with one of the noisiest ways that babies communicate. But islander Lori Halloran is fascinated by a more quiet form of baby communication – sign language.

“I was watching a show one night on the Discovery Health Channel and it was regarding sign language and hearing children and the many benefits it has,” she said. “So I got really excited about it, because after raising my own children and all the day care children, I had no idea that babies – hearing babies – could communicate with their hands before they could speak.”

Halloran, who lives in Jamestown with her husband, Brian, has worked with children for more than 35 years. These days, she’s enjoying her four grandchildren, but raised five of her own children and cared for countless others during the 15 years she had her own daycare business in Jamestown.

A Jamestown resident for the past 28 years, Halloran betters the lives of hearing children using American Sign Language – the third most-spoken language after English and Spanish in the U.S. She teaches the early childhood development program out of her home two days a week.

After researching a halfdozen sign language companies, Halloran chose Signing Smart, a comprehensive sign language program developed by ASL-certifi ed developmental psychologists, Dr. Michelle Anthony and Reyna Lindert.

Halloran, the only certified Signing Smart teacher in Rhode Island, said she studied in Denver, Colo. with the two doctors and became certified in 2006.

She said that the benefits of teaching sign language to preverbal children are vast, and include strengthening the parent infant bond, reducing frustration for babies and caregivers, enhancing infants’ self-esteem, stimulating intellectual development and – somewhat unexpectedly – accelerating verbal language development.

“A lot of the time, people are nervous about signing with babies because they have a fear that if they sign with their baby, it might delay their speech,” Halloran said. “But it’s just the opposite. Children who sign just explode with language.”

She explained that on average – at 12 months old – Signing Smart children have an average of 25 signs and 16 spoken words versus non-signing children, who will typically have two to three spoken words.

Between 11 and 14 months old, a majority of Signing Smart children will begin using signed and spoken “sentences” – about 10 months earlier than is typical, she said.

Halloran said that studies done by Dr. Joseph Garcia, author of “Sign with your Baby,” have shown that hearing children who can sign, cry and have temper tantrums 50% less than babies who cannot sign.

“If a baby can just look at you and tell you what they want, there’s no reason to cry,” Halloran said.

She said that the benefits of teaching sign language to verbal children allows them to learn visually and verbally at the same time, which can benefit teachers and children in the classroom.

“There are documented studies that show that children who sign when they’re small, by the age of four and a half, have increased literacy skills,” she said. “Studies done at age eight show that children who were signed to when they were small have IQs that are up by 10 to 12 points.”

Halloran added that children she has worked with are walking into four-year-old pre-schools or kindergarten classes approximately a year advanced.

With many parental and caregiver references praising Halloran and her teaching abilities, she has touched the lives of many children and their parents throughout R.I. – including one little boy named Anthony, who at the age of 22 months, did not talk at all, she said.

Born prematurely to a mom abusing drugs, Halloran said his adopted mother knew he was delayed and having lots of trouble. Their pediatrician recommended Halloran’s class.

Within 15 minutes of his first class, Halloran said, Anthony did his version of the sign for “bear,” and said the word “bear” – the first word his mom had heard him say in the 20 months she had him. Anthony is now two years and two months old, and has close to 100 signs and words, Halloran said.

“Those are the ones that I feel like I’ve really made a difference,” she said. “It’s very, very rewarding. I love my job, I love what I do. I love making a difference. I love helping parents and children communicate better.”

Halloran’s classes include play classes that meet in the morning for one hour a week with a parent or caregiver, and an adults-only nighttime workshop. She said that each beginner play class has a different theme, with different signs and props, and incorporates 180 interactive parent and child activities, as well as eight weeks’ worth of parent education information.

She said that her advanced play classes follow the same format as the beginner classes, but with more complicated signing – including the manual alphabet, colors, numbers and emotions.

“In this day and age, right now, when we’re having so many challenges, giving a little baby every single chance and opportunity to excel and feel good about themselves is just so empowering,” Halloran said.

Halloran’s four grandchildren – Jake, 5; Matthew, 3; Tyler, 16 months and Alexandra, five months – have all benefited from her expertise in Signing Smart. Tyler, who was spending the afternoon with his grandmother, is no exception, and has at least 135 combined signs and words.

“You should have seen Tyler on the ride over here,” Halloran said. “He saw the flag at the police station and was doing the sign for flag – he was looking around and he was aware. It was like we could have a conversation.”

Halloran’s next series of Signing Smart classes begins on Wednesday, Sept. 22, and Thursday, Sept. 23. Visit www.aslsigningchildren. com or email her at

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